How Does Alcohol Impair Driving?

As you might know, driving under the influence of alcohol could get you arrested and sent to jail. For an officer to stop someone on suspicion of operating a vehicle while drunk, they must observe the motorist engaged in specific types of behaviors.

Signs that may demonstrate to a cop that a person is under the influence include, but are not limited to:

  • Weaving in and out of lanes
  • Driving slowly
  • Speeding
  • Failing to obey traffic laws

The behaviors listed above are the outward signs of drunk driving. But what’s going on internally that causes a person’s cognitive processes to be compromised?

Complex Brain Communication System

To understand how alcohol affects a person's ability to operate a vehicle safely, it's first helpful to know how the brain controls bodily functions. The brain has a pretty complex communication system made up of a bunch of cells that fire off messages to each other. They do this using their unique structure of axons and dendrites.

The axons send messages to neurons, and the dendrite receives them. The place where this message transfer takes place is a tiny gap between the two branches, called a synapse. The method of message transmission happens through chemicals called neurotransmitters.

The brain must maintain a balance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters. The inhibitory chemicals slow signals down, while the excitatory speed them up. If something, such as alcohol, alters the balance of neurotransmitters, bodily functions are impaired.

What Is Alcohol Doing to the Brain's Messages?

Now that we have a bit of an understanding of how the brain works and controls messages, let's look at what alcohol does to affect the processes.

When alcohol enters the body, it moves from the digestive system into the bloodstream. On this journey, it makes its way to the heart and brain. While in the brain, it binds to the neurotransmitters that send messages throughout the body.

Alcohol links up to both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, which affects the delicate balance the brain maintained before a foreign substance was introduced into it.

One of the excitatory neurotransmitters the brain binds to is glutamate, which increases brain activity and energy levels. With alcohol blocking the normal transmission of messages, it slows down processes.

In contrast to excitatory neurotransmitters, inhibitory reduce energy levels. When alcohol binds to them, it increases their effects, meaning it will substantially calm a person down.

What Functions Can Alcohol Affect?

With alcohol attaching to different neurotransmitters and impeding or increasing their normal functions, it throws the brain out of whack and affects various bodily functions.

When alcohol is in a person's system, it can cause:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Loss of balance
  • Blurred vision
  • Reduced concentration
  • Poor judgment

When a motorist is on the road, they need to be able to react quickly to unexpected hazards, see road signs and signals, and maintain their course. Unfortunately, while alcohol is in the system, it can impact driving ability.

If you've been charged with a DWI/DUI in Hidalgo County, reach out to The Law Office of Rene A. Flores PLLC. Our forensic lawyer-scientist knows that things other than alcohol can affect a person's bodily functions and make it appear as if they were under the influence. Depending on the circumstances, various defenses could be raised in these types of cases.

Get the legal defense you need by calling us at (956) 606-3606 or contacting us online.