FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — In 15 years working in the substance abuse field, I’ve had a front-row seat to a lot of heartbreak and tragedy. One of the most consistent themes in these sad stories is impaired driving. Around the holidays, we often see an uptick in this dangerous behavior, so around the country, December is designated as 3D Month — short for Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month.
The consequences of impaired driving cover a broad range. Some may just pay fines and legal fees, and see increases in insurance costs and a temporary loss of driving privileges. In Missouri, an average DWI will run between $5,000 and $7,500. Service members may experience additional impacts to their careers.
In the big picture, even those whose careers are impacted get off easy compared to others. I’ve met some in wheelchairs after a DWI crash; others have lost custody of children; and unfortunately, I’ve known of some deaths that have occurred. But the most common victims of intoxicated drivers, are the intoxicated drivers themselves.
One thing that has surprised me over the years is how many of those who get arrested for impaired driving start the night thinking they have a foolproof plan to avoid that exact outcome. Sometimes, they had a plan to call a cab; sometimes, they had a designated driver; sometimes, they were drinking at home. The common theme is once they became intoxicated, the plan went out the window. In a couple of cases, they had even already been delivered home safely by a cab or designated driver, but in their intoxicated state, they decided to get in a vehicle and drive.
So, how can one consistently prevent these outcomes? Well, that’s the one simple trick. The only way to prevent the unforeseeable outcomes of impaired decision-making is to avoid the impairment that causes those poor decisions. Not everybody likes that idea. It’s understandable people would like to be able to celebrate without fear of consequences, and I’m certainly not implying there is no low-risk use of alcohol. It’s undeniably true, though, if one chooses to indulge to the point decision-making is seriously impaired, unexpected and sometimes tragic consequences may result — otherwise cautious and conscientious people can make high-risk choices under the influence of drugs and alcohol their sober selves would never consider. The choice to become intoxicated is itself a high-risk choice.
So, this holiday season, yes, definitely designate before you celebrate. Even when you’ve done that, though, make sure you don’t indulge to the point you might regret the consequences.