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Getting behind the wheel of an automobile after you’ve had a couple of drinks is dangerous enough. Did you know that getting behind the wheel after you’ve combined drugs and alcohol actually triples your risk for getting into a deadly car crash? Although marijuana is legal in two states and available for medicinal use in many more, and physicians are widely prescribing pain relievers like Vicodin, there is still no standard testing or definition of what it means to be drug impaired. However, recent results from a study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health reinvigorates the topic about how important it is to hand the keys over if you’ve spent the evening consuming alcoholic beverages and/or drugs. Specifically, the study shows that about 32% of drivers involved in fatal car crashes tested positive for at least one drug in their body. About 57% of these drivers tested positive for alcohol and 20% tested positive for a combination of alcohol and one or more drugs.

This is particularly disconcerting when combined with additional research from the Monitoring the Future Project. This organization analyzes 17,000 high school senior surveys each year. The most recent survey shows that more than ¼ of high school seniors admit to driving after using alcohol or drugs, or riding with someone who has. This is scary and needs to be addressed again and again and again. Teens need to understand that driving is a privilege and along with this new independence comes serious responsibility. The fact is that more than 35% of all deaths in the 16 – 20 year old age range are a result of an automobile crash. The best way to address this is with ongoing open discussion in your household and with the support of academic resources.

If you are looking for alcohol and drug education training in addition to what your child receives in driver’s ed., a high quality online program is easily accessible for this exact purpose. Having your teen take a class from home, prior to getting his or her license can reinforce the exact reasons why they shouldn’t drink and drive and what to expect if they get pulled over for a DUI. While they may see the fun everyone is having at a party filled with red cups, they should know the facts. Alcohol is actually a depressant, not a stimulant. It slows down the central nervous system and affects decision-making abilities. Someone who has been drinking and/or taking drugs have a greater chance of making irresponsible decisions and taking greater risks. And, the day after consuming too much is not a pretty picture. Side effects of overdoing it include headaches, vomiting, and nausea – the hangover.

Teens may think they are invincible, but drugs and alcohol can actually leave a larger negative impact on the adolescent brain than that of an adult. These are critical years in mental development and one study from UCSD points to damaged nerve tissue that affects attention span in boys and a girl’s ability to understand and interpret visual information.

The bottom line is that kids need to learn how and why they should overcome peer pressure and just walk away. This understanding gives them the feeling of power, control and purpose to accomplish this task without feeling self-conscious or intimidated by others.