How does alcohol increase a driver’s risk of causing an accident?

Anyone who has ever drank alcohol to the point of intoxication knows the strange combination of relaxation, giddiness and clumsiness it can cause. Drinking can be pleasurable, but it can also make us unfit to drive. What is it about alcohol that affects the human brain this way?

According to Forbes, alcohol affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals throughout the body and control thought process, behavior and emotion. Some neurotransmitters are “excitatory,” while others are “inhibitory.”

For instance, alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that increases brain activity and energy. Without glutamate, your brain slows down. Meanwhile, alcohol increases the effects of GABA, which keeps people calm and relaxed. These effects leave you feeling comfortable, and make you clumsy.

At the same time, alcohol increases the dopamine in your brain’s reward center. This makes you feel as good as when you do something pleasurable, thus making you feel great, even though alcohol is technically a depressant.

As a depressant, alcohol affects the behavioral inhibitory centers in the cerebral cortex, and slows the brain’s ability to process sensory information. Thus, we are more likely to take dangerous chances, just at the point we are uncoordinated, artificially happy and less able to perceive the world around us.

Despite these obvious risk factors, people choose to drink and drive virtually every day. Sometimes, they cause a terrible car wreck and injure an innocent person. When they do, they should be held accountable, both in criminal court and through civil litigation.