Abuja - How exactly does alcohol affect the brain, and why does this make driving dangerous?
Alcohol and your brain
Despite the fact that a drink or two cheers up most people, alcohol is actually a nervous system depressant – the more you drink, the more difficult it is for your brain to function properly.
The brain consists of three major parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the medulla.
The cerebrum controls advanced functions, such as reasoning, vision, recognition and emotion. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and affects judgment, movement, vision and speech.The cerebellum largely controls movement, and deals with reflexes, balance and co-ordination.
The medulla controls basic survival functions such as heartbeat and breathing, both of which processes can be stopped entirely by severe alcohol consumption.
Nerves carry messages to different parts of your body with instructions to do things. The brain and the nerves are made up of neurons that actually carry the messages from your brain and back. The neurons do not actually touch one another – there is a space between them, which are called synapses.
Electrical signals carry messages the length of the neuron and neurotransmitters carry the messages across the synapse to the next neuron. It is in the synapses that alcohol affects the working of your brain, as a couple of drinks will affect the efficiency with which neurotransmitters carry messages between the neurons.
This is why someone who has had too much to drink cannot walk in a straight line, speaks in a slurred fashion, drives in a weaving pattern across the road and is slow to brake in an emergency situation.
How alcohol affects driving skills
When we drive, we use many basic skills simultaneously – perception, judgment, quick physical reaction, decision-making. When we have had too much alcohol, we become unable to co-ordinate all these actions.
The following things are typical of a drunk driver:
Limited ability to judge distances between both stationary and moving objects
Difficulty negotiating a car in or out of a parking spot
Increased difficulty to adjust to sudden darkness
Difficulty in maintaining a constant speed
Peripheral vision is impaired and little attention is given to road signs, other traffic and pedestrians
Increased time before the driver reacts to an emergency situation by stepping on the brake or correcting the steering