Making a right onto the Lake Shore Drive ramp from I-94, I thought I was sober enough to drive. I’d just come from a ’70s party at my cousin’s house, and this was the second time I drank at her parties. The first time I slept it off at my parents’ house, but this time I was convinced that I’d taken precaution while drinking. I didn’t drink anything super hard and managed to run two errands in the middle of the night before heading home from a south side party to my north side home. I knew something was wrong when I merged onto the Lake Shore Drive north ramp. My eyelids started getting heavy, and I fell asleep while going over 60 mph.
According to NHTSA’s National Center for Health Statistics, fatal alcohol-related crashes in Illinois decreased from 1,248 to 1,043. There was a 9.7 percent decline in U.S. automobile crashes, from 41,259 in 2007 to 37,261. But 37,261 is 37,261 too many.
AbovetheInfluence.com reports that, “The younger you are when you start drinking, the greater your chance of becoming addicted to alcohol at some point in your life. More than 4 in 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become alcoholics.”
Although I was 26 at the time, this wasn’t my first time being drunk behind the wheel. I’d done it one other time. The first time was at a college party when I was 20 and got mad at a college associate. I stormed out of a party, a friend of mine ran behind me and jumped on the hood of my car begging me not to drive. I backed my car up with her still on the hood, hitting the car behind me. Several people from a party next door ran outside begging me to get out of the car. I stared at them, turned around, my friend rolled off the car and I drove off. I got home safely and although I immediately went to the home of the car owner the next day offering to pay for any damages, there were none to pay. The car was fine. The car owner’s response was, “The only thing that’s sorry is your friends letting you get behind the wheel.”
Naïveté let me get behind the wheel of my car again. But the second time I wasn’t on a neighborhood block in my college town and my destination was longer than a two-minute drive. Realizing if I crashed I was going to put lives outside of my own in danger, I smacked myself really hard in the face and my eyes bulged. I pinched my arm really hard to wake up and blasted music, slowed my car down to the correct speed limit and drove home completely focused. That was the second and last time I drove home inebriated again. Two years ago was also the last time I had any interest in hard liquor.
While this was my last time drinking and driving, I’m certainly not alone.
In Roy Jones’ “I Smoke, I Drank” rap, the rhyme featuring Magic and Youngbloodz boasts “I smoke, I drank, I’m supposed to stop but I can’t.”
Although I’m not an alcoholic and can count on one hand the number of times I drank hard liquor, there are too many impressionable children and addicted adults who simply can’t or choose not to stop drinking at the drop of a hat. I now have zero interest in drinking liquor, but I’ve never had an addiction problem. Unfortunately part of my reason for being able to give up liquor so quickly is from observing people with these addictions. Substance abuse is a hard thing to tackle, especially if you have drinkers (or drug users) around you.
Here are steps to stop drinking behind the wheel before you end up with a DUI, dead or endangering someone else.
Step One: Beware of your social circle.
If your circle of friends feel like they can’t go to a party without drinking, chances are you’ll end up around liquor, too. If you have that one friend who feels like you must drink with her, this might be the friend you need to leave at home. Or, have a serious heart-to-heart with this person explaining why you choose not to drink before you get there. If she keeps bugging you, make that the last time you hang out with her in a party environment.
Step Two: Be aware of how much you can drink without getting drunk.
With hard liquor, you know you’re going to be tipsy. But don’t underestimate those fruity drinks with umbrellas and cherries. Everybody’s intoxication level is different. While some people may drink others under the table, there’s no competition or door prize for the sloppiest drunk. If you know you can’t handle hard or soft liquor, just don’t drink at all. Know your limits. When you feel like you’ve had enough, be firm. Don’t have anymore.
Step Three: Always bring a designated driver.
If you know you want to drink, make sure to bring someone who doesn’t like to drink or someone who chooses not to drink. Keep the telephone number to a cab or a trusted relative or friend’s number in your cell phone so you can call him or her to pick you up. Do not be the designated driver when you know you’re not in the right state of mind.
Step Four: Pull over to a curb and call someone for help driving if you realize you can’t handle it.
While I smacked myself so hard in the face that I sobered up completely (and had a red cheek to prove it), that probably wasn’t the best decision to make. At the time I was thinking, “If I pull over, CPD (Chicago Police Department) may drive up behind me and want me to take a sobriety test.” But had I not been able to fully function, that DUI hardly compares to death.
Step Five: Find other things to do with your spare time outside of drinking.
There’d been a few college parties where I got tipsy, in addition to the two drinking and driving incidents as well as another ’70s party I went to the previous year in 2007. The 2007 party was the first time I’d ever thrown up after drinking. All of the other times, I used the bathroom and went right back to normal. For some reason, liquor didn’t stay with me too much. Even with drinking and driving and throwing up, that wasn’t what bothered me most. What bothered me most was people at both parties bringing up how drunk I was, showing off photos of me being drunk and laughing about how much fun I was. It says a lot about people when no matter how many positive things you do, they only want to talk about the worst memories. Being drunk (or high) is nothing to be proud of. Keep a social circle around you that finds your positive moments more memorable and fun to talk about than the moments you embarrassed yourself.