By Pam Teel
We’ve all been victims or we know others who have felt the bad effects of someone’s excessive drinking habits. Whether it be a child, a neighbor, a friend, or even yourself, you know the toll this abusive behavior can take on you and how it could affect the people around you.
Secondhand drinking (SHD) is a term to describe the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others. It can cause significant harm to a person’s physical and emotional health and well-being, as well as the quality of their life. Drinking behaviors are not intentional; rather they are what happens when alcohol changes the way a person’s brain works. It is unlikely most of us have ever encountered the term, Secondhand Drinking (SHD), although we may draw a comparison to that of Secondhand Smoke. Yet, secondhand drinking can forever alter people’s lives.
We generally do not think much about what happens to people whose paths cross with those of a person who misuses alcohol beyond the obvious, such as an auto accident caused by a drunk driver. An accident can affect everyone involved and we’re not just talking about those who were at the scene but the impact on every family member, friend ,and also members of a community as well. We all know drinking and driving doesn’t mix and we probably all have a horror story or two of a friend or someone in town that was badly injured or killed in a drunk driving incident. Think about how it affected you and how it affected the family of the victims.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash. Drink- ing affects judgment, depth perception and physical reaction time. The effects of a split second decision cannot be reversed. Driving under the influence puts all lives at risk, not just the life of the driver. Passengers place trust in all drivers on the road. Bikers, pedestrians, children crossing roads, pets chasing a ball, even people enjoying the outdoors in the safety of their property are at risk of being a victim of a careless drunk driver. Careless decisions can erase all the boundaries that protect us.
The cost of a DUI resonates years beyond the incident. Fines are the immediate impact, and insurance premiums increase for the long term. Job opportunities can be lost years after a drunk driving incident occurs. Credit reports can be impacted. These costs are tied only to a drunk driving arrest. Next are the rehabilitation costs such as treatment. Finally, an accident or loss of life that results from a drunk driver can lead to endless financial consequences. The legal fees, the cost of repairs to property and the liability paid out to victims can paralyze individuals and their families.
Distress from drunk driving remains with victims, families, and the accused for months or years following an incident that may have lasted only minutes or seconds. Sudden physical impairment or unexpected death is traumatic. Few people can cope with these losses even with a strong support system and professional resources.
Grief, depression, anxiety, and many other emotions can impact someone affected by drunk driving. Split second decisions to drive can lead to life altering events and unimaginable consequences. Guilt can overcome convicted drunk drivers while anger may harvest within victims or their families. There is no permanent remedy that heals feelings of loss and safety. The emotional impact remains forever. The effects of drunk driving can cause a ripple in so many lives.
Approximately 90 million Americans experience secondhand drinking. They include spouses, children, parents, co-workers, in-laws, class- mates and friends. They are the people affected by drinking behaviors, whether it is verbal, physical or emotional abuse, driving while im- paired, or sexual assault. It is estimated that two to three times that number of people are indirectly affected by secondhand drinking. This is typically the ripple effect of someone’s drinking behaviors or someone’s secondhand drinking experiences. These people are often the in-laws, friends of friends, co-workers, children and fellow classmates, and even the citizens of a community.
A new study finds the effects of “secondhand” alcohol harms are widespread, with nearly 1 in 5 Americans — 53 million people — reporting having been harmed by someone else’s drinking during the past year. Those harms include threats or harassment, damaged property, van- dalism, physical aggression, financial problems, relationship issues and issues related to driving. Heavy drinkers should be aware of how they might be impacting the lives of people around them.
Boston Medical Center’s Timothy Naimi raises a critical eye to alcohol’s effects, discussing the importance of recognizing what freedom actually entails. “The freedom to drink alcohol must be counter-balanced by the freedom from being afflicted by others’ drinking in ways manifested by homicide, alcohol-related sexual assault, car crashes, domestic abuse, lost household wages, and child neglect.” Naimi writes that the secondhand effects of alcohol have been underreported; they need to be considered when deciding on alcohol control policies. He calls for “structural, environmental interventions” to reduce excessive drinking, especially in light of the fact that 40 percent of alcohol-re- lated deaths are not the drinker’s. He proposes increasing taxation on alcoholic products, which has been shown to reduce over-drinking.
Sven Andréasson, a Stockholm-based doctor, offers an even more aggressive second commentary. He notes that many nations legislate specifically to reduce the secondhand effects of drinking, not only in traffic laws, but also through the enforcement of tough domestic and neglected child policies. He finds it unthinkable that some countries still use .08 percent blood concentration level as the legal designation for being drunk when that number results in a far higher death rate than the .05 percent limit other countries enforce. Control policies, such as alcohol pricing, taxation, reduced availability, and restricting advertising, may be the most effective ways to reduce not only alcohol con- sumption but also alcohol’s harm to persons other than the drinker.
More steps need to be taken to prevent long-term impact in anyone’s life when it comes to driving under the influence: designate a driver, have taxi numbers and trusted friends’ numbers on hand, and most importantly, hand over your keys. Protect yourself and the lives of your friends and family. Drink responsibly. Stay sober. Don’t drink and drive. It’s not just your life you will affect. Think of all the others who will suffer!