Drinking alcohol can make us prone to accidents, both minor and serious, such as road traffic accidents, falls, drowning, poisoning and other unintentional injuries. In fact, just under one-third (29%) of all alcohol-attributable deaths are caused by unintentional injury.1
Alcohol is a depressant, it slows down the brain and affects the body’s responses. Alcohol also suppresses activity in parts of the brain associated with inhibition,2 which means any warning signals that may kick in if a person is sober are unlikely to work.
Accidents are most likely to happen following a single occasion of heavy alcohol consumption, resulting in intoxication and impairment, for example, when someone is drunk and they are unable to react or function as they would be when sober.3 Research has demonstrated that people who drink heavily and often are at a high cumulative risk of injury over the course of their life.4
The more we drink, the more likely we are to have an accident5
When we drink, we increase our risk of accidents happening.6 And because everybody reacts differently to alcohol, there is no minimum amount we have to drink in order to minimise this risk.7
Drinking alcohol can:
- affect our judgement and reasoning
- slow down our reactions
- upset our sense of balance and coordination
- impair our vision and hearing
- make us lose concentration and feel drowsy
The more we drink, the more our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises, and so does the risk of accidents.8 BAC, the amount of alcohol in the blood, is measured in milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood (or mg%). It’s affected by all sorts of factors, including how much alcohol we drink, how fast we drink it, the size of our body, how much we’ve eaten, our gender and even our emotional health.
Accidents related to drink-driving
The safest advice is to avoid alcohol completely when driving, as even small amounts of alcohol can affect our ability to drive. For example, drivers with a BAC of between 0.02 and 0.05 have at least a three times greater risk of dying in a vehicle crash. This risk increases to at least six times with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08, and to 11 times with a BAC between 0.08 and 0.10.9 For context, the drink drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 0.08 BAC, and 0.05 BAC in Scotland.10
In addition to all the points mentioned in the previous section, if you drive, alcohol can:
- cause blurred and double vision, and reduce the ability to see objects on the road
- make it more difficult to perceive other drivers and what is happening on the road
- lead to loss of peripheral vision
Drivers should be aware of getting behind the wheel the morning after drinking. Sleeping it off or having a large cup of coffee won’t clear the body of alcohol or dull its effects. The only thing that helps us sober up is time. It is safest not to drink at all if you are driving the next day.
Visit our drink driving page for more information
Staying in control
The effects of alcohol can last longer than you think. Even after alcohol has left the bloodstream, it’s still more likely that a person will have an accident.11
To keep risks from alcohol harm low, it is important to stick within the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines. Both men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week. But to keep short-term risks, like accidents or injury, from drinking low, limit the number of units on any one occasion.
Tips to stay in control:
- Set a limit. Avoid drinking too much in the first place and avoid binge drinking.
- Eat a meal. A healthy meal before drinking can help slow down the absorption of alcohol.
- Alternate your drinks. Make sure to drink water or soft drinks to slow down the rate you consume alcohol.
Talk to someone
Drinkchat is our free online chat service. Our trained advisors are on hand between 10am-2pm, Monday to Friday, to provide confidential advice.
Chat with an advisor
If you can’t contact Drinkchat in those hours, or would prefer to talk to someone on the phone, you can call Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm) and speak to a trained adviser.