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Just one drink can slow reaction time

By Edward Chiao and David Zisser

Jan. 7, 2003 9:00 p.m.

According to a recent study, even a single drink of alcohol is
enough to impair someone’s ability to reason quickly and
detect errors. Volunteers in the study were given drinks and then
given a computer test that required quick thinking and instinctive
reasoning. Even after a single drink, changes in brain action were
quickly detected. The dosages were based on the weight of the test
subjects. For instance, a 180-pound man would be given 1.2 ounces
of alcohol for a low-dose test, resulting in the equivalent of
about a 0.04 blood alcohol level, 0.01 below the legal limit for
drivers under 21 years of age. The beers were consumed over a
20-minute period. The lead author on the study was K. Richard
Ridderinkhof of the University of Amsterdam. Ridderinkhof created a
test where volunteers were challenged to ignore distracting arrows
and to push buttons for either left or right to correctly indicate
the direction of the target. In the controlled study, the
volunteers experienced an error rate of about 4.8 percent, but
after the first drink, the error rose to 19.8 percent. 1.2 ounces
of alcohol, the low dose given to 180-pound men in the study, can
be reached by consuming only two 12 ounce beers of 5 percent
alcohol content. In a 120-pound female, that would mean a 0.08 BAC,
the legal limit for drivers 21 years and older. While the findings
of the study are not groundbreaking, the error rates between the
drinkers and non-drinkers are startling. “I think people get
lulled into thinking that it’s safe to drink X amount of
drinks without getting drunk, but each individual is different, and
I think people need to be aware of their own limits,” said
UCPD spokeswoman Nancy Greenstein. The study also measured brain
waves and found that small doses of alcohol quickly affect the
anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain which influences
thinking processes and unconscious detection of error. On the road,
this translates into drunk driving accidents.

Students and drunk driving In 2001, the UCPD recorded 56 arrests
related to alcohol DUIs in and around UCLA. But none of the people
arrested were affiliated with the UC (students, staff and faculty),
according to UCPD statistics. “(There’s) a lot of drunk
driving around here, (but) they’re not always
students,” said Sergeant Russell McKinney, who is in charge
of special events for UCPD. While the statistics may suggest
students don’t drink and drive, it doesn’t account for
students arrested outside other police agencies, and not all
student arrests take place on campus. McKinney has arrested many
UCLA students for alcohol-related offenses, but he claims that most
are walking to and from bars or parties. Bar crowds coming from
Hollywood often come through the UCLA area, according to McKinney.
At nearby UC Santa Barbara, seven out of the eleven people arrested
for alcohol-related DUIs in 2001 were UC affiliated. But most
alcohol-related arrests at UCSB are for public drunkenness. Of the
33 people arrested at UCSB for public drunkenness in 2001, 31 were
affiliated with the university, compared with only one out of 21
people arrested at UCLA, according to the UCPD. Students at UCSB
often have to travel further to reach bars and parties, whereas
most UCLA students have the luxury of walking to nearby bars. But
students who travel to bars and parties outside of Westwood
don’t have the luxury of walking and must rely on buses,
friends and taxis. “I think there are many students who
actually are very good about having a designated driver for the
evening,” Greenstein said. “Anything that helps to
protect the public, to keep people who are impaired (by alcohol)
off the road, is good.”

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Edward Chiao
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