Study: Even one drink could affect elderly drivers in Alaska

A recent study suggests that older people in Alaska are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than their younger counterparts.

Many people believe that having "just one drink" before getting behind the wheel of a car is perfectly safe. It is true that some people in Alaska may still be under the legal limit for intoxication after having a low amount of alcohol. However, certain populations may not be safe at all, even after a small drink.

A recent study examined how small amounts of alcohol affected people from certain age groups. What the researchers found should resonate with everyone, especially older Americans.

Testing the limits

The study, which originated at the University of Florida and was later published in the journal, "Psychopharmacology," in February 2014, evaluated two groups of people: those ages 25 to 35, and those ages 55 to 70. Researchers used simulators to allow sober participants to take a "drive" down a stretch of road. Then, participants either drank a placebo, a drink strong enough to create a 0.04 blood alcohol concentration, or a 0.065 blood alcohol concentration. Participants then retook the test.

Researchers were evaluating several items in the simulation, including the following:

  • How quickly drivers could adjust the steering wheel
  • Whether the driver was able to stay in the middle of the lane
  • If the driver maintained a constant speed

What they found was that even though the older participants never went over the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration, they still suffered the effects of alcohol. While the younger age group was unaffected by having a small drink, the older group was significantly affected.

Why it happens

There are a number of reasons that people who are older may experience the effects of alcohol quicker than younger people. To begin with, the aging process lowers how much water is in the body, which leaves less water to dilute alcohol, which leads to a higher blood alcohol concentration. Additionally, the body is not able to metabolize alcohol as quickly as it once could.

It should also be noted that it is more common for older adults to be on medication - or multiple medications - than for younger adults. Many drugs do not mix well with alcohol, which could exacerbate the effects of drinking.

Lastly, certain health conditions could make an older person more sensitive to alcohol. Additionally, alcohol could worsen certain medical issues, such as memory issues, liver problems and high blood pressure.

The authors of this study warned that even though the study suggested that younger people were unaffected by just one drink, that does not mean they recommend drinking before driving. That kind of behavior leads to serious injuries and even death. People who have concerns about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in Alaska.