Drunk Drives to Police Station: Why Booze Leads to Dumb Decisions

alcohol makes smart people dumb, hence drunk driver “We can’t make this up,” begins the police department’s Facebook post.

Police in Slidell, Louisiana pulled over a car and arrested a drunk driver on a Saturday night not long ago. The passengers were drunk as well, but that’s not against the law, so they were able to take taxis home.

One of them didn’t stay home, however. While still drunk, one of the passengers drove to the Slidell Police Department in order to bail out the offender. Needless to say, she was arrested as well.

This is where we list the ways that alcohol, particularly in large amounts, leads to bad decisions. Example: driving to a police station while drunk.

Booze and Dumb Moves: United Since the Dawn of Time

But why does it do that? What is it in alcohol that leads smart people to do dumb things? Back in 2011 a researcher at the University of Missouri published a paper that proposed a reason. The paper, “Alcohol Effects on Performance Monitoring and Adjustment: Affect Modulation and Impairment of Evaluative Cognitive Control,” was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

The research team gave challenging computer tasks to participants, and tracked their reactions to their mistakes while sober and under the influence.

The upshot: they knew they had made a mistake, but it didn’t bother them as much if they’d been drinking.

Drink Your Cares Away – But Not Your Troubles

Alcohol, as it turns out, affects the “alarm” we all have in our brain that signals a person that we are making a big mistake. It doesn’t turn the alarm off, or make you unaware of your mistakes – it just makes you care less that you blew it big time.

The problem with drunk drivers, then, is that they are aware they’re making a mistake by driving. They’ve been told that a million times. But after a few drinks, they just don’t care.

The study gave us a scientific reason why drivers get behind the wheel of a vehicle they can’t control. And sometimes drive it right to the people who they should want to encounter least: the Slidell Police Department.

If there needed to be a justification for ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – this research is an excellent one. DUI offenders can promise not to drink and drive again, but if they drink, it’s impossible to guarantee that their brain won’t go off-duty when it should be warning them not to drive. That is why an interlock – technology that disables a drinker’s car – is essential. It is also why 30 states now mandate the device for all drunk driving offenses. Louisiana included.

Now we know why drunks drive. And why it’s up to all of us to stop them.