Every 45 minutes someone in the United States dies in a car crash as a result of under the influence of alcohol. That’s 32 people a day, 365 days a year. Young people between the ages of 21 and 24 account for 24 percent of these deaths, and another 25 percent of those deaths are in people ages 25 to 34.As depressing as those statistics are, the frequency for these types of needless deaths seems to be increasing. In 2020, there was a 14 percent increase in deaths related to driving after drinking for a total body count of 11,654. Each one of those drunk drivers, now dead, was much more than simply a statistic, as they were all someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, sister or brother. Every single one of these fatalities was preventable.
But that’s not all. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that estimated traffic fatalities in the first half of 2021 were higher than they had been since 2006. Many of these deaths were attributable to driving under the influence of alcohol. But there is an additional factor at play here that hasn’t really been seen before. From 2000 to 2018 the deaths that involved cannabis went up from 9 to 21.5 percent, and the percentage of those involving cannabis plus alcohol more than doubled. Plus, these crashes involving cannabis were not only more likely to result in the death of passengers, they were also more likely to involve individuals younger than 35.
Much of this increase in motor vehicle fatalities was not caused by alcohol alone. Some experts suspect the rapid increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents is due to the deadly combination of alcohol plus other drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine. Using either of these substances while driving can be deadly, but research shows the combination of negative effects, such as impaired bodily motor functions, reaction time, and feelings of euphoria and drowsiness, were much greater when alcohol and cannabis are used together rather than separately.
People also hoped that with the legalization of cannabis in many states, the use of alcohol would decline, as people would substitute cannabis for a drink. This didn’t pan out either, as both substances are being used together, and when it comes to crash fatalities, the use of cannabis actually increases the likelihood alcohol was also involved. Another study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine earlier this year, found that 40 percent of drivers who said they used alcohol as well as cannabis reported driving while they had one or both of these substances in their systems.
One of the most obvious society-wide changes that occurred the last couple of years is the COVID-19 pandemic and its absolutely widespread influence on mental health, especially younger people. Although it’s tempting to blame the pandemic, surprisingly, the research evidence is just not there to support an increase in either alcohol or cannabis or both by young people during this time. In fact, the majority of studies show a reduction in use overall.
But one study, done in April of this year (2022) and published in the journal Alcohol Research, looked at 1281 research papers published between January 2000 and August 2021 on simultaneous alcohol and marijuana use by young adults. The findings related to risky driving were shocking, as the research showed a much greater willingness to drive while under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis as opposed to only one of these substances. Young adults who used alcohol and cannabis simultaneously were also much more likely to be willing to ride with a driver who was intoxicated. Several motives for simultaneous use were also identified, including social conformity with peers and trying to increase the users’ ability to cope.
So what should parents do? No parent wants their child involved in a preventable accident caused by the use of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs or a combination of all of them. Is drug testing your young adult children for drug use ever appropriate? Where do you strike a balance between parental trust and overall safety?
Although drug testing your children would on the surface seem to make sense in terms of deterring them from using, the reality is quite a bit more complicated, as there are definite risks if you choose to go this route. One of the greatest risks is an irreparable fracture in the parent child relationship, as building a parental relationship based on trust is one of the most important tasks during the parenting of an adolescent.