Why does anyone think drunk driving is OK?

Have you ever wondered why people continue to drive intoxicated when it seems that everybody in Kentucky must have seen and heard about the destruction it can cause? From billboards along the highway to online ads, surely everyone knows better by now. So why is it still a problem? It might be due in part to what is known as desensitization.

Clinical health psychologist Dr. Lindsay Bira explains that desensitization occurs when you have repeated, ongoing contact with a stimulus, a danger or fear in this case. Therapists use desensitization techniques in treating people with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or phobias—and results have been very good. In using this therapy, the patient is gradually and carefully exposed to the event or situation they fear. Repetition of this method teaches the brain that it is not dangerous, as you originally believe, and your body reacts by calming over time to the stimulus.

The other side of desensitization is that, in situations such as driving under the influence, you can get used to it and it becomes a habit. The emotional reaction of fear is what helps you survive in dangerous situations; it triggers the “fight or flight” response. Desensitization dulls one’s natural responses.

It is not something a driver plans to do, but it is something you can learn. The first time you drive after having a drink or two and get home safe makes it easier to do again, and maybe down the line it becomes two or three drinks, then more and more. Eventually, you no longer see the danger in doing it. But that does not mean it is safe.

Even if you are going “just around the corner,” that first step begins the desensitization process. In the end, you wind up thinking drinking and driving is not a problem for you. That should scare you enough not to do it at all.


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