Why Driving Under the Influence Is Different than Driving Drunk

There is a reason this site and others like it focus on driving drunk as opposed to driving while impaired: More people have access to booze than other intoxicating substances, so it makes sense to address the largest audience with messages about the dangers of drunkenness. It’s important to learn why driving under the influence is different than driving drunk.

However, alcohol isn’t the only substance that can impair your driving; many types of medications as well as illicit substances dramatically impact how you view and interact with the world, which means operating complex machinery, like a car, is dangerous to you and everyone around you after you use them.

Before you or anyone you know sits behind the wheel after using any substance, here’s how it could go terribly, terribly wrong.

What Your Brain Does on Drugs

Though the effects drugs have on your body and mind depend not only on the type of drug but a number of variables, including the dose, your size, your blood sugar levels, and more, it is never safer or smarter to drive under the influence. Generally, drugs can be divided into two types based on their effects: uppers and downers ― and both make driving incredibly dangerous.


Uppers, or stimulants, increase your energy ― but not in a way that improves your ability to drive. Instead, uppers tend to produce sensations of euphoria and low anxiety, which diminishes your concern for your safety.

Worse, addicts of uppers experience additional reactions, such as paranoia and hostility, which could induce risky driving habits. Some of the most familiar uppers are cocaine, Ritalin, ecstasy, and methamphetamines.


Downers, sometimes called depressants or tranquilizers, reduce your brain’s ability to function. Often, downers slow your heart rate and breathing, which can lead to slow reaction times, poor concentration, disorientation, and dizziness.

It should be obvious that driving under such conditions is extremely hazardous to everyone on the road. Alcohol is the most widespread downer, but hundreds of prescription and illicit drugs produce the same effects, such as marijuana, Xanax, Ambien, and heroin.

How Drugs Complicate the Law

Though DUIs, DWIs, and other driving intoxicated charges are typically associated with alcohol, driving under the influence of drugs is also a crime. Regardless of whether your drugs were prescribed by a doctor or obtained illegally, you can be fined or jailed for driving with some amount of drugs in your system.

Detecting drugs use is not always as simple as measuring drunkenness, which means suspected drivers are often subjected to blood tests to determine impairment. However, a handful of drugs, including marijuana, leave traces in blood or urine for weeks after use, leaving drug experts and law enforcement uncertain how to persecute elevated driving risks due to drugs.

Most often, law enforcement officers are trained in recognizing symptoms of drug use, such as irregular eye movements, flushed skin, or slurred speech, that indicate impairment, but some states enact “per se” laws that state any amount of any drug found in a driver’s system is cause for DUI charges.

Additionally, motorists targeted for driving under the influence of drugs might also have their vehicles searched for illicit substances. If any illegal drugs are found, the DUI might be the least of your criminal charges ― you might be charged with misdemeanors and felonies associated with possession of substances, paraphernalia, or intent to sell, which could see you behind bars for several years. It simply isn’t worth the risk to drive after doing drugs.

When Substances Become the Problem

As with most drinkers, most drug users have the ability to choose whether they will risk their lives and others’ lives by getting behind the wheel of a car. However, some drug users are so addicted to certain substances that they can no longer make rational choices. When substance abuse becomes an issue, it is imperative that you seek treatment, perhaps at a comfortable and healthy South Florida drug rehab center. Addiction treatment facilities help addicts, alcoholics, and all substance abusers to understand the cause of their troubles and find lasting solutions that will keep them and their loved ones safe.

Though most people know the dangers of driving drunk ― or even driving sleepy ― few understand that any drug can endanger lives when a user is permitted to drive a vehicle. Even a doctor’s note is no defense for driving while influenced by the effects of a drug. If and when you use any drug, you should stay far from driver’s seat to keep you and others safe.

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