Smoking Weed While Drinking Makes Users Far More Likely To Drive Drunk

By McCarton Ackerman 04/16/15

Rates for driving while impaired nearly doubled when both weed and booze were consumed.

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It's well known that both alcohol and marijuana can impair your decision-making abilities, but a new study has found that smoking while drinking makes drivers twice as likely to drive drunk than those who just stick with booze.

Researchers analyzed data from 2005 and 2010 national surveys on alcohol use, in which over 9,000 people participated. Drinkers were separated into three categories; those who only used alcohol, those who used alcohol and marijuana separately, and those who combined the two substances. An overwhelming majority (89%) only drank, but 4% used both separately and 7.5% would combine the two together.

The simultaneous users displayed far more reckless behavior when it came to their substance use. In addition to being twice as likely to drive drunk as those who only consumed alcohol, they were also six times more likely to binge drink at least monthly, and three times more likely to have social consequences surrounding their use: physical fights, lost career opportunities, and brushes with the law.

"If cannabis use becomes more prevalent as U.S. states and other countries continue to legalize it, then we need to be prepared to advise people appropriately," said lead author Meenakshi Subbaraman, an associate scientist at the Alcohol Research Group, a program of the Public Health Institute. "If you use both substances together, your risk of drunk driving, and possibly other consequences, may be higher than if you stick to using one at a time."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that marijuana and cocaine are involved in about 18% of auto-related driver deaths. Alcohol was often found in combination with these drugs during later autopsies.

Colorado, one of four states to currently allow marijuana for recreational use, unveiled a statewide, “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign in March 2014. The $1 million ad campaign has also been supported by dispensary owners, who have put up posters in their stores supporting the cause.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.