About three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives.

Many people who cause these mishaps simply didn't understand at the time how quickly alcohol could impair them both physically and mentally. They paid for this ignorance dearly.

Once alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is rapidly distributed throughout the body. It affects almost every cell (including those all-important brain cells), organ and level of functioning.

The most profound early effect is on the central nervous system. It acts as a sedative, producing relaxation and a sense of well-being.

Alcohol reaches the brain within minutes. It keeps passing through the brain until the liver has had time to oxidize it. The flow of oxygen to the brain is reduced, which can affect the ability to function and think clearly. Ultimately, judgment and reflexes are impaired.

-- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration