Factors that Affect Intoxication
DRINKING | The Body
Amount of Alcohol & Speed of Consumption
The more alcohol and/or the shorter the time period, the higher the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).
Biological / Genetic Risk
Children of parents with any history of alcoholism are at a four times greater risk for developing alcoholism. We are all born with some biological level of risk for alcoholism and for some of us, the risks is increases.
There are heritable components of enzyme production that have been identified. Typically, individuals of Asian or Native American descent show reduced levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, meaning that alcohol will remain in the blood longer and high concentrations can build up faster.
Males and females react to alcohol differently. Women tend to be smaller than men, and get intoxicated faster. Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, so alcohol remains in the bloodstream longer (in fact, men have 40% more than women). Also, women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat, which reduces the percentage of lean body mass that can distribute the concentration of alcohol.
DRINKING | Food and Drink
Body Size and Composition
Smaller stature individuals will become impaired quicker. Alcohol can be distributed throughout the body via the circulatory system, and enters most tissues except bone and fat (adipose tissue). Body composition is important, because as the percentage of body fat increases, the resulting concentration of alcohol in the lean tissues of the body is proportionally higher.
Food in the stomach will slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and delay impairment. The type of food ingested (carbohydrate, fat, protein) has not been shown to have a measurable influence on BAC. However, we do know that larger the meals, and closer proximity to time of drinking, can lower the peak blood alcohol concentration. This could simply be the result of the food obstructing the alcohol from entering the bloodstream, or because the food will inhibit the stomach from emptying into the small intestine.
Alcohol in the bloodstream causes the pituitary gland in the brain to block the creation of vasopressin. This causes the kidneys to send water directly to the bladder rather than reabsorbing filtered water into the bloodstream. This diuretic effect increases as the blood alcohol content increases, and can lead to dehydration. Studies have shown that drinking 250 mL of alcoholic beverage causes the body to expel between 800–1000 mL resulting in the body releasing more than just liquid being consumed.
Carbonation speeds up absorption. Alcohol mixed with carbonated beverages such as Coca-Cola or tonic water will be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. This is also true for champagne and wine coolers.
Energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant. Energy drinks mask the effects of alcohol by giving you a sense of energy, and the false sense that you are not that intoxicated. Mixing alcohol and energy drinks can cause heart failure because they are opposing stressors on the body’s regulatory systems.
DRINKING | Emotions
If you are sick or just getting over an illness, you tend to become impaired more quickly.
Strong emotions such as anger, fear, and loneliness tend to hasten impairment. The psychological and social effects of alcohol (and the placebo effects) are also magnified by expectations.
Women who are taking some birth control pills and/or are in the premenstrual time in their cycle may have a higher BAC.
If you lack sleep or are tired, you will become impaired more quickly. If you get five or less hours of sleep for four nights in a row, for example, two drinks will start to feel like six drinks. Another way to describe this: lack of sleep reduces tolerance, so impairment will be experienced at lower BAC levels than normal.
DRINKING | Drug Usage
Marijuana reduces nausea, which can inhibit the body’s ability to remove harmful toxins by vomiting. Marijuana can increase the threshold required to illicit a vomit response.
Do not mix alcohol with aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These drugs are also metabolized by the liver. What you take isn’t the active form, but is transformed in the liver into the active agent. Drinking alcohol while taking painkillers creates a “bottleneck” in the liver. The drug is processed incorrectly, the bi-products kill liver cells, and alcohol is metabolized slower. It’s also important not to mix alcohol with other depressants, which includes some antihistamines.
Mixing alcohol with prescription drugs often leads to increased or hastened impairment. Alcohol can produce hazardous side effects, reduce heart rate, and drop blood pressure to a dangerous level.