Friday, July 25, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Point of Brew: Testing the limits of tipsy

MichaelLewisW

By
From page A11 | October 27, 2011 |

The Wall Street Journal (which should know better) recently conducted an experiment with some partygoers to explore the world of drinking and drunkenness. The results of the experiment, plus some wise words about drinking and driving, were contained in a report that carried the same headline as this column.

The WSJ report was made in August but it seemed to me better to explore this subject now; after all, we are about to enter the party season with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s parties lined up ahead of us.

As experiments go, WSJ’s effort can only be described as amateurish: People were allowed to eat and drink whatever they chose over a period of time at a party and were asked at 8:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. to blow into a breathalyzer device as a measure of blood alcohol content.

The results, reported for just three participants, in broadest outline, correspond to what we already know about alcohol and drunkenness and so there were no real surprises.

Thus, generally speaking, heavier people were less affected by drinking than smaller people. Those who drank more alcohol or drank faster got drunker. Those who drank on an empty stomach got a high BAC somewhat more quickly than those who were well fed, though the kind of food eaten is of small effect.

Asians were more sensitive to alcohol that other races and women were more susceptible than men; older folk process alcohol more slowly than younger ones. Experienced drinkers were better able to tolerate alcohol than those who drank on rare occasions.

Carbonated drinks slightly promote intoxication, all else being equal (which it rarely is) but sugary drinks and caffeinated drinks do not.

And so the answer to the question “How much alcohol does it take to get intoxicated?,” with which the WSJ article begins, is — “It depends.” Explaining this outcome required the equivalent of one full page of the Health and Wellness section of the Aug. 2 edition of the Wall Sreet Journal.

The specifics of the WSJ experiment are not particularly useful because the device used for the test, a breathalyzer, does not actually measure BAC but yields a number that is derived from it; also, the accuracy and reproducibility of the results depend on the quality and sophistication of the device.

Sometimes the results can be rather strange and false positives are possible for those with, for example, diabetes or acid reflux or on certain diets or if the measurement is made too soon after sipping.

Furthermore, the WSJ experiment made no effort to link the BAC breathalyzer score to behavior, which can be controlled to some extent by those who drink on a regular basis, or ability to undertake a task or to measure reflex time.

These days, the legal blood alcohol content level in all 50 states is 0.08 percent; some experts suggest that that amount is still too high because they can detect slowed reaction times as low as 0.04 percent or 0.05 percent BAC.

Other countries enforce lower BAC levels. Most telling might be the 0.05 percent limit enforced in much of Europe, where the availability of alcohol and its everyday and commonplace use is at least as well developed as in this country.

The most important task mentioned in connection with drinking is driving. The unfortunate thing is that some drivers, after a few drinks, have lowered inhibitions and think they are instantly and magically NASCAR-qualified; if this new-found talent be challenged by competition (real or perceived) or a dare, disaster may results.

This again is where experienced drinkers handle themselves differently from inexperienced ones: They know their reflexes are affected and slow down and take great care. This does not make drinking and driving right or smart, ever; it is much better to wait for the effects of alcohol to wear off or to walk home or take a taxi.

Alcohol is absorbed from the digestive system into the blood stream and carried to the liver where it is metabolized. But this extraordinary organ cannot keep up with alcohol intake that is too rapid; alcohol that the liver cannot remove circulates in the bloodstream as blood alcohol content and so affects every other organ of the body, especially the brain.

It is the effect of alcohol on the brain that causes the typical symptoms of inebriation such as impaired reflexes, slurred speech, befuddled behavior and loss of balance.

A useful rule of thumb is that the liver can process the alcohol in one drink in about one hour, and so drinking at that rate of consumption, especially if alcohol is taken with food so that the flow of alcohol into the bloodstream from the small intestine is somewhat slowed (but note: not reduced in amount), is unlikely to cause toxic reactions and inebriation.

From this point of view alone, drinking beer is a better choice for a night out than most other beverages because one can nurse a 12-ounce bottle of beer for an hour much more easily than 1.5 ounces of spirits (a standard drink). It is just harder to shoot down a lot of alcohol in a short time with beer than with, say, vodka martinis.

Dr. Sami Zakhari, director of the division of metabolism and health at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says that only time can unwind the effect of alcohol on the body. The liver can reduce the BAC by about 0.015 percent per hour, so a person who is at the legal limit of 0.08 percent can reach a more benign level of, say, 0.05 percent in two hours of sitting and waiting.

Drinking coffee or a taking a cold shower during this time may make one feel better, even a lot better, but has no effect on BAC.

I think all adults who choose to drink alcohol, especially in a party setting where this most useful social lubricant can get of hand, should remind themselves before setting out for the evening about the effects of alcohol and how it works on the human body, and specifically their own body.

These facts are well known and, for those still in doubt, please re-read this column.

And with that knowledge to plan ahead: Either plan to stay sober by managing drink intake and time, or plan to allow time to sober up, or plan to find a taxi to get home safely. Have fun, always, but not by testing the limits of tipsy.

— Reach Michael Lewis at cymro@sbcglobal.net. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

California climate change policies to hit our pocketbooks

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

 
Tech Trekkers boldly go into STEM fields

By Amy Jiang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Decoding breast milk secrets reveals clues to lasting health

By Pat Bailey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Carwash raises funds for funeral expenses

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

 
Bob Dunning: Hey, we want more than one thin dime

By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

Appeals court upholds high-speed rail route

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Artists, photographers invited to support Yolo Basin Foundation

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Unitarians will host summer camp

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Sudwerk’s sales grow, floating on a sea of dry hop lager

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Wetlands visitors will see migrating shorebirds

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

‘Bak2Sac’ free train ride program launched

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

 
Explorit: Wonderful wetlands right at home

By Lisa Justice | From Page: A8 | Gallery

Recycle old paint cans for free

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

 
Where your gas money goes

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A12

Americans, internationals make connections

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

 
Can you give them a home?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16 | Gallery

STEAC needs donations of personal care items

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

 
.

Forum

Trio disagrees on best option

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Thanks for emergency help

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Commenting system to change

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10, 16 Comments

 
Support these local restaurants

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Let’s get the bench repaired

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

 
Predicting climate changes

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

Clinton’s book is worth a read

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

Hudson solid, Hamels better in Giants’ loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Petrovic, Putnam share Canadian Open lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Moss powers A’s past Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Enriquez brilliant, but Post 77 season ends with Area 1 loss

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
The un-Armstrong? Tour ‘boss’ Nibali wins Stage 18

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

.

Features

.

Arts

‘A Most Wanted Man’: Superb espionage drama

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
Clyde Elmore: Art in the Wild

By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Musicians perform at Sunday service

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A17 | Gallery

 
.

Business

Accord’s latest model is most fuel efficient

By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

Mary Lita Bowen

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
James Thomas Feather

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Richard ‘Dick’ Robenalt

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
.

Comics

Comics: Friday, July 25, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A13

 
.

Real Estate Review

Featured Listing

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

Professional Services Directory

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

Remax

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

Sherman Home

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Tracy Harris

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4