Factors that Affect Intoxication
(Source: University of Notre Dame, Alcohol and Drug Education)
Always eat before drinking, especially foods high in protein. Having food in your stomach will help slow down the processing of alcohol. A person who has not eaten will hit a peak BAC typically between 1/2 hour to two hours of drinking. A person who has eaten a peak BAC typically depending on the amount of alcohol will occur between 1 and 6 hours.
The digestion process itself plays a large factor. For every person no matter the size the liver will only digest one standard drink per hour. This is why the suggestion of one drink per hour is recommended. This keeps the liver from being on overload and secondly it enables a person to maintain a safe BAC and achieve the social relaxation effect most desire.
Strength of Drink
Stronger drinks will result in higher blood alcohol concentration. Refer to the drink equivalency section of the site for details on alcohol content of drinks. Keep in mind that the higher the alcohol content of the drink the more the alcohol irritates the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, slowing down the absorption rate of the alcohol.
Body Weight/Body Type
The less you weigh, the more you will be affected by a given amount of alcohol. For people of the same weight, even the same gender, individuals with a lower percentage of body fat will have lower BAC’s than those with a higher percentage of body fat.
Women have less of the enzyme dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach contributing to higher BAC’s than men drinking the same amount of alcohol. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol, and women will experience higher BAC’s drinking their regular amount of alcohol right before menstruation. Women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of water.
Mood can affect the way one reacts to alcohol. Slight improvement in mood occurs at a BAC of approximately (.02-.05). At about a .07, mood begins to deteriorate. For someone who was feeling depressed or anxious before drinking these feeling can increase or become exaggerated. Stress emotions such as (depressions, anxiety and anger) can also cause a change in the enzymes in the stomach and how one may process the alcohol.
Rate of Consumption
The faster a person consumes drinks, the quicker the blood alcohol concentration will rise.
Functional tolerance is a decrease in the body’s sensitivity to alcohol’s effects. In other words, a person exhibiting functional tolerance will not seem to be as intoxicated as a person with little or no functional tolerance. This is a behavioral adaptation to the effects of alcohol, and as long as the liver continues to eliminate alcohol at the rate of one drink per hour, it will have no effect on blood alcohol concentration.
Being able to “Handle your alcohol” does not have any effect on BAC.
Developing tolerance in upwards of 50%, taking twice the amount to feel the effect is a sign of developing a problem with alcohol.
Because alcohol is a drug it should be treated no differently than taking any two prescriptions at the same time. It is important to know the drug interactions and consult with a physician before mixing any medication with alcohol.
Many times students are unaware of the effects of drinking alcohol on medication. Certain medications such as antidepressants should never be mixed with alcohol. Another common mistake when students ask a doctor if they can drink on medication is that an amount is not discussed. Doctor’s often time define social use as one to two drinks in an evening and college student’s define social use as drinking with a group of people (not necessarily with a limit). Please make sure if you are on medication that specific guidelines are discussed with your physician on specific amount.
An interaction between alcohol and a drug is described as any change in the properties or effects of the drug in the presence of alcohol. Drug interactions may be:
Additive: The net effect of the drug taken with alcohol is the sum of their effects.
Synergistic: The effect of the drug when combined with alcohol is greater than the sum of their effects.
Antagonistic: The effect of the drug is diminished in the presence of alcohol.
For example certain pain killers, and cold medicines can have a synergistic effect and can multiply the effects of alcohol up to ten times.
Since the liver is responsible for metabolizing drugs other than alcohol, potentially dangerous alcohol-drug interactions can occur in both light and heavy drinkers. If you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, ask your health care provider for advice about alcohol intake. Recognize that even herbal medicines and supplements can have adverse interactions with alcohol.
If you are sick there is a good chance you are dehydrated. This will result in a higher blood alcohol concentration. Dehydration can also make your liver less efficient at eliminating alcohol. You may also be taking medication that is also going to increase the effect of the alcohol leading to problems.
Fatigue causes many of the same symptoms as intoxication which is going to magnify the effects of the alcohol. If you are fatigued before drinking, intoxication will intensify the symptoms. This occurs because when someone is fatigued, the liver is less efficient at processing and/or eliminating alcohol leading to the experience of a higher BAC than normal.
Numerous studies over the past decades have determined that a person’s preconceived expectations of alcohol determines the affect more so than the amount of alcohol. For example, people who set out to go out and get “drunk” tended to get drunk even on look a like drinks.
It is important to make the focus of your evening about friends, socializing, and/or the music rather than about the alcohol.
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