What is Intoxication?

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Intoxication occurs long before someone passes out!

Each person responds somewhat differently to the effects of alcohol based on mood, the drinking setting, physical health, and tolerance for the chemical.

  • Intoxication is the point at which alcohol depresses the central nervous system so that mood, physical and mental abilities are noticeably changed.
  • The legal definition of intoxication is a Blood Alcohol Content of .08.

Tolerance is completely unrelated to a person’s Blood Alcohol Content. Blood Alcohol Content is the amount of alcohol in one’s system based on weight, number of drinks, and the period of time during which alcohol is consumed.

It is suggested that a person not exceed a Blood Alcohol Content of .056, as this is the point where the positive, relaxed, euphoric effects of the alcohol are experienced. When a BAC of .056 is exceeded, the negative, depressant effects of alcohol take place.

A BAC of .06 – .10 is considered the point of diminishing returns. Typically a person at this BAC will experience the following:

  • Impaired judgment, inappropriate behavior (such as drinking competitively, or annoying others)
  • Impaired coordination (stumbling, swaying, staggering, or loss of fine motor skills, distance acuity, glare recovery)
  • Slurred speech, talkative
  • Diminished of senses (speaks louder, cannot hear as well as normal, vision is not as clear, glassy, unfocused eyes)
  • Slowed mental processing (can only do one task at a time, forgetting things, lighting more than one cigarette at a time, or losing their train of thought, cannot listen well, follow conversations well, or understand what others are saying)
  • Intensified emotions (overly friendly, laughing intensely, displaying mood swings)
  • Lowered Inhibitions

Some people may become significantly more affected at lower blood alcohol levels, whereas others at similar BACs may not appear to show symptoms due to developed tolerance. The list below indicates the typical effects experienced at varying blood alcohol levels.

Remember, there are no absolutes.

BAC level Generalized Dose Specific Effects:

BAC Level Effect of Alcohol
BAC = 0.02 to 0.03% No loss of coordination, slight euphoria and loss of shyness. Depressant effects are not apparent.
BAC = 0.04 to 0.06% Feeling of well-being, relaxation, lower inhibitions, and sensation of warmth. Euphoria. Some minor impairment of reasoning and memory, lowering of caution.
BAC = 0.07 to 0.09% Slight impairment of balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing. Euphoria. Reduced judgment and self-control. Impaired reasoning, memory, and sense of cautiousness.
BAC = 0.10-0.125% Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Speech may be slurred; balance, vision, reaction time, and hearing will be impaired.
BAC = 0.13-0.15% Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reducing and dysphoria is beginning to appear.
BAC = 0.16-0.20% Dysphoria predominates, nausea may appear. The drinker has the appearance of a “sloppy drunk.” May vomit.
BAC = 0.25% Needs assistance in walking; total mental confusion. Dysphoria with nausea and some vomiting. Death has occurred at this level, and it is considered a medical emergency.
BAC = 0.30% Loss of consciousness.
BAC = 0.40% + Onset of coma, possible death due to respiratory arrest.

Factors that Affect Intoxication

  • Food – Always eat before drinking, especially foods high in protein. Having food in your stomach will help slow down the processing of alcohol.
  • Strength of Drink – Stronger drinks will result in higher blood alcohol concentration. Understand drink equivalents.
  • 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, individuals with a lower percentage of body fat will have lower BAC’s than those with a higher percentage of body fat.
  • Gender – Women have less of the enzyme dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol women will experience a higher BAC before menstruation on the same amount of alcohol they usually drink. Women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of water.
  • Rate of Consumption – The faster a person consumes drinks, the quicker the blood alcohol concentration will rise.
  • Functional Tolerance – 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.
  • Medications – Most medications do have some type of reaction when mixed with alcohol, always consult with your physician before mixing any medication with alcohol.
  • Illness – 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.
  • Fatigue – Fatigue causes many of the same symptoms as intoxication. If you are fatigued before drinking, intoxication will intensify the symptoms.