Why you get drunk and they don’t


By David Joel Miller

Some people get higher blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) than others.

Why you got drunk

Why did you get the DUI?
Photo courtesy of Flickr (versageek)

If a group of people all drink the same number of drinks, even if they are all drinking exactly the same amount of alcohol in those drinks, one person will end up with a higher blood alcohol content than others.

This unequal blood alcohol level is not about tolerance

We are not talking about the subjective feeling of being more or less drunk here. Some people feel it more than others. Some people have practiced drinking so much they have built up tolerance. They don’t look or act drunk even at high blood alcohol concentrations. But if we test them on a machine, that person with the high tolerance, the one that thinks they can hold their liquor, they will be just as uncoordinated and incoherent as anyone else.

Number of drinks is not the only thing that affects how high your blood alcohol content goes.

Here are some of the factors that affect how dunk you actually get as measured by blood alcohol content.

1. More drinks equal higher BAC.

The more alcohol you consume the drunker you get. But not everyone gets to the same number. Drink an extra drink or a stronger one and you get more alcohol in your blood stream.

2. Body weight influences blood alcohol.

Alcohol mixes very rapidly in water. Most of the body is water. The bigger you are the more that one drink gets diluted and the lower your blood alcohol level will be. A 200 pound person can drink more alcohol than a 100 pound person before they reach that legally drunk point. That big person cannot drink twice as much, by the way, but they can consume slightly more.

3. Gender influences how much you can drink.

Men’s stomach produce more of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. One book reported that men’s stomachs neutralize 10% of the alcohol before it ever leaves the stomach. This means that women get a higher blood alcohol level than a man even if they are the same weight. Guys have known about this for years but ladies now you know.

4. Older people get higher blood alcohol levels.

As we get older our livers slow down even if it is low mileage and you rarely abused it. One drink per day maybe OK for a thirty-something but past age seventy 4 drinks a week will be too much.

4. A damaged liver can’t metabolize alcohol like it used to.

Excessive alcohol consumption is one way to damage a liver, there are others. Viral infections, over the counter and prescribed medications when used in excess can also damage that liver. Add alcohol, a non-prescription pain reliever used in excess and a viral infection and your liver may go on strike.

5. Just because you stop drinking does not lower your blood alcohol.

This is a common mistake. You feel a bit woozy. You stop drinking alcohol and start drinking coffee. Now feeling fully awake you feel safe to drive. You have not had a drink in an hour or more, it should be safe to drive right?

Most alcohol is absorbed in the small intestine. You stop drinking but the alcohol keeps moving from the stomach to the intestines to the blood stream. The result? For the next 30 to 90 minutes your blood alcohol content will continue to go up.

An hour and a half after you stopped drinking your blood alcohol content is higher than when you stopped.

This does not mean you should knock down that last one and then drive home as fast as possible before it hits you. What it should tell you is that a whole lot of physical features will conspire to take your blood alcohol level above where you think it is.

One other Alcohol factor can get you.

Drinking energy drinks, strong coffee and a little eye opener. People do stimulants, legal and illegal kinds. And then they feel that they are alert enough to drive. Just like the person who has developed tolerance you may feel OK but given a test of reaction time or judgment you will probably fail. Missing a point on a video game is not big deal. Feeling OK and then driving and hurting yourself or others, that is a really big deal.

So there are some reasons why you may be drunker than you think you are and why one person can drink more than you and dot get drunk but you may need to drink less or not at all to avoid the consequences of high blood alcohol contents.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at recommended books. 

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