NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

All Boozed Up... [Full link to blog for email clients.][FT:C44]

16:55.  BAC 0.00-0.01

"Hey, Joe!  You coming with?  Finally?  We've been asking for a month.  Me and the guys are headed to Harry's for wings and beer.  You've put us off long enough, so you'd better show this time."

"Thanks, Buddy, I know I promised, but I can't stay long, I've got a date later."

"What?  You?  Mister all-work-no-play has a date?"

"Well, kind of a date, my brother's wife's sister's friend.  They keep conspiring with my mother to get me married off."

"It's the grandkids, Joe, I keep tellin' ya - once ya give 'em grandkids they'll stop!  Anyway, we're heading out in five.  See ya at Harry's"

17:30.  BAC 0.03

"Hey Harry!  Another round!  Joe, you need another bottle of... what *is* that stuff?"

"Hardcore IPA, Buddy, I like it, full body, nice rich taste.  If you guys would stop drinking that horse piss you call 'light beer' you might find that you like a *real* beer!"

"Not for me, you might like those strong brewskis but I still gotta drive home to the wife.  At least it finally got you out of the office and socializing with us for a change, so I guess I can't complain.  Harry!  Another bottle for Joey!"

17:50. BAC 0.07

"Damn, I'm gonna be late - I've got to catch the train and meet her at Le Bon Temps at 6:30.  Let's see 10 minutes to walk to the station, catch the eighteen-hundred, 20 minute ride, another ten minutes to the restaurant.  Yeah, I can do this, and the walk will do me good.  Hey!  Guys!  See you on Monday!"

About this time, if you are as old as I am, you're probably expecting a narrator to pop up and say 'I am Joe's Liver' or something like that.  Sorry to disappoint.  Sure, I'm the narrator, but nothing quite so specific as to describe Joe and his liver on a night like this.  No mistaking - it will be a night to remember, unfortunately, Joe won't remember it, or at least not remember *most* of it.

Joe is a typical guy in his 20's-30's.  His weight borders on 200 pounds (90 kg).  He spends all day in an office and doesn't exercise enough.  He likes a beer or two in the evening.  Socially he drinks wine, and occasionally something stronger.  Tonight will be one of those nights.  He's already had two beers: 11 oz bottles each, of a high-alcohol-content beer, and it is started to have an effect.  He's socially relaxed, confident - too confident - and his judgment is starting to suffer.  His blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.07% - 0.07 grams of ethanol per milliliter (mL) of  blood - and he's already over the legal limit to be able to drive in most countries (except U.S., Canada, U.K., Mexico).  He *is* above the legal limit for Colorado.  Luckily he doesn't live there and is using public transportation tonight.

18:30. BAC 0.06.  Aldehyde 0.01

"Made it.  Whew, I'm a bit sweaty, ugh, need some deodorant or something.  Good, the vending machine has that spray cologne.  Where is she?  It was six-thirty, right?  Bartender!  Gin-and-tonic, with lime.  Thanks."

Forty minutes after he finished that second beer, Joe's BAC has dropped by 0.01%.  If he stops now, the alcohol dehydrogenase in his body will convert the rest of the alcohol in his blood to acetaldehyde in another 4 hours.  If he sleeps for about 4-6 hrs after that, the aldehyde will be cleared from his bloodstream as well (0.01% per hour) and he probably won't notice any lasting effects in the morning other than strong body odor from the aldehyde in sweat.

He's still not noticing much of an effect of the alcohol because at 200 pounds, but 5 feet 10 inches in height, Joe has enough fat in his body to "buffer" some of the alcohol before it reaches  his brain.  Unfortunately, he skipped lunch and has no food in his stomach except 1 chicken wing and a handful of snack mix. 

18:45.  BAC 0.08.  Aldehyde 0.01

"Damn, she's still not here.  Did I get the time wrong?  Bartender!  I'll take another, easy on the tonic this time around!  Oh - and another bowl of bar-mix, I had a meeting at lunchtime and my date is late."

Joe has consumed two beers, one gin-and-tonic and is working on a second.  That would ordinarily constitute 4 standard doses of alcohol.  The stand measurement for alcohol consumption is one shot (1.5 oz, 44 mL) of liquor - 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume) - or 5 ounces (148 mL) of wine (9-15% alcohol by volume) - or one 12 ounce (355 mL) can of beer (4-6% alcohol by volume) .  However, these are 'standard' measures, and vary with the actual alcohol content.  Joe's 'Hardcore IPA', for example was 9% ethanol-by-volume and two bottles gave him at least three 'standard doses' of ethanol - it's a good thing he didn't order 'Tactical Nuclear Penguin' (32% alcohol - the equivalent of about 6 beers).
18:55.  BAC  0.10. Aldehyde 0.02

"Bartender, ano-  Oh!  Hello!  You're must be Tracey, right?  Cheryl told me a lot about you!... No, I haven't been waiting long.  Wow, she didn't tell me how pretty you were.  I think I'm in love already!  Bartender, get the lady whatever she wants.  Sure, I'll take one to the table."

19:06.  BAC 0.11. Aldehyde 0.02

"Would you like some wine? They have this lovely Australian Syrah... Bordeaux?  Sure. let's see, hmm, the lighting is sure low, either that or I'm going to need to borrow your glasses ... Yes, sir, the 1998 Bordeau.  Oh, sorry about knocking over the salt - just a pinch over... what was that old superst... uh. legend?  A pinch of salt over the left shoulder?  Yeah.  That's it."  
Joe is legally intoxicated in any jurisdiction by this time.  His vision is just a bit blurry, his coordination a bit off, and he is making - and correcting - small slips of the tongue and memory.  He hides it well, having had a bit of practice in college, but he hasn't drunk this much in several years.  At his current Blood Alcohol Concentration, it will take over 7 hours to clear the ethanol from his bloodstream and more than 11 hours to metabolize the aldehydes.  We *will* have a hangover in the morning.
20:33.  BAC 0.18.  Aldehyde 0.04

"What the hell, Jake!  No one told me she was a Vegan!  How was I to know she'd get sick at the sight of Steak Tartare?  Then she stuck me with that damned Bordeaux.  I hate French wines!  ... What do you mean what did I expect in a French restaurant?  Up yours, Buster!  Oh, sorry, Lady, and I am *not* drunk! ... 'nother sh-sh-sh-shot of Jack, Jake.  Hah!  Jack-Jake!  Thass funny, that is!  Yeah, 'nother Jake-Jack and make it a double!"

Joe is now in trouble.  Two strong beers, two-and-a-half gin-and-tonics, three glasses of wine and at least one shot of whiskey has raised his BAC to levels that are clearly affecting motor control, judgment, speech, and vision.  If he tries to stand he will discover that the high concentration of alcohol in his blood has actually allowed ethanol to enter the cerebrospinal fluid and the fluid of the inner ear, increasing the effects on the brain as well as directly affecting balance (by suppressing hair cells in the semicircular canals), blood pressure, heart rate, etc. 
If he stops now, he'll have a miserable morning, but will have detoxified by the afternoon.  Unfortunately the night is not yet over...

21:57.  BAC 0.22.  Aldehyde 0.06

"Hoo-ey, that's good stuff!  You say your brother makes it up in the mountains?  Wow, never had it before!  Sure glad you came along, sweetie, the nerve of that guy, cutting me off!  I'm going to call his b-b-b-boss in the... the... wassname... yeah! mornin'  Yeah, wha' kinda beertender does he think he is?  Oops, sorry darlin, din' mean ta trip ya.  Hoo.  You shore are purty, darlin'!  Wheah?  Ah'm fum Tay-has, din' ah tell y'all tha'?"

Joe's BAC is now in the dangerous levels.  If he keeps drinking, he will lose consciousness, lose memory, lose his bladder function and if he ends up in a position in which it is hard to breathe, he could suffocate.  He does not understand his own actions, or what is wrong with his behavior.  He may find himself attracted to his 'Darling' but will likely be unable to do anything about it.  To say that his judgment is impaired is too mild.  At this point, Joe has no judgment -after all, he just drank the 2 shots of moonshine (70% alcohol - the equivalent of 3-4 standard drinks).
 "Wha's tha' you say, Darlin'?  Your place?  Wha' Ah thought we *were* at yore place?"

23:59.  BAC 0.28.  Aldehyde 0.09

Joe has lost consciousness.  When he awakens he will still be highly intoxicated.  He will also have The Mother of All Hangovers.  He will have no memory of the evening after the failed dinner date.  He will remember only that it went badly, but not why.  He will not know where he is, how he got there, or what he has done.  That may be rather fortunate for him.

07:30.  BAC 0.17.  Aldehyde 0.13

"Damn!  Too loud!  Stop that noise!  Ohhhhhh, my head!  What?  Where am I?  What happened?....

"Oh no!"

------ On Friday, "The Science Behind the Story"


  1. I must say a lot of these effects seem elevated above what I have experienced with a high BAC while (binge) drinking.

    Then again I don't think my BAC has ever reached .28 - When I get physically ill, I stop. It may well have gone as high as .22. I was once breathalysed by a friend 8 hours after finishing drinking and came up with a .12.

    The uncoordinated movement along with the reduced pain and reaction time sound spot on, as does the amplification to emotional intensity and responsivity.

    However, while I would not consider my decision making any better while drunk, it does not seem seriously impaired (extremely bad decisions do not suddenly become good ones). When I have driven to a party, even when excess consumption has led to vomiting (I had some issues finding my limits, downing several drinks at once only to go from fine to ill to nauseous over the course of an hour without touching another drop), driving the car intoxicated never crossed my mind. I would sleep over until ready to drive home, or walk home & come by for the car later. I've had only one instance of foggier-than-normal memory (my long-term is not good even sober, and wasn't good even before I started drinking). I could not remember farewelling an acquaintance going overseas. In the year since I have regained a foggy memory of the event.

    Vision does not seem impaired, though hearing might be. As for hangover effects, I don't find I have headaches; or strictly an 'upset' stomach, simply a lack of desire to eat food (except maybe a small quantity of something with a lot of fat and grease), reduced desire for water (just enough to stave off the alcohol-induced dehydration), and a very strong aversion to alcohol - the mere sight of a beer or whisky the morning after actually does make my stomach feel a little queasy - must be psychosomatic.

    That said, the most I have drunk in a sitting is 18-20 australian standard drinks - about 12.5 to 14 american drinks - and as a 180 cm (5'11'') 60-kilogram (135 lbs) male, my capacity may be less heroic than Joe in the previously posted story, causing me to meet my physical limits before my mental ones. I find never sitting down and especially not lying down helps - if I lie down after having 8+ drinks, the room starts spinning and my brain feels like it is soaking in alcohol.

  2. These are based on medical standards and how fast the alcohol was consumed.

    Are you saying elevated in terms of more severe effects for a given BAC or high BAC for a given effect?

    There is a lot of variability in an individual's enzyme activity - from caucasians with high ethanol tolerance (due to enhanced activity of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes) to amerindians and certain asian groups with low tolerance (and low enzyme activity).

    A major risk comes with BAC over 0.20. Once that level is reached, *any* of the more debilitating effects may occur.


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