Georgia DUI Alcohol Metabolism Rate
WHY SOME PEOPLE DRINK VERY LITTLE AND STILL GET A DUI CONVICTION
© William C. Head, 2011
A small portion of the alcohol you drink will start to be absorbed into your bloodstream through the lining of your esophagus and stomach before reaching your small intestine. Because alcohol rushes past these membranes and ends up in the stomach in less than 1 minute, and this fleeting contact with these initial tissues is fairly short-lived, the total absorption of ethanol at these location might be 5% or 10% of the total absorption of the ethanol you consume. The stomach can be where another portion of the ethanol (from about 2% with an empty stomach to up to 15% or more of the ethanol --- depending on how long it “circulates” within the stomach and is being digested there --- can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach membranes.
However, two additional important factors can affect the rate at which alcohol passes into your blood and can particularly impact the “peak” (highest blood alcohol concentration) number that you will reach that night. If you consume alcoholic beverages which are carbonated or mixed with carbonated beverages (e.g., bourbon and ginger ale), the increased pressure in your stomach created by the carbonation will “push” more alcohol into your bloodstream faster. On the other hand, having food (particularly high protein foods like steak, pork and chicken) in your stomach BEFORE the alcohol reaches your stomach will slow down your peak absorption of alcohol by delaying the passage of the fast flowing liquids containing alcohol as they pass through the stomach on their way to the small intestine. Scientists call this physiological variable the “rate of gastric motility”.
The pyloric valve (located just beyond the stomach at the beginning of your small intestines) is the primary place for alcohol to enter the bloodstream and start its impairing effects. This is where 75% to 85% or so of all alcohol consumed by a person gets into the bloodstream. By eating the right high protein foods, which are slow to digest within your stomach before being allowed to flow into the small intestines, you assure that whatever drinks you had will not sharply rise to a high “peak” BAC level some 30 minutes to 120 minutes after consuming the final alcohol-based drink. Drinking on an empty stomach is just plain dumb, if driving will occur later that evening.
Most people can only “burn off” an average of about 0.016 grams percent of ethanol (drinking alcohol) per hour (most men typically burn off more alcohol per hour than women). A 180-pound man will absorb about 0.021 of ethanol from a “standard” drink (such as a regular 12-ounce beer or a single “shot” of 80 proof liquor --- 1.25 ounces) into his bloodstream. Therefore, this same man, rapidly drinking 5 regular 12-ounce beers in one hour and then starting to drive away assures that when he starts driving, more than 4 of those beers are still circulating through the his bloodstream for a considerable additional period of time. This could produce a blood alcohol content of between 0.08 to 0.10, from a breath test or a blood draw taken when his alcohol level is still “peaking”.
The rules to be learned from this information. (1) Eat first, especially high protein foods; (2) Don’t drink alcoholic beverages that have carbonation mixed with them; (3) slow down the alcohol intake so that your body has adequate time to process the alcohol [110 pound female, one standard drink per hour; 190 pound male, two standard drinks per hour]; and (4) wait at least 2 hours after the last drink to start driving, SO LONG AS you feel no “buzz” at all. Otherwise, stay with your friends, get a hotel room, take a cab or find an alternative way home [e.g., Safe Ride, MARTA, hotel shuttle van].
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