Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blood Alcohol Content and You

Let's get serious for a moment...

A friend of mine had a St. Patrick's Day party. Like many parties this one had a massive amount of corned beef, cabbage, things colored green, Irish Cream, Irish Whiskey, Guinness and Murphy's. What I bet none of those parties had that this one did was... the AlcoHAWK Precision Breathalyzer.

Question: how many of you know what a .08 Blood Alcohol Content feels like? Point oh eight is the legal limit (in every State in the Union) that bits of alcohol can be floating around in your bloodstream before you get a DUI. But do you have any idea how much alcohol it takes for you to get .08? Do you know what .08 feels like?

Probably not. Virtually no one does. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Administration of Justice, and I worked as private investigator for several years. Until that party neither Fran nor I had any clue what it took for us to reach that not-so-magic number.

Here's another question: why aren't certain organizations doing more to EDUCATE people? Oh sure, they tell us not to drink and drive. They pass out gory pamphlets and wave endless statistics (which can and are manipulated mind you) in our face... but do you see any of those organizations standing on a street corner with Breathalyzers in hand actually showing the masses what .08 really means?

Nope. They're as impossible to find as the pink elephants drunk people reportedly see.

Being the "professional drinkers" that we are Fran and I "knew" we could put it away. I'm a big guy (265-ish) and my roots run back to Croatia and Russia. Fran is 100% German. A Boston bartender once told me that she'd never seen anyone drink as much Guinness (on repeated trips) as I could and still remain coherent. But thinking and knowing are two vastly different things... and cops don't much care either way.

My friend's informal case study showed us what it takes to get to .08... and the results were very interesting. During the experiment each person kept a chart of what they drank, how much they drank and when they drank it. After gulping the last sip of our respective adult beverage we waited 20 minutes before blowing into the Breathalyzer. We also had to write down a "buzz factor" (based on a 1 - 10 scale, 1 being the least buzzed), and whether or not we felt OK to drive.

Over the course of three hours I drank six microbrews (not that mass produced swill people call "beer"). I began drinking my very next beer immediately after blowing into the gizmo. Here are my details:
  1. Guinness (11.2 ounces), drank in 12 minutes. Blew a .02.

  2. Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter (12 ounces), finished off in 15 minutes. During this time we all began to eat dinner. I gobbled down two large servings of corned beef, salad, and cabbage wraps filled with meat and other goodies. I blew .016. It went down. Being an experienced drinker I "knew" the second I started eating I would start sobering up. At least that's what I always thought. Turned out to be true.

  3. Bristol IPA (a full pint at 6.5% ABV), downed in 11 minutes. Ironically, I blew a .011. Down again... after an IPA. Serious drinking time had begun.

  4. Sam Adams Black Lager (12 ounces), swigged in 20 minutes. I blew .02. Going back up.

  5. New Belgium Tripple (12 ounces at a hefty 7.8% ABV. ) I gulped this down and blew .038.

  6. Sam Adams White Ale (12 ounces). This time I didn't wait the required 20 minutes after finishing (which I swigged in 19 minutes). I blew .068.
Finally, the beers (some of them "big" - if you're a beer geek you know what I mean by that) were starting to catch up to me, but I still wasn't over the limit. That's where we ended the testing. It wasn't until the last check that I started to feel even the slightest bit buzzed (I marked a 3 on the 10-scale), and I still felt OK to drive.

There were 12 other people at the party and we all ate dinner at the same time. During the drinking session I never broke the "legal limit." Only one other guy didn't go over, but he had fewer beers then I did, weighed far less, and left early. Now, if I had been drinking hard alcohol like many others were, I probably would have topped out inside 2 or 3 drinks (I rarely drink hard alcohol). But some folks were near the limit with one (two ounce hard alcohol) drink, and a few were over after their second (two ounce hard alcohol) drink. One of the guys in attendance had 3 pints of locally brewed beer (same ones I had in a few occasions) during those 3 hours. On his last test he topped out at an unbelievable .11 (might actually have been a tad higher). Read that again... there are no zeros in there, so he was waaaaay over the limit with just three beers (and a meal).

Bottom line: every single person walking the planet metabolizes alcohol uniquely and has a totally different tolerance level. What .08 means to one person, who can be completely smashed out of their mind, won't be the same for another person who may be perfectly OK. Alcohol metabolizes differently based on what appears to a be a slew of random genetic factors, including (but not as significant as you might think) a person's weight. The guy who blew .11 with 3 pints of beer was considerably heavier then Fran, who had 5 hard alcohol drinks (2 two ouncers and 3 three ouncers of her infamous "Long Islands"which are long on alcohol) and also blew .11.

So what are your thoughts? Have you ever tested yourself to see what your tolerance level is? Do you know how much alcohol it takes for you to get DUI'ed? I want to know!

I'm buying a Breathalyzer for our Professional Drinker's group to take with us to our social gatherings, the myriad of beerfests we attend, and out to our favorite drinking establishments. I'll keep you updated on our findings.

Until then... Zivjeli!


David said...

Interesting post. I've never been tested for BAC, but have considered one of these personal devices. I think most folks that enjoy craft beer have an innate sense of their tolerance level and slow down/eat/rest as required to keep them where they want to be. The personal "buzz factor" data you collect will surely prove or disprove that statement. Of course, there are times when the "buzz" is where we want to be. :-)

Looking forward to reading more of your findings. Let's hope we're proven to be as responsible as we think we are!

alcohol intervention said...

To avoid DUI, one must be responsible in the amount of alcohol consumed. We must not wait for an accident to happen just because of negligence. That is why we are blessed with a mind and heart that can judge over what is right and wrong. Do the right thing by moderating alcohol consumption, for us to avoid accidents.

Eli the Mad Man said...

Alcohol Intervention... I could not agree with you more. We are indeed blessed with a mind and a heart (most of us). And for the most part moderating consumption is a great idea.

Sadly, tossing out a BLANKET DUI BAC level is the exact opposite of what I call "intelligent" use of the mind.

My first hand tests and observations have proved that everyone has a different tolerance level. Everyone. There are people who can get completely trashed on ONE drink, while others can drink all night long.

Each individual body metabolizes alcohol completely different from the next, and thus renders .08 a joke. It not only isn't FAIR, but if the same rational is applied to other areas of life (say blanket prejudice based on race, color or religion)... it's ILLEGAL.

If the government REALLY wants to reduce Drunk Driving, for the sake of saving lives and not making money off of it, there should be State or Federally funded breathalyzers available to everyone in EVERY SINGLE establishment that serves alcohol.

How many people out there really know what it takes for THEM to blow a DUI? I'd be willing to wager less than 10% of the population.