According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), almost 30 people die daily in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol impaired driver in the United States. Furthermore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, estimated that 300,000 Americans drive drunk every day with only 4,000 of them getting arrested. It goes without saying that drinking and driving simply do not go together. Although there is increased public awareness, drinking and drugged driving still continues. From a financial view alcohol-related crashes cost American taxpayers over $100 billion. With such facts it is important to understand how blood alcohol content (BAC) impairs people’s driving capabilities in hopes of seeing less fatalities on the roads.
The Facts About BAC
All states in the U.S. have adopted .08% BAC (blood alcohol concentration/content) as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle for drivers aged 21 years or older. BAC is the measure of the amount of alcohol in a person’s body. Alcohol affects each person differently depending on personal tolerance, how much food is consumed while drinking, body weight, as well as other factors like health issues, medications taken and sometimes the gender of the drinker. With a BAC as low as 0.05 a person can begin to experience a sedative effect from the alcohol. Her reaction time slows and she doesn’t think clearly. When the BAC reaches .08%, a drinker loses even more reaction time, reflexes, peripheral vision, depth perception and reasoning skills, which are all necessary functions to drive a car safely.
Certain drinks, foods and medications interact with the alcohol being consumed and can intensify or diminish the effects. For example, carbonated drinks like coca-cola or sprite can speed up the absorption of alcohol in the blood stream, which would serve to make a person feel the effects of the alcohol more quickly. Certain medicines taken for asthma, including albuterol, salmeterol and budesonide, can create a false positive BAC even though no alcohol was consumed.
What Causes A Difference In BAC
Many factors affect a person’s Blood Alcohol Content. Two people ordering the exact same drink might see very different effects. What can cause one to become chatty and easy-going might do nothing for the other. Here are some of the major things that affect BAC:
Tolerance for alcohol: How often a person drinks, how much they typically drink and how long they have been drinking can affect BAC as the time taken to metabolize the alcohol may be faster or slower.
Carbonation: As mentioned, pop can increase a BAC. Any carbonated drinks can also increase the blood alcohol content, including champagne or soda water. The carbonation causes alcohol to pass through the stomach faster.
Food: Drinking on an empty stomach usually leads to a higher BAC level than someone who has eaten. Having food in the stomach slows absorption by the bloodstream by keeping it in the digestive system longer.
Age: It takes more to make a young person drunk than it does an older person. The intoxicating effects of alcohol hit more strongly for older people.
Gender: Men are blessed with a higher alcohol tolerance in general because they have a higher water content in their bodies than women. In addition, women are lacking in the enzyme dehydrogenase, which breaks alcohol down in the stomach, which also increases the BAC.
Metabolism: Everybody has a different rate of metabolism, which is the rate at which alcohol (or anything really), is processed in the system. In addition, the fluctuation of estrogen in women can lead to intoxication at a lower BAC then normal.
Fat/muscle content: Those who are overweight are more likely to reach a higher BAC then those who workout regularly. This is because fatty tissue has a difficult time absorbing alcohol than muscles do, which means more alcohol is left in the bloodstream until it can be metabolized by the liver.
Body Type: This isn’t as much about weight as it is about general body type. A person who is tall and skinny may reach a higher BAC than his bodybuilding friend who drank the same mixer, simply because those who weigh more typically have more water in their body, which dilutes the alcohol.
Know Your Limits & Be A Responsible Drinker
Lastly, when drinking know that some drinks have more alcohol than others.Someone who drinks two wine coolers isn’t going to have the same BAC as someone who consumes two Long Islands. Wine coolers typically only contain 5-6% alcohol by volume where a Long Island Ice Tea is made of almost 22% of alcohol (more here for drinks that get you drunk faster). Also, it is never a good idea to drink while taking any medications.Some medications can create a fall positive on the breathalyzer and some can increase a person’s BAC by affecting how the alcohol is absorbed by the body. Cold and allergy pills are known to intensify the affects of alcohol. As you can see, drinking is not just drinking life’s problems away. There are so many alcohol related factors that can impair your driving abilities. A responsible driver has to be aware of these factors, drink responsibly, and forgo drinking and driving altogether.