A driver can be charged with a DUI if his or her blood alcohol level is at or above 0.08% or if he or she is driving while “under the influence”. Alcohol affects the body in various ways. This article will discuss the effects alcohol has on the body and the brain and how it impairs driving.
When one has consumed alcohol it reaches the brain within seconds after entering the bloodstream. Alcohol acts as a depressant to the brain and results in the following effects:
It impairs vision and hearing
It can result in a lack of muscular coordination (clumsiness)
It affects an individual’s ability to make sound judgements as well as self-control (gives a feeling of euphoria and loss of inhibitions)
The extent at which an individual is impaired varies from one person to the next. In respect of people who are regular drinkers they build up some sort of tolerance to alcohol. “As a result, even when their BAC reaches 0.08% or more they may not feel impaired. Another extreme is whereby people who normally do not drink alcohol, may begin to suffer slight impairment at a level as low as 0.02%. Moderate drinkers begin to show mild symptoms at 0.04% to 0.07%, while heavy drinkers on the other hand may require much higher blood alcohol levels in order to suffer some form of impairment.” It is important to note that the amount of alcohol in the blood stream depends firstly on how much the person drinks and then is based on the following:
How fast alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream
How fast alcohol is eliminated from the bloodstream
When someone drinks an alcoholic drink, the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through ‘the mucous lining of the entire gastrointestinal tract; that is the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach and the small intestines. Alcohol is absorbed faster as the drink moves down the tract’. The general notion that drinking on an empty stomach will get you higher faster is true as there is nothing else to compete with the alcohol getting absorbed in the stomach. It is important to note that water and citrus juice in the stomach can slow down the absorption of alcohol, while the presence of carbonation in a drink, for example champagne, can speed up the absorption of alcohol.
Experts state that, “for the average person about 60% of the alcohol consumed at a time will be absorbed into the bloodstream at least half an hour later. About 90% will have been absorbed in an hour and all of it will have been absorbed in an hour and a half. However, it is important to note that this is just an estimation for the average individual with an average stomach food load, drinking average drinks”. It is further stated that the rate of alcohol absorption depends on a number of factors including the following:
The quantity of alcohol taken in
The concentration of alcohol in the drink
The rate of drinking
The nature and amount of diluting material already in the stomach
In respect of the elimination of alcohol from the body, this is done through oxidation or excretion. 90-95% of the alcohol is oxidized in the liver to form water and carbon dioxide. The remaining 5-10% of the alcohol is excreted without any chemical change, before it leaves the body via sweat, urine and in the breath as a gas (which is what breath testing purportedly measures).
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