There does seem to be a glacial movement toward the Nanny State, but while state-sponsored restrictions of our liberties are worrisome, just this once we should look at the data. Having a teenager no doubt has influenced my reasoning.
Let’s put on our lab jackets and play doctor science. Blood alcohol is the concentration of alcohol in the blood by volume or weight. If your blood alcohol level is 0.05 that means ½ of a 1/10th of a percent of your blood volume is alcohol.
If that surprises you, you are not alone.
We normally talk about nanogram (often seen as “ng”) levels of drugs in our bodies (a nanogram is a billionth of a gram). Think what percentage of your body two Tylenol make up. Darn little, almost immeasurably small.
Now pretend we live in a cartoon world, where people can be grabbed by their feet and head and wringed out. What would you get? A little more than a cup of pure ethanol (200 proof). At 0.08 blood alcohol, you get two cups of pure ethanol.
You probably know alcohol floats on water. It will diffuse into the air leaving water behind. That fact is important in “still” design and construction should you be so inclined. It also explains why taking a breath mint doesn’t help with talking to police or taking a breath alcohol test.
Every breath you exhale has alcohol that has evaporated from the blood in your lungs. The police can smell it, and the Breathalyzer can measure it. It is directly proportional to the concentration of alcohol in your blood. Isn’t science great?
Standard drinks are something thought up by scientists so we could make calculations. You have all heard of this: a normal drink is: 1 can (12 ounce) of beer, one glass of wine (5 ounce), or one drink containing one shot (0.6 ounce) of hard liquor.
Doing the math, it is easy to figure out what your blood-alcohol concentration is simply by knowing the number of drinks and your body weight. For my 100 pound high school student, one drink gets her to a 0.04 to 0.05 blood-alcohol level. I am 165 pounds so I need two drinks to get to 0.04 to 0.05.
Alcohol goes away as you metabolize it. That is the only way it goes away. Eating bread does not get you sober more quickly, nor does drinking coffee. Your liver has to burn the alcohol (as fuel), and nothing short of dialysis will get your blood alcohol down quicker. A rule of thumb is your blood alcohol will go down 0.01 every 40 minutes.
Presently a blood alcohol of 0.08 will get you charged with driving under the influence. That is two drinks for my kid or four for me. Alcohol in the blood is a continuous variable. You are not doing calculus in your head at 0.07 and blind drunk at 0.08.
The effects of alcohol on reasoning and concentration are measurable down at 0.03. There is proven deterioration of motor skills and coordination at 0.05. Put someone in a flight simulator for cars and they have more crashes than people with no alcohol in them. More crashes on the drive simulator are funny; more crashes in the real world is tragic.
Armed with just a few figures, you can manage to never be surprised by alcohol again. No DUIs for you, no crashes. Be in charge of your fate … and take care,
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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