Department of Recreation and Wellness

Factors that Affect Intoxication

Amount of Alcohol & Speed of Consumption

The more alcohol and/or the shorter the time period, the higher the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).

Biological / Genetic Risk

Children of an alcoholic are at a greater risk for developing alcoholism – four times greater! This increased risk is sometimes described as a predisposition to alcoholism. Just as we inherit a certain likelihood of heart disease, we are all born with some biological level of risk for alcoholism. For some of us, that risk is increased. Those of us with biological history of alcoholism in our family are at greater biological risk for alcoholism.

Gender

Males and females react to alcohol a bit differently. Women tend to be smaller than men. Women get intoxicated faster and stay intoxicated longer. Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, so alcohol remains in the bloodstream longer (in fact, men have 40% more than women). Also, women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat, which reduces the percentage of lean body mass that can distribute the concentration of alcohol.

Body Size and Composition

Smaller stature individuals will become impaired quicker. Alcohol can be distributed throughout the body via the circulatory system, and enters most tissues except bone and fat (adipose tissue). This is why body composition is important, because as the percentage of body fat increases, the resulting concentration of alcohol in the lean tissues of the body is proportionally higher.

Carbonated Beverages

Carbonation speeds up absorption. Alcohol mixed with carbonated beverages such as Coca-Cola or tonic water will be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. This is also true for champagne and wine coolers.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant. Energy drinks mask the effects of alcohol by giving you a sense of energy, and the false sense that you are not that intoxicated. Mixing alcohol and energy drinks can cause heart failure because they are opposing stressors on the body’s regulatory systems.

Illness

If you are sick or just getting over an illness, you tend to become impaired more quickly.

Marijuana

Marijuana reduces nausea, which can inhibit the body’s ability to remove harmful toxins by vomiting. Marijuana can increase the threshold required to illicit a vomit response.

Moods

Strong emotions such as anger, fear, and loneliness tend to hasten impairment. The psychological and social effects of alcohol (and the placebo effects) are also magnified by expectations.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Do not mix alcohol with aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These drugs are also metabolized by the liver. What you take isn’t the active form, but is transformed in the liver into the active agent. Drinking alcohol while taking painkillers creates a “bottleneck” in the liver. The drug is processed incorrectly, the bi-products kill liver cells, and alcohol is metabolized slower.  It’s also important not to mix alcohol with other depressants, which includes some antihistamines.

Prescription Drugs

Mixing alcohol with prescription drugs often leads to increased or hastened impairment. Alcohol can produce hazardous side effects, reduce heart rate, and drop blood pressure to a dangerous level.

Hormones

Women who are taking some birth control pills and/or are in the premenstrual time in their cycle may have a higher BAC.

Sleep

If you lack sleep or are tired, you will become impaired more quickly. If you get five or less hours of sleep for four nights in a row, for example, two drinks will start to feel like six drinks. Another way to describe this: lack of sleep reduces tolerance, so impairment will be experienced at lower BAC levels than normal.

Stomach Content

Food in the stomach will slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and delay impairment. The type of food ingested (carbohydrate, fat, protein) has not been shown to have a measurable influence on BAC. However, we do know that larger the meals, and closer proximity to time of drinking, can lower the peak blood alcohol concentration. This could simply be the result of the food obstructing the alcohol from entering the bloodstream, or because the food will inhibit the stomach from emptying into the small intestine.

Ethnicity

There are heritable components of enzyme production that have been identified. Typically, individuals of Asian or Native American descent show reduced levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, meaning that alcohol will remain in the blood longer and high concentrations can build up faster.