Intoxication Can Be a Hidden Danger

Posted on October 4th, 2010

Intoxication Can Be a Hidden DangerThe line between intoxication and sobriety can be a blurry one, literally. Though everyone is familiar with the dangers of driving drunk, debate continues as to what level of drinking constitutes intoxication – and if there are certain other levels of drinking that should also be monitored. Thousands of injuries and hospitalizations result from intoxication each year, generating even more importance toward people learning to recognize someone who has had too much to drink.

Legally, the definitions of intoxication can also vary. In some court rooms, “obvious intoxication” may not mean the same thing as intoxication that is “visible.” John Brick, executive director of Intoxikon International, a private consulting and research company specializing in alcohol and drug use, points out the differing use of the terms. “Visible” intoxication may refer to certain actions, like stumbling, trouble speaking and other indicators.

In other states, however, “obvious” intoxication may refer to an assumed reality that if someone has had several alcoholic beverages, they are likely not fit to drive. A person could be intoxicated on an obvious level, but if they don’t show outward signs, they may not actually be intoxicated on a visible level.

Intoxication is the result of taking in alcohol more quickly than the body can tolerate. When drinking, the ethanol in alcohol inhibits certain regions of the brain and causes impaired function, like memory or coordination, and can result in respiratory failure or death.

When drinks are consumed with food, the body will finish absorbing the ethanol within one to three hours after the last drink is taken in. If additional alcohol is not consumed, this will be the time of the highest blood alcohol concentration.
Experts warn that for some drinkers, easily-identified signs of problems with coordination or motor skills may not be present – even when their blood alcohol concentration far exceeds legal limits. The challenge for people who are trying to prevent someone from becoming injured or killed in an accident is that they may have to intervene, even if typical outward clues of being drunk may not be readily identified.

Brick also points out that people’s metabolism and gender create further discrepancies toward intoxication. A petite female could reach a dangerous level of blood alcohol concentration with only a few drinks, but a larger-sized male might need ten or more drinks to reach the same level. Brick, then, suggests that instead of a standardized blood alcohol level as the key determinant of intoxication, officials should rely on other ways to determine a person’s impairment.

In some cases, this might include actually counting the number of alcoholic drinks a person is consuming. However, Brick goes on to point out that this can be tricky because a person may have been drinking before they arrived at the establishment. It can also be cumbersome in a busy restaurant or bar setting.

Intoxicon International calls for more investigation to determine a reliable count of maximum drinks a person should be served, paired with teaching bar and restaurant staff how to know if a person has had too much.

As a general recommendation, Brick encourages people to be careful when assuming someone’s level of intoxication because they may not show any outward signs of being impaired. Caution seems to be the best preventative measure toward saving lives from drunk driving accidents.

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