How much alcohol is too much drinking? Knowing your BAC can be key!

There has been some research suggesting that training people to better estimate their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), can help reduce accidents and improve risk-taking while drinking among college students (see here and here respectively).

I’m including a recent piece from one of our readers, telling us about her first over-21 drinking experience in Las-Vegas. I think this story exemplifies that young adults may often consume more alcohol than they are aware of while underestimating its effects Continue reading “How much alcohol is too much drinking? Knowing your BAC can be key!”

Alcohol – Blackouts, Brownouts and how they affect your body

Do you remember what you did last night? Have you ever not remembered what you did after drinking? Drinking alcohol affects the brain and can cause lasting damage including, but not limited to, slips in memory. These memory slips can be due to lack of blood flow to brain areas that are important for memory consolidation and are commonly known as blackouts. Contrary to what popular belief, blackouts often occur in social drinkers and don’t seem to be related to age or level of alcohol dependence.

 

Blackouts and the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) rate

Amnesia, or memory dysfunction, can begin to occur even with as few as one or two drinks containing alcohol. However, as the amount of alcohol intake increases so does the probability of memory impairment. Although heavy drinking alone will not always cause blackouts, heavy drinking of alcohol on an empty stomach or “chugging” alcoholic drinks often does cause blackouts.

The estimated BAC (blood alcohol content) range for blackouts begins at levels .14%- .20%. Individuals who reached high BAC levels slowly experienced far less common occurrences of blackouts. Additionally, while blackouts lead to forgetting entire events that happened while intoxicated, some individuals experience an inability to recall only parts of an event or episode (these are often called brownouts).

Blackouts can occur to anyone who drinks too much too fast. In a survey of college students, males and females experienced an equal number of blackouts, although men consumed a significantly more alcohol.

Although brain damage could potentially occur from heavy alcohol consumption, there is no evidence that blackouts are caused by brain damage per se. However, if brain damage is caused from excessive alcohol use, some studies show improvements in brain function with as little as a year of abstinence. Regardless of the possibility of reversing any effects, alcohol use causes damage in different areas of the body (including the liver), and those damages have been shown to occur more quickly among females.

Co-authored by Jamie Felzer

 

Citations:

1. White, Aaron M., Signer, Matthew L., Kraus, Courtney L. and Swartzwelder, H. Scott(2004). Experiential Aspects of Alcohol-Induced Blackouts Among College Students, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse,30:1,205 — 224

2. Alcohol Alert (2004) . Alcoholic Brain Damage. Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 27.

About Addiction: DUI, Psychedelics, Smoke, and the Brain!

You know it and love it – here is our weekly post about addiction research, news, and more interesting tidbits from the wonderful world of the internet. I guarantee you’ll know more about addiction, drugs, and the brain, after reading it!

DUI because you think you’re sober? Check your BAC

Science Daily– A study found that people recover their subjective feeling of sobriety before they recover functions important for driving, showing that the perception of intoxication is a bad indicator of ability to drive. A BAC of 0.02 doubles the relative risk of a motor vehicle crash among 16- to 20-year old males and this increases to nearly 52 times when the BAC is between 0.08 percent and 0.10 percent. It seems that portable BAC monitors might be a good idea to reduce DUI accidents.

Psychedelics and High-Tech Pills

Common Dreams– Scientists are giving psychedelics another look as a possible tool in psychotherapy. Many psychedelics like LSD and MDMA have been used in psychological-treatment settings before and the Swiss apparently think we should be giving them another turn. The researchers there focus on the effects of psychedelics on the brain systems involved in depression mainly. Who knows, maybe you’ll be given a little LSD or MDMA pill before beginning a weekly therapy session in the future. Probably not in the U.S. though…

Magic “smart” pill– How wonderful would it be if there was technology that alerted you as to when you are supposed to take a pill? A “smart pill” which would text individuals when they need to take it is being tested in the UK, so it may be a reality in the future! Just think about it, all those people who have to take some sort of ADHD pill won’t forget now that their pill sends signals to their phone – “Don’t forget to take meeeee!!!”

Cigarette Smoke

Science Daily– According to physician-scientists at New York-Presbyterian Hospital exposure to even low-levels of cigarette smoke, including second hand smoke, may put people at risk for future lung disease such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While research showing that second hand smoke is dangerous isn’t new, this new group showed alterations in the genetic functioning of cells in the airway of those exposed. The researchers do point out that the alterations are less pronounced than in heavy smokers but say that even such low levels of smoke exposure can increase disease risk.

Brain Chemistry and regulation of cocaine intake

NIDA–  A regulatory protein, called MeCP2, that is found in the brain and best known for its role in a rare genetic brain disorder may play a critical role in cocaine addiction by regulating cocaine intake and perhaps in determining vulnerability to addiction. The researchers here found a complement to earlier NIDA research showing that as brain miRNA-212 levels increase, cocaine intake decrease. Apparently, it’s the balance between miRNA-212 and MeCP2 that is important.

About addiction: DUI, Alcohol Taxes, Underage Drinking, and Addiction treatment

Back again, like so many Mondays before, to tell you all about addiction research, news, and more from around the world wide web.

New York and Texas tough on DUI offenders

Everything Addiction– If you find yourself convicted of a DUI in New York State, you’ll have to install one of those ignition interlocks that verify you’re sober (by showing a BAC of zero) every time you get behind the wheel. So says a new law passed in that state trying to combat the problem of driving under the influence of alcohol. The law will take effect on August 15th and is known as Leandra’s Law. Another part of the law makes it a automatic felony if a person is driving under the influence and has a child under the age of 16 in the car.

ABC News– A man in Texas has been sentenced to life in prison after being caught driving with blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .32. But it wasn’t the high BAC that got him in that endless trouble, it was the fact that is was his NINTH DUI offense. I think there’s little doubt that getting that guy off the road is a good idea, but I’m pretty sure he’s an alcoholic, so hopefully they’ve tried treatment a few times before throwing him in prison forever.

Alcohol Taxes as a mild form of addiction treatment

Los Angeles Times– A study by the National Center for Health Statistics looked at the relationship between taxes on alcohol and the number of deaths that were associated with drinking. It was found that as the taxes increased on alcohol products the number of deaths decreased. As the taxes got lowered the number of alcohol related deaths rose. This study indicates that taxes may not be such a bad thing when it comes to alcohol as alcohol taxes may end up saving lives in the long run.

Underage Drinking can be scary

Drugs Information Online– Read some alarming statistics about underage drinking in the U.S. The article takes the viewpoint that Alcohol is thought to be a symbol of adulthood by teens who want to take on adult role. This seems to jive well with the Moffitt article we’ve cited here before.

Addiction Treatment Hell around the globe

Addiction Inbox– When an individual thinks about addiction treatment they think of people at addiction facilities who are engaging and willing to give their all to help the “addicts” that are in need. While this notion might be true in the U.S. and some other western countries, In China, Cambodia, and Vietnam addiction treatment looks very different. From Chinese labor camps to Cambodian detentions, read Dirk Hanson’s great account of treatment horrors in the rest of the world.

Understanding Blood Alcohol Content (BAC levels)

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is a measure of alcohol concentration in a person’s bloodstream. The more a person drinks, the higher their BAC and the more they experience alcohol-related impairments. The following table shows the behavioral, physical, and mental changes brought on by alcohol at various BAC levels:

Progressive Effects of Alcohol with rising BAC levels

Blood Alcohol
Concentration
Changes in Feelings
and Personality
Physical and Mental
Impairments
0.01 — 0.06 Relaxation
Sense of Well-being
Loss of Inhibition
Lowered Alertness
Joyous
Thought
Judgment
Coordination
Concentration
0.06 — 0.10 Blunted Feelings
Disinhibition
Extroversion
Impaired Sexual Pleasure
Reflexes Impaired
Reasoning
Depth Perception
Distance Acuity
Peripheral Vision
Glare Recovery
0.11 — 0.20 Over-Expression
Emotional Swings
Angry or Sad
Boisterous
Reaction Time
Gross Motor Control
Staggering
Slurred Speech
0.21 — 0.29 Stupor
Lose Understanding
Impaired Sensations
Severe Motor Impairment
Loss of Consciousness
Memory Blackout
0.30 — 0.39 Severe Depression
Unconsciousness
Death Possible
Bladder Function
Breathing
Heart Rate
=> 0.40 Unconsciousness
Death
Breathing
Heart Rate

BAC levels can be accurately measured through blood, breath, or urine tests. Currently, the legal limit to drive in the U.S. is .08 for individuals over the age of 21. That limit is similar to those used in other states, but there is some variation.

How many drinks for a BAC of .08?

The answer to this question is a little more complicated than it seems. Alcohol affects everyone differently. In general, smaller individuals reach higher BAC levels more quickly than larger individuals, fatter individuals reach higher levels more quickly than muscular individuals, and women reach higher levels more quickly than men. These factors are all related to the amount of water present in the body. The more water a person has in their body, the more diluted the alcohol will be in their blood. (smaller individuals have less water than bigger people, fatty tissue has less water than muscle, and women typically have a higher % of body fat than men).

Chronic drinkers can develop a tolerance to alcohol, allowing them to metabolize alcohol more quickly and giving them added resistance to the functional impairments of alcohol.

Furthermore, alcohol can affect the same person differently under different circumstances. Eating before drinking can delay alcohol absorption and reduce a person’s peak BAC levels by as much as 40%. Exhaustion, illness, and dehydration impair a person’s ability to metabolize alcohol, promoting higher BAC. Depressed mood and stress can also magnify the effects of alcohol. Finally, medications can react with alcohol, potentially causing serious health complications.

You’ve had too many – can you lower BAC?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic food or drink that can lower your BAC levels. Exercising and taking a cold shower will also do nothing to lower BAC. BAC levels will only decrease with time. On average, a person metabolizes alcohol at a rate of one drink (0.5 oz alcohol) per hour. Spacing out drinks is a good way to manage BAC levels as it gives your body time to metabolize alcohol while delaying further increases in BAC.

Understanding your body is the first step towards preventing dangerous BAC levels. Plan ahead make sure you don’t ruin your night or someone else’s by drinking more than you can handle.

Additional Resources:

BAC table for men

BAC table for women

Check out the Virtual Bar at www.b4udrink.org for a really fun way to learn about your own limits!

College students and binge drinking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as any pattern of alcohol consumption that brings an individual’s BAC (blood alcohol content) above .08 (the legal limit in most states). This equates to approximately 4-5 drinks for a man or 3-4 drinks for a woman within a 2 hour period.

In case some of you forgot, one drink is approximately a 1.5 oz shot OR 5 oz. of wine OR 12 oz. of beer.

College binge drinking norms

College students are one population in which binge drinking is prevalent. Prior to 18 years of age, students who end up not attending any college are most at risk for binge drinking. However, after 18 (the age when most people graduate from high school), students who attend a 4 year university become the population most at risk to binge.

So what is it about going to college that makes people want to drink more?

One important factor to consider is the way we portray college in the media. Television shows and movies often show binge drinking as the “normal” way college students consume alcohol (think beer bongs). This gives students unrealistic ideas of how much the average college students drinks. In fact, when asked how much most students drink in a typical drinking situation, students consistently overestimate how much their peers drink. This false norm creates an atmosphere where people are pressured to drink more than they normally would on their own.

The long-term consequences of binge drinking

Aside from the obvious impact of heavy drinking on health, binge drinking can lead to other very unpleasant outcomes. Among college students, students that drink heavily report higher incidences of regretted sex, sexual assault, riding with a drunk driver, loss of consciousness, and going to class hungover compared to those that drink moderately.

What can parents do?

Research has shown that parents continue to influence the choices their children make long after they leave for college. Parents can decrease the chances that their children will develop problematic drinking behaviors by doing two things: monitoring and modeling. Monitoring consists of asking a child where they are, what they are doing, and who they are interacting with. Modeling consists of setting a good example, communicating expectations, and transmitting values.

By remaining involved in their child’s life, parents may also indirectly influence who their child becomes friends with, which in turn influences their drinking behavior.

Citation:

Timberlake et. al (2007) Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

Abar. C, Turrisi, R. (2008) How important are parents during the college years? A longitudinal perspective of indirect influences parents yield on their college teens’ alcohol use

Cigarettes, smoking, and drinking alcohol – The connection that may help you quit smoking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

It’s no secret that alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand, but for most drinker-smokers, the reasons are probably a mystery. Does alcohol simply make people less able to control urges or is there something more direct about the connection between the two?

Alcohol reduces control over cravings

Smoking and drinking

A recent field study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors examined exactly this question using 74 smokers who recorded their daily experience in a journal. Researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with more frequent urges to smoke, signaling that indeed, drinking may increase the “want” while lowering the ability to control the cravings. However, the study also found that smokers reported greater satisfaction after smoking while they were drunk. Alcohol consumption predicted higher ratings of cigarette buzz, taste, and urge reduction after smoking.

Timing and context are important

Interestingly, the effects reported were only observed within the first hour after drinking, a period when alcohol content (BAC) is rising. (2)

Last but not least, situational factors seem to account for some of the effects of alcohol on smoking. Settings like bars and restaurants, where smoking and drinking were permitted, were associated with more frequent urges to smoke and greater satisfaction after smoking. Social settings, like being around drinkers and smokers, are also associated with increased urge and satisfaction.

How to quit smoking? Reduce, or stop, drinking

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, cutting down on drinking, at least in the initial phases of your quitting attempts, might be a good idea. It may reduce your cravings, and it may make you like the smoking a bit less while you’re quitting. If nothing else, it’ll get you out of situations where smoking occurs most often which will, by itself reduce your smoking.

Citations:

1. Henningfield, J. E., Chait, L. D., & Griffiths R. R. (1984) Effects of Ethanol on cigarette smoking by volunteers without histories of alcoholism, Psychopharmacology, 82, 1-5

2. Piasecki T.M., McCarthy D.E., Fiore M.C., & Baker T.B. (2008) Alcohol consumption, smoking urge, and the reinforcing effects of cigarettes: An ecological study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(2):230-9.