Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Not Adding Up

There was an article in yesterday's WSJ called Alcohol Math: Who Gets Drunk and Why (sub req). A good deal of what was covered was not surprising to those of us who occasionally enjoy a cocktail or two: the more you weigh the more you can drink, having a good base (full stomach) before drinking is important, and experienced drinkers handle their booze better. There were the usual warnings about the dangers of underestimating the impact that alcohol can have (or overestimating your tolerance), how other factors may exacerbate those impacts, and how even though you might think you’re okay to drive after drinking, in reality you may not be.

While all those points are no doubt true, the examples offered in the story didn’t exactly corroborate them well.

First we have Eileen:

And factors like fatigue, stress, illness and depression can magnify alcohol's impact.

Eileen Wolter was driving home from an office Christmas party she had organized in Los Angeles in 1998. "I was definitely under a lot of stress," she says. She had had several mixed drinks, a few glasses of wine and very little food, but thought she was fine—until she took a turn too fast and hit a stop sign. She was driving with a flat tire and a broken wheel, causing even more car damage. A police car stopped to see if she was OK, and she flunked a breathalyzer test. "I blew a .09," says Ms. Wolter, who was arrested, fined $2,000 and sentenced to community service and alcohol education classes.

Several mixed drinks + a few glasses of wine + no food = I’m fine??? Sorry Eileen, I don’t the “stress” was what got you into trouble here darling.

Then there’s Randy:

People who drink heavily and regularly don't get as intoxicated as novice drinkers do on the same amount of alcohol, and tend to have a lower BAC because their livers eventually produce more of a particular enzyme (Cytochrome P450 IIE1) that breaks down alcohol more quickly.

But that may sometimes lull them into a dangerous complacency. Randy Strain, had just finished a stint with the Air Force, where off-duty drinking was common, in 2008 when he and his girlfriend were driving home on a rural road in Illinois after what he thinks were "about 20 beers." They were going about 80 miles per hour when they passed three police cars that were soon on his tail.

The ensuing 14 traffic violations and a DUI could have yielded a jail sentence, but a judge, noting his military service, only restricted his driver's license for six months, fined him $2,000 and ordered him to take 24 hours of classes.

There were times back in my college days when my patterns of drinking could well have been described as “heavy” and “regular.” But never once, even in my most besotted of moments, was I ever lulled into such a sense of complacency that I would think it okay to careen down a country road doing eighty after consuming the better part of a case of beer. “Me? I’m fine, only had about twenty beers. I think.”