After a night of celebrations, many people believe they’re fit to drive home even when they’ve imbibed alcoholic beverages. When it’s late at night, too many individuals assume that, although they had a few beers, there’s a lower chance of becoming involved in an accident because there are fewer drivers on the road at that time of night, so driving is reasonable. Rationalizing drinking and driving leads to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year and hundreds of arrests.
People who drink regularly might think they understand how their bodies metabolize alcohol. Often, drinkers self-report being a heavy or light drinker. Bragging about one’s drinking abilities is as American as freshly baked pie; however, avoiding hangover symptoms after a night of binge drinking doesn’t make you a competent driver after your first drink. It takes lots of time and several body parts and functions to metabolize alcohol completely. Let’s take a look.
Why Drinking and Driving is So Dangerous
Although the rate of DUI crashes and fatalities decreases year after year, these crashes remain a top cause of accident-induced deaths. The worst part is that, like the root cause of many other car crashes, they occur because of poor decision making and are entirely preventable with a bit of foresight and personal responsibility.
As soon as alcohol enters your body, you get affected in subtle ways. Multiple systems react to the alcohol as it moves through your digestive system and into your bloodstream. Some common effects alcohol may have on your body are:
- Increasing your risk for several types of cancers of the throat, mouth, and liver
- Affecting your mental capacity and mood. Alcohol disrupts behavior and passes through the blood-brain barrier.
- Reduces the potency of your immune system
The extent to which alcohol will affect you personally all depends on your genes, environment, and how long it stays in your system. Generally, alcohol impacts the following organs:
- Your Brain. Alcohol passes through the blood-brain barrier, affecting your mood and behavior.
- Your Heart. Long-term drinking can lead to high blood pressure and heart damage resulting in an irregular heartbeat and weakened heart muscle.
- Your Liver. Alcohol can damage your liver. Heavy drinkers can experience inflammation of the liver.
- Your Pancreas. The toxic substances in alcohol can cause inflammation of the pancreas and impaired digestion.
Many of these health effects are subtle and cause damage after years of drinking. In the short-term, having a drink leads to:
- Reduced coordination
- Reduced reaction time
- Impaired vision
- Decreased concentration
- Reduced comprehension
- Impaired ability to track objects
All of these inhibitions make it impossible to drive safely and defensively, putting your life and those of others at extreme risk if you choose to drive while intoxicated. Drunk driving contributes to more than 10,000 crash fatalities in the U.S. each year, making it a top traffic offense.
How Long Can Alcohol Stay in My System?
This could be best answered by a physician who understands your body and genetic history. Alcohol metabolizes differently in each individual body. Metabolism is the process by which the body breaks down and eliminates alcohol. Genetic and environmental factors play a role in how quickly your body dispels alcohol.
Metabolism of alcohol involves two key liver enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Through a series of processes, these enzymes convert ethanol into water and carbon dioxide. The body can only metabolize a certain volume of alcohol each hour. That volume is determined by your body mass and liver size, along with the efficacy of your ADH and ALDH enzymes.
Once alcohol enters your body, it’s absorbed into your blood from your stomach and intestines. ADH and ALDH break down the alcohol particles so they can be eliminated. ADH converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Other enzymes pitch in and convert acetaldehyde to acetate rapidly.
Your liver metabolizes most of the alcohol in your body. A small quantity is eliminated through your breath and urine. This is what chemical tests issued by law enforcement detect during a DUI investigation.
What is a “regular drink”?
The average liver can process one alcoholic beverage per hour. A person might like his drinks “strong,” but there is a general standard of drinks used for this calculation. A standard drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is any drink that contains approximately 14 grams of alcohol. This could include:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounce shot of a distilled spirit (vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, gin)
How Long Does it Take to Pass a Breath Test After Drinking?
Since on average your liver can only get through one drink per hour, you should wait one hour between drinks. If you have one drink at 8 p.m., you should wait until 9 p.m. to have another, or you could become intoxicated as your body stores the excess. The more you drink, the longer the alcohol stays in your system.
Generally, a breathalyzer test can test positive for alcohol for up to 12 hours after consuming one alcoholic drink. The average urine test can also detect alcohol 12-48 hours later. If your BAC is 0.08, it will take approximately 5 hours to metabolize the alcohol completely before you can become “sober” again.
West Palm Beach DUI Lawyer Fights Unfair Alcohol Charges
Ultimately, it’s best to avoid driving after a night of drinks. If you made a mistake and are facing a DUI charge in West Palm Beach, you have the right to representation. Attorney Brian P. Gabriel has staunchly fought DUI charges of all types throughout his 25+ year career as a defense attorney in Palm Beach County.
DUI cases can be highly complex, and many details can arise during the course of your attorney’s investigation that may weaken the prosecution’s case. Don’t wait until it’s too late to compile a strong case. Call 561-622-5575 or complete our contact form for a free consultation with Mr. Gabriel.