The holiday season has begun and this tends to be a busy time of year for many of us. Family and friends joining together to celebrate and catch up with those they have not seen for some time bringing joy, happiness, and laughter. Holidays may also bring a sense of sadness, pain, and anxiety, grieving loved ones that are no longer with us, stressing over financial burdens, or feeling the impact of relational conflicts. Individuals that struggle with drug and alcohol issues may find this time of year even more difficult to manage due to the increased stress and social pressures that exist. Family gatherings and holiday parties typically involve plenty of food and plenty of beverages, specifically alcoholic beverages.
Individuals who are going to choose to consume alcohol need to have some basic information in order to make responsible, safe, and informed choices when drinking. The State of Pennsylvania prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver with .08 percent or above blood alcohol concentration (BAC). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a standard drink in the United States is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. That means one can of beer, which is about 12 fluid ounces is equal to one glass of wine, which is about 5 fluid ounces, which is equal to one shot of liquor, which is about 1.5 fluid ounces. This information only serves as a basic guideline as one mixed drink may contain one to three shots of liquor. That means you are having one mixed drink but it contains 3 shots of liquor, which is equal to three standard drinks. That can add up very quickly.
One question that I am often asked is how much does one alcoholic beverage raise a person's BAC? This is difficult to answer because there are many factors that contribute to a person's BAC such as, weight, gender, percent of body fat, time frame of consuming alcohol, amount of alcohol consumed, metabolism rate, if a person is taking medications, and whether or not a person has consumed food. Alcohol is metabolized or eliminated more slowly than it is absorbed, and in general the average person can metabolize or break down one standard drink within one to two hours.
For example, a male who is 180 pounds who consumes one alcoholic beverage in one hour would roughly have a .02 BAC and it would take about one to two hours for that alcohol to be eliminated and reach a .00 BAC. A female who is 180 pounds and consumes one alcoholic beverage in one hour would roughly have a .03 BAC and would take around one to two hours for alcohol to be eliminated and reach a .00BAC. Using the same examples, if the male has 4 drinks in one hour he would have a .08 BAC, and it would take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours for alcohol to be eliminated. The female would have a .10 BAC and it would take about 4 to 8 hours for alcohol to be eliminated.
In conclusion, if you are going to an event where alcohol will be served and you are going to be driving set a safe number of alcoholic beverages that you will consume. Limit yourself to one standard alcoholic drink per hour. Try not to mix alcoholic beverages, as actual amounts of alcohol may vary from drink to drink. Make sure you consume food and drink water. If others are encouraging you to drink more than what you intended, be assertive and stick to the limit you set. Do not give into peer pressure, it is not worth it. Family, friends, and those who truly care about your wellbeing will understand. Bottom line, the safest decision you can make is to find a designated driver if you are going to drink alcohol. Alcohol impacts everyone differently and once you have more than a drink you place yourself and others at risk. Be responsible and make informed choices.
Resources: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism & Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
Michael Philhower, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker who provides substance abuse and mental health counseling to individuals, groups, and couples at Family Services.. Become part of the 418 Club and help Family Services reach 418 "likes" on Facebook in time for its 125th anniversary on April 18, 2013. Just like its page at www.facebook.com/fswcinc and invite your friends and family to do the same.