There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to intoxication, doctors say.
Here are some thoughts about drinking in general and our current law enforcement system.
An 18-year-old registered a blood alcohol concentration of .395 and is since recovering at home.
The student clearly was in danger due to over consumption of alcohol that lead to alcohol poisoning.
What's less well known is the actual nature of alcohol intoxication. How much alcohol is too much?
"There's a woeful misunderstanding about how little (alcohol) it takes to significantly affect performance," says Dr. Mark Carlson, medical director of the Center for Addictions at CoxHealth.
"We have so many people going into adolescence who really don't have an appreciation of what this drug can do, even at low levels."
Dr. Howard Jarvis, medical director of emergency medicine at Cox, agrees.
"I've seen people who are very intoxicated, so much that they're hard to arouse, with an alcohol level not much above the legal limit (of .08 blood alcohol concentration)," Jarvis says. Jarvis, who has treated many patients with alcohol poisoning, says "I've seen other people with alcohol levels of .300 who don't really seem intoxicated."
While a blood alcohol concentration of .08 is the legal standard for deciding which people are too drunk to drive a car, it doesn't say much about intoxication, say doctors."There are no real generalizations (about intoxication)," Jarvis says. "Everyone's different as far as how they react to alcohol and how they metabolize it."
Blood alcohol content is no indicator of sobriety, they say.
"The legal limit for driving is a social and legal compromise," says Carlson. "People who drive legally, under the legal limit, still are causing increased death rates because alcohol is in their system."
Generally, the U.S. medical community says a person suffers from alcohol intoxication when the amount of alcohol he or she consumes is greater than the person's tolerance for alcohol.
What does that mean to the human body?
"Alcohol depresses your central nervous system," Jarvis says. "If you're intoxicated with alcohol, your brain essentially is depressed."
Diane Bailey, director of the Addiction Recovery Center at St. John's, says one drink takes away social inhibitions. By the way, Bailey defines "one drink" as the amount of alcohol a person can metabolize safely in one hour, not a specific number of ounces of alcohol.
"You can get to a point when you're somewhat inebriated, when you have alcohol but you can still function," says Jarvis. "That's what people like about it."
The point at which intoxication occurs is not related to a magic number of blood alcohol concentration, either. It depends entirely on characteristics of the person doing the drinking. A person's weight, age, sex, drinking habits and underlying health situation all play a role.
"A bigger person might metabolize it better," Jarvis says, "but the more you drink, the more intoxicated you'll get."
Add a few more drinks after that first beverage, says Bailey, and muscle control weakens.
"Next on up is memory loss and blackouts," she says.
"There's a lot of myth built into the way we talk about alcohol," Carlson says.
And part of that myth is the prevailing laws relating blood alcohol to drunk driving. Older people who have been drinking for years are much more able to handle a higher blood alcohol level with little impairment, where a younger, less experienced drinker could barely function.
Who will stand up for a different, more logical standard? It's sort of like standing up for prostitution: in private many people talk about "call girls". They have known someone who is an upstanding member of the community, usually a single mother, who are not working the streets, merely looking for a high paying job that lets them spend more time with their kids. In some other countries prostitutes are legal, licensed, tax-paying citizens.
I, myself, never, ever, drink and drive. I never stumble or fall. I never have a hangover, vomit or passout. I ham 65 and have been drinking from my mid-twenties. Made wine from scratch for over 30 years. Arrive at work every day on time, and do my job. I don't beat up my wife or in any way act irresponsibly. But after 3 cups of my homemade peach wine I'm pretty sure I would test above .08.
We need to research this subject and come up with a better system to keep those truely impaired drivers of the road and not add "drunk driving" to the list of offenses if one has only been pulled over for a burned out taillight. A breathalyzer test in actuality means little in terms of a drivers performance. We need a better system. I don't want any more people killed by drunk drivers-not even one- but, like many other situations in modern society, this simple-simon test needs a change.