Psychopharmacology of Alcohol

1. Some Basics about Alcoholic Beverages

Alcohol Equivalencies

As shown in the following diagram, the absolute amount of ethyl alcohol that a drinker consumes is approximately the same for a 5 ounce glass of wine, a 12 ounce can or bottle of beer, and a standard shot of distilled spirits. In each case, one drink equals a little more than a half-ounce of alcohol. Of course, the larger the wine glass or beer bottle, the greater the amount of alcohol. Also, some beverages such as fortified wines and malt liquor contain more alcohol by volume than ordinary wine or beer.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

An individual's Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a function of a number of factors, including sex, body weight, and number of drinks consumed within a period of time. The following tables show how absolute BAC varies as a function of those three variables. In addition, BAC can depend upon whether alcohol is consumed with a meal and whether the beverage is carbonated (e.g., sparkling wine). In most people, the liver is able to metabolize slightly less than half an ounce of alcohol—or approximately one drink—per hour.

These tables show BAC for number of drinks consumed in one hour. BAC is calculated separately for each gender, due to the fact that women have less fluid in their bodies compared to men of the same weight, which means that alcohol concentrations in their blood stream are higher when taken pound per pound. Generally speaking, people with more liquid in their bodies will have a smaller concentration of BAC, thus people with more mass (big people) will tend to handle more alcohol intake. For instance, the table on the left shows that a 240 pound man must consume five drinks in one hour to reach the legal intoxication limit of .08 percent BAC. In contrast, a 120 pound woman will be legally intoxicated after only two drinks in an hour.

BAC Chart for Men BAC Chart for Women

Behavioral Effects of BAC

Some of the behavioral, perceptual, and pathological effects that individuals tend to experience at different levels of BAC are shown in the next table. Although it is not shown in this table, a BAC of 0.60 is virtually certain to produce death due to depressed functioning of the respiratory system or heart.

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