Alcohol Facts and Insights

Recent data from the 2022 National College Health Assessment at Minnesota State Mankato indicates nearly 78% of MNSU students have experience drinking alcohol and approximately 74% have used alcohol in the last three months.  It’s important those who choose to drink have accurate alcohol facts and insights to make informed choices. 

Blood Alcohol Concentration

The amount of alcohol in the blood stream is referred to as Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).  It is a calculation that determines the percent of alcohol in circulating blood.  The federal BAC limit to legally drive in the United States is 0.08%.  BAC is a vital measurement when determining the effects of alcohol and depends on a number of factors:

  • Body Size—after absorption, alcohol is distributed in body water. The higher a person’s body water volume, the more dilute the alcohol circulating in the blood stream.  Men tend to have higher total body water than women, so even when matched for body weight and size, men will often have lower a BAC than women drinking the same amount.
  • How fast you drink—the faster the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, the greater the impairment. Per hour, the liver can metabolize approximately the alcohol amount contained in one standard drink.  If drinking exceeds this rate, alcohol accumulates in the body.
  • Food—Food in the stomach delays the passage of alcohol into the small intestine. Any kind of food will slow absorption, but protein and fat foods are the most effective.
  • Type of beverage—the concentration of a drink affects the rate at which it is absorbed. A shot of liquor (high concentration) is usually consumed faster than a diluted source (a mixed drink or beer).  The higher the concentration of alcohol, the faster the absorption rate.
  • Biological Sex—In general, cis-gender women will have a higher proportion of body fat, and lower amounts of body water than those who are male at birth. Since women have less body water to dilute the effect, an ounce of alcohol will be more concentrated in the blood.  Hormones levels during the menstrual cycle, hormone birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can affect the rate of alcohol metabolism.  Men have higher amounts of an alcohol-metabolizing stomach enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which enables the body to break down alcohol in the stomach before reaching the bloodstream.
  • Drinking history/tolerance—long-term, heavy drinking can result in an increased tolerance of alcohol’s effects. BAC will accurately reflect how much alcohol is in the system but each person’s reaction to the alcohol will, in part, be determined by tolerance.
  • Physical and Emotional State—factors such as sleep, mood, personality, and desires or expectations about drinking can affect the impact of alcohol. If the drinker is emotionally upset, under stress, or tired, alcohol may have a stronger impact than normal.
  • Medication—Prescription and over-the-counter medications may affect the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol or increase the effect on a person’s body.

A Drink is a Drink is a Drink…or is it?

One standard drink is classified as 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor, or 4-5 ounces of wine.  But what about a drink like a Long Island Iced Tea--is that considered a standard drink?  Multiple shot drinks, like Long Island Iced Tea or Adios MF drinks (both contain 5 different types of alcohol), or mixed drinks that contain higher proof liquor like Bacardi 151 or 100 proof tequilas are not standard drinks.  Wine coolers, hard lemonades or ciders, and seltzer-type drinks have a range of alcohol percent by volume and serving size varies.  Check out this customizable BAC Calculator to learn more about your own BAC.

Know the Numbers!!

Below are the typical effects for a moderate drinker at various Blood Alcohol Concentrations:

.02 Mellow feeling. Slight body warmth. Less inhibited.
.05 Noticeable relaxation. Less alert. Less self-focused. Coordination impairment begins.  Increased self-confidence.  Most pleasurable effects.
.08 Minnesota Drunk Driving Limit.  Definite impairment in coordination and judgment. Reduced visual sharpness.
.10 Noisy. Possible embarrassing behavior. Mood swings. Reduction in reaction time.
.15 Impaired balance and movement. Clearly drunk.
.20 Disorientation. Mental confusion. Apathy. Lethargy. Exaggerated emotional states (fear, rage, sorrow, etc.).
.30 May lose consciousness. Inability to stand or walk. Vomiting. Stupor
.40 Most lose consciousness. Some die. Lose control of urine and feces.
.50 Breathing stops. Many die.

Hangover.  Cause? Cure?

Science has yet to determine the exact physiological cause of hangover.  Symptoms include headache, nausea, thirst, irritability, and fatigue.  Cause of hangovers theories include:

  • Dehydration, caused by alcohol’s suppression of the antidiuretic hormone, which results in increased urinary output.  Water is depleted from the body’s stores which can explain the thirst, fatigue, and sluggishness.  One theory has the dura, a covering over the brain, shrinking from dehydration causing the monster headache that accompanies a hangover.
  • Alcohol interferes with your body's natural balance of chemicals. Your cells are no longer able to adequately perform certain metabolic activities that involve regulating glucose and electrolyte levels.
  • A buildup of acetaldehyde in the body. As the body processes alcohol, acetaldehyde is produced. In controlled studies, it's been found to cause symptoms such as sweating, skin flushing, nausea and vomiting, and is estimated to be 10 to 30 times as toxic as alcohol itself.

What about hangover cures?  Hangover remedies have been tried but few have found consistent results.  Popular suggestions for “cures”:   extra water or sports drinks, supplements containing specific amino acids, and “hair of the dog that bit you” (a little more alcohol first thing in the morning).  The one cure that is 100% guaranteed to work?  Time.

Alcohol Overdose

It is dangerous to assume a person who has passed out will be just fine “sleeping it off.” Alcohol impairs voluntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking).  A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.  It is common for someone who drank excessively to vomit, increasing the chance of choking and asphyxiation if the person is unconscious.  A person’s BAC can continue to rise even while s/he is passed out:  alcohol in the stomach and intestines continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate.

Signs of Alcohol Overdose:

  • Person is unconscious or semiconscious and can not be awakened
  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin
  • Slow breathing—between 8 to 10 seconds between each breath
  • Vomiting while “sleeping” and not waking up

Alcohol overdose is life threatening!

  • Call an ambulance or Security, 
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Turn the person on his or her side to avoid choking on vomit.
  • Do not give the person a cold shower, food, liquid, or medication to sober them up.

How to Help a Friend Whose Drinking is Unhealthy

If you have a friend who might have a problem with alcohol and you feel you can help them, consider the following options:

  • Get sound advice from someone you trust. You don’t have to name names.  If you explain your predicament to a third party, it will help you figure out how to proceed.
  • The time will never feel “right” to bring up such a tough subject; but beginning your talk when you’re both alert and sober will give you a better chance of being heard.
  • Before you speak to your friend, have a definite plan for how you’ll start helping them. Find out about AA meetings or other substance abuse counseling that’s available.  A place to start is the Student Health Services Alcohol and Drug Education Resources
  • Begin the conversation with your friend by letting them know you care, and that’s why you’re going to be straight. Use your own feelings about the situation—”The way you act when you’re drinking makes me worry about you”—instead of, “So-and-so said you got sloppy drunk and insulted her.”  Be up front and list the negative effects you’ve seen including alcohol-related health problems, black outs, poor grades, isolation from family and friends, etc.  Your friend won’t be able to ignore the hard evidence.
  • It won’t be easy getting your friend to admit he or she’s got a problem with alcohol. The first talk you have with your friend about this problem probably won’t be the last. But don’t give up.
  • It must be your friend’s choice to help themselves. Once that decision is made, show your support.  Knowing that you’re there to lean on during moments of weakness when they really, really want a drink—and to celebrate one-month, two-month, six-month anniversary of being sober—will help set your friend on the path to recovery.  For your part, you need to have patience and remind yourself you’re being a true and good friend.