Alcohol and the Human Body

Knowing how alcohol affects the human body is essential to a successful New Jersey DWI / DUI defense. Chemical tests are based on “average” bodies, but everyone metabolizes alcohol differently.

When preparing to fight a New Jersey drunk driving case, it’s often useful to fully understand how alcohol affects the human body. Every individual metabolizes alcohol differently, but the basic process is the same for everyone. A thorough knowledge of this process is essential for defense attorneys who successfully challenge driving under the influence cases. A New Jersey lawyer who concentrates on DUI / DWI defense will analyze the factors in a specific case to challenge breath tests and create a strategic defense plan.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Its impact on the central nervous system is directly proportional to the level of alcohol in the blood. An individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC) depends on several factors, including how much the individual drinks, gender, metabolic rate, body weight, muscle mass, and a number of other factors.

Alcohol metabolism takes place in three distinct phases: Absorption, distribution, and elimination. Absorption occurs when alcohol is consumed and distributed. It isn’t digested like other substances – it is absorbed unchanged directly through the stomach lining and the small intestine. The small intestine absorbs much more alcohol than the stomach because of its large surface area.

As alcohol is absorbed, the individual’s BAC rises. Blood alcohol levels increase until they reach a plateau, and then gradually taper off. It usually takes 30 to 60 minutes after an individual stops drinking for peak alcohol levels to be reached.

Once alcohol is absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, it enters the bloodstream and is distributed throughout all of the water-containing components of the body. Because alcohol is distributed so rapidly and thoroughly, it affects the central nervous system even in small concentrations.

Alcohol is completely water-soluble, so its concentration in the body is directly proportional to the body’s total water content. In general, individuals with lower body weights have less water content and will be affected more by a given amount of alcohol. For people of the same weight, muscular individuals will be less affected than someone with a higher percentage of fat, since fatty tissue contains less water than muscle.

Drinking alcohol usually affects women more than men, because women typically have higher body fat ratios and less overall water in their bodies. On average, 68 percent of a man’s body weight is water, while only about 55 percent of a woman’s body is made up of water.

Approximately 15 to 45 minutes after an individual starts drinking, alcohol begins to be eliminated from the body through metabolism, excretion, and evaporation. About 95 percent of alcohol is metabolized by the liver. An “average” person metabolizes one average drink, or five ounces of alcohol, per hour.

Other factors can also impact blood alcohol concentration, including eating before drinking, or consuming food and alcohol together. Food in the stomach slows the small intestine’s absorption of alcohol, because a valve at the bottom of the stomach closes and prevents alcohol from reaching the small intestine. Alcohol in the stomach is subsequently absorbed at a slower rate, which affects the distribution into the bloodstream and the rate of elimination.

Certain other conditions also affect the rate at which alcohol is metabolized. Chronic alcoholics who haven’t lost liver function typically metabolize alcohol more quickly than non-alcoholics. The bodies of older people process alcohol less efficiently than younger people. Healthy individuals metabolize alcohol more efficiently than unhealthy people.

About five percent of alcohol – the amount not metabolized by the liver – is eliminated through excretion and evaporation. Alcohol is eliminated unchanged in urine, semen, tears, sweat, and saliva. The higher an individual’s BAC, the slower the rate of elimination.

The breath’s highest alcohol concentration occurs at the end of a long exhalation, where the air was nearest the blood. Because of this, police instruct drivers to blow long and hard during breath testing, as deep lung air has the greatest concentration of alcohol, and create the highest BAC reading.

Every individual metabolizes alcohol at a different rate, but police investigations don’t take that into consideration. Breath tests are typically administered long after the driver was last behind the wheel – often when he or she was still in the absorptive stage and alcohol levels were continuing to rise. Under these circumstances, the individual’s BAC at the time of driving can only be estimated. A skilled New Jersey DWI / DUI defense attorney at Levow DWI Law will use these factors to a driver’s advantage as part of an aggressive defense strategy.

The New Jersey DWI defense lawyers at Levow DWI Law have undergone extensive training in the physiological manifestations of alcohol and apply that knowledge and experience to help their clients challenge their New Jersey DWI / DUI arrest charges.

To learn how we can help you, please call Levow DWI Law today at 877-593-1717 for a free DWI consultation.