It is important to understand what effects alcohol has on the body when examining DWI cases. The intricacies of alcohol effects, such as how the alcohol is absorbed and processed in the body are significant because the case hinges on what the suspect’s blood alcohol content was at the time of being pulled over. If the driver had just consumed alcohol before driving, the BAC may have been lower while driving, than what it was 20 minutes later at the time of taking a breath test. A New Jersey DUI lawyer understands the scientific properties of alcohol and how certain amounts taken in certain time periods may affect the body.
Here is an outline of how alcohol affects the body:
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. The central nervous system is most severely affected by alcohol. The degree to which the central nervous system function is impaired is usually proportional to the concentration of alcohol in the blood.
When you have a drink, the alcohol passes from the stomach into the small intestine, where it is quickly absorbed into the blood and makes its way throughout all the veins in your body. If you consume alcohol in low concentrations, alcohol reduces inhibitions and judgment. As blood alcohol concentration increases, an individual’s response to stimuli decreases quickly, speech becomes slurred and incoherent, and he or she becomes unbalanced and has difficulty walking. With very high concentrations – higher than 0.35 milligrams/100 milliliters of blood (equivalent to 0.35 grams/210 liters of breath ) – a person may become comatose and even die.
Alcohol is absorbed from all parts of the digestive system mainly by simple diffusion into the blood. It is the small intestine that remains the most efficient region of the gastrointestinal tract for alcohol absorption because of its expansive surface area. When someone is fasting, it is generally agreed that 20% to 25% of the alcohol consumed is absorbed from the stomach, and 75% to 80% is absorbed from the small intestine. Peak blood alcohol concentrations are achieved in fasting persons within 0.5 to 2 hours, while non-fasting persons reach peak alcohol concentrations within 1 to as much as 6 hours.
Alcohol is drawn to water in the body and so it can be found in tissues and fluids that contain water. As it is absorbed alcohol is quickly transported throughout the body in the blood. Once absorption of alcohol is complete equilibrium occurs so that blood at all points in the system contains about the same concentration of alcohol.
The liver is the organ responsible for the elimination, through metabolism, of 95% of ingested alcohol from the body. The other 5% of alcohol is eliminated through bodily functions. The body uses many different metabolic pathways in its oxidation of alcohol to acetaldehyde to acetic acid to carbon dioxide and water.
Healthy people, free of medical conditions, metabolize alcohol at a fairly constant rate. On average, an individual will metabolize one average drink or 0.5 oz (15 ml) of alcohol per hour. Various factors influence this rate. The rate of elimination is usually higher when the blood alcohol concentration in the body is extremely high or extremely low. Also people who consume large amounts of alcohol consistently over a large period of time may metabolize alcohol at a significantly higher rate than average, depending on their liver health. Finally, a person’s ability to metabolize alcohol rapidly tends to diminish with age.