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What Causes Drunkenness?

This may seem like an elementary question, but until recently scientists didn�t really understand exactly what was causing people to get drunk from ethyl alcohol (ethanol).

It turns out that alcohol, like other drugs, has its effect on the human brain by increasing the effectiveness of certain neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that allow the nerves in your brain to communicate with each other across the synapse (the space between the nerve cells). Different chemicals are released across the synapse to transmit information through the brain.

Some neurotransmitters act to speed the brain up, others slow it down, still others release chemicals to cause a person to feel pleasure, pain, taste, temperature and so forth. All basic human emotions and reactions are coded into these chemical transmissions.

Think of it like the keyboard of your computer. Each chemical is like a letter on your keyboard. Individually, they do not have any meaning. As you press buttons, different signals are sent to your computer � communicating different letters. The letters form words and the words combine into sentences. It is the sentences that give your keystrokes meaning.

Neurotransmitters and Alcohol

The same is true of drinking alcohol. Alcohol acts to release Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA) neurotransmitters. GABA is an inhibitory transmitter. It acts to slow the speed at which your brain processes information. But there are other neurotransmitters that are released as well.

If you like the taste of your drink, then there will be pleasure transmissions. The drink may be sour or sweet or warm. All these affect the mixture of chemicals that are released in the brain.

For many people, the initial slowing of mental processes gives a sense of pleasure above and beyond the pleasure of the taste of the drink. Feelings of stress and chaotic thoughts are diminished. Some people report feelings of elation or excitement.

This initial onset of pleasure causes the person to crave another drink. After all, if one drink made me feel this good, just imagine how good I�ll feel after another?

As noted above, ANY amount of alcohol will reduce your ability to function by some amount � that�s just how GABA works. As your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) rises to around 0.08% you generally have positive feelings. This is really the optimum level, and for most people this means about one drink per hour.

How Increasing Blood Alcohol Levels Affect You

As you will see by reading the rest of this article, continued consumption of alcohol past the 0.08% BAC point will not result in more pleasure. Instead, you will start to experience problems.

At around 0.10% your decreased ability to control your muscles becomes noticeable. Many people become emotional at this point and begin to make bad decisions due to a marked decrease in personal inhibitions. The loss of inhibitions and the desire to re-achieve the feelings of elation that were experienced at lower BAC levels compels some people to have another drink. It is best to try and resist this temptation.

At around 0.15% BAC you will lose your ability to function with any degree of normalcy. You feel sleepy, your speech is noticeably slurred, and you are no longer in complete control of yourself.

At 0.20% BAC your vision becomes severely impaired. Many people report blurred vision, or seeing �double�. At this level you are no longer making good decisions. In fact, you probably aren�t making any decisions at all.

At 0.30% the room is spinning, and you might be vomiting. This is �falling down drunk�. If you find yourself at this point then it is very important to stop drinking. Further consumption of alcohol will likely lead to alcohol poisoning.

Above 0.30% BAC things get dangerous. This is the point where you will most likely pass out. Even if you pass out, your BAC will continue to rise as your body attempts to absorb the alcohol still in your stomach and small intestine. Hopefully you don�t have much left to absorb.

As your BAC increases above 0.35% your respiration will slow and your body�s ability to maintain processes begins to fail. This is the danger zone where brain damage, coma or even death can result (around 0.35% to 0.40% or so). This is referred to generally as alcohol poisoning.

The more you drink in a day, the slower your body is able to process alcohol. The enzymes that are required to break the alcohol down become depleted and your liver loses its ability to do its job. The alcohol begins to attack the cells in the liver causing liver damage (more on that later).

Alcohol Tolerance

People who drink regularly tend to be able to process alcohol at a higher rate. This is known as developing a �tolerance� for alcohol. It is important to understand, however, that your body doesn�t really develop the ability to tolerate a higher BAC.

What is happening is that your liver develops the ability to produce higher levels of certain enzymes (alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes) to process the alcohol out of your bloodstream faster. Regardless of how fast your body processes the alcohol, the percentage of alcohol in your blood will still affect you in much the same way as someone who rarely drinks.

I drink alcohol regularly and therefore my tolerance is higher than my friend Steve who never drinks. Regardless, if he and I both have two shots of whiskey back to back, we will be equally impaired, and our BAC levels will be the same. The difference is that an hour later I will be completely sober, and he will still feel the alcohol.

Keep in mind also that although the person with the higher tolerance can drink more per hour, he isn�t doing his liver any favors. By continuing to push through large amounts of alcohol, over time, this process will cause the liver to begin to fail; leading to alcoholic cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver.

Having a Good Time

We're all here to have a good time, but as your BAC increases your �good time� probably does not. Most of the real enjoyment of alcohol happens below the 0.10% BAC level � or about 1 drink per hour.

This is why at the Drunk Man�s Guide we encourage you to enjoy alcoholic drinks responsibly. We don�t want your health to suffer, and we want everyone to have fun. After all, there isn�t anything fun about health problems or the consequences of dangerous behavior.

Everyone is different. Some people have health problems that make ANY amount of alcohol dangerous. Others have allergies to alcohol or certain ingredients commonly found in alcoholic drinks. If you suspect any of these issues is true for you then you should consult a doctor about alcohol to find out if it is safe for you to drink at all.

For most of us, however, by keeping our intake at a reasonable pace, and limiting the overall number of drinks we consume in a day, we can continue to enjoy alcohol without risking dependence or other health dangers for many years.

For us, that�s how to be a proper Drunk!


A drunken man gets on the bus late one night, staggers up the aisle, and sits next to an elderly woman.

She looks the man up and down and says, "I've got news for you. You're going straight to hell!"

The man jumps up out of his seat and shouts, "Man, I'm on the wrong bus!"
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"When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."
-Henny Youngman

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