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Alcohol & the Human Body

Knowing how alcohol affects the human body is helpful to anyone preparing to fight a California DUI case. Even though every individual metabolizes alcohol differently, the central processes are the same for everyone. An experienced California DUI Lawyer with expert technical support can analyze the factors in a specific case to challenge chemical tests to create an aggressive defense.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and the degree to which the central nervous system is impaired is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol in the blood.

There are three stages of alcohol metabolism: Absorption, distribution, and elimination. Absorption is the process where alcohol enters the body and is distributed throughout the body. Alcohol is not digested, like other ingested substances, but rather is absorbed unchanged directly through the stomach lining. Because of its large surface area, the small intestine absorbs much more alcohol than the stomach.

As the alcohol is absorbed, the individual's blood alcohol content (BAC) rises until it reaches a peak, then gradually tapers off. It generally takes 30 to 60 minutes after someone stops drinking to reach peak alcohol levels.

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

Because alcohol is completely soluble in water, alcohol content in the body is directly proportional to total body water content. Water content varies from individual to individual. Generally, the less a person weighs, the smaller the water content and the more he or she will be affected by a given amount of alcohol. For people of the same weight, those with more muscle will be less affected than someone with a higher percentage of fat, since fatty tissue contains less water than muscle.

Alcohol AbsorptionWomen are impacted more by alcohol consumption than men, because in general, women have higher body fat ratios and less 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 water weight.

The body begins to eliminate alcohol through metabolism, excretion, and evaporation after approximately 15 to 45 minutes. Metabolism through the liver accounts for approximately 95 percent of alcohol elimination. As a rule of thumb, a person metabolizes one average drink, or five ounces of alcohol, per hour.

There are several factors to consider when it comes to alcohol metabolism other than gender, body weight, etc. Chronic alcoholics whose livers function properly metabolize alcohol more quickly than the average person. Younger people metabolize alcohol more efficiently than older people. Healthy people process alcohol more efficiently than unhealthy people.

Although the vast majority of alcohol is metabolized through the liver, a small amount of alcohol is eliminated through excretion and evaporation. Alcohol exits the body unchanged in urine, tears, sweat, semen, and saliva. When an individual smells of alcohol, excretion is typically responsible. Alcohol evaporates from the blood into the lungs and is excreted in breath, allowing it to be measured in a breath sample. Alcohol elimination rates are inversely proportional to alcohol concentration in the blood. This means that the higher the blood alcohol levels, the slower the rate of elimination.

Not all air from the lungs is equal in alcohol concentration. The highest alcohol concentration in the lungs comes at the end of a long exhalation of breath, where the air was closest to the blood. Because of this factor, police ask drivers to blow long and hard during breath testing, because the deep lung air will have the highest concentration of alcohol and result in an inflated BAC.

Consuming food and alcohol together, or eating before drinking, also will affect the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. This is because having food in the stomach impacts the small intestine's absorption of alcohol. A valve at the bottom of the stomach closes when there is food in the stomach to digest, and prevents alcohol from reaching the small intestine. The alcohol in the stomach is absorbed at a slower rate, which affects the distribution into the bloodstream, and ultimately the rate of elimination.

Many factors affect the metabolism of alcohol, but prosecutors and police don't always take these issues into consideration. Chemical tests often are administered an hour or more after a driver was last behind the wheel, and the individual's BAC at the time of driving can only be guessed. A qualified California criminal defense attorney with experience defending DUI cases can use these factors to a driver's advantage as part of an aggressive drunk driving defense.

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