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Let's get serious: This is your liver talking

Don't overdo it when you drink

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Drink, drank, drunk. Alcohol is a part of life not easily avoided. To be honest, it's a part of life many of us wouldn't want to avoid; having a few drinks with friends, family or coworkers can be a fun and relaxing way to unwind after a stressful week of work or class. But if Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan have contributed anything to society—anything at all—it has been to personally demonstrate how humiliating and debilitating alcohol consumption can be when taken to the extreme. Unfortunately, the overly publicized missteps of these Dior-clad disasters are more obvious than the backstage mistakes of us common folk.

You don't need me to tell you that alcohol can be dangerous. You know not to drink and drive; you know binge drinking is a problem on college campuses; you know pregnant women who drink alcohol are doing an unthinkable disservice to their unborn babies; you know excessive alcohol use can impair your judgment and result in regrettable decisions. At least I hope you know all this.

The problem with alcohol use (and abuse) is that what you don't know—or what you know and choose to ignore—can truly hurt you. So we've compiled a stash of resources that you should read, and that you might want to hold onto, in case you or someone you care about happens to need them. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully a light scratching of the surface will open some eyes and stir up some discourse.

Alcohol Impairment

First you need to know when you're drunk. As a woman, I speak from experience when I say the girls shouldn't try to keep up with the boys. Males are generally physically larger, and their bodies metabolize alcohol at a faster rate than ours do. The following charts map out the BAC, or blood alcohol content, for males and females according to time elapsed, number of drinks consumed and weight. These charts are handy and wallet-sized; it wouldn't be a bad idea to cut them out and carry them with you if you have a tendency to overestimate how many drinks you can handle in an evening. Keep in mind that no blood alcohol calculator is 100 percent accurate, but it's a good place to start when estimating your intoxication level.

Charts: Download PDF (395 KB) | Open JPG in new window (265 KB)

True or False

  1. Cold showers and coffee will sober you up. False. You will emerge from this experiment a cold, wet, hyperactive drunk. Only time can reduce the effects of alcohol.

  2. Eating breath mints or chewing gum can fool a police "breath test." False. A breathalyzer measures your BAC, not the refreshing chill of your Alpine Breeze Tic-Tac. So unless you're trying to make out with the officer in question, you might as well save those mints for your next big date.

  3. Men can out-drink women, even if they are the same height and weight. True. Sorry, girls. If you're going for the "anything you can do, I can do better" routine here, you're out of luck. As it turns out, the enzyme dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol is less prevalent in females than it is in males. Women's higher proportion of fat tissue to lean muscle tissue results in rapid alcohol absorption; alcohol concentrates more easily in women's lower percentage of body water.

  4. A mixed drink containing a carbonated beverage is absorbed more quickly than a shot of liquor. True. Carbonation accelerates the absorption of alcohol into the drinker's system.

  5. The effects of heavy drinking can be felt for up to 48 hours. True. Heavy drinking won't ease your troubled mind, and your brain may notfunction normally for a day or two.

  6. Eating a lot of food before drinking will keep you from getting drunk. False. Food in the stomach will slow, but will not prevent, the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

Snatch Those Keys: The Play-by-Play Interception of a Potential Drunk Driver

  1. Try a calm, soft approach at first. Suggest that they've had too much to drink, and mention that it might be better if someone else drove, or if they took a cab.

  2. Stay composed. Make jokes. Keep the mood light.

  3. Try to make it seem as if you're doing them a favor.

  4. If you don't know the person very well, speak to their friends and have them make an attempt to persuade a surrender of the keys. They usually listen.

  5. If it's a good friend or loved one, tell them that if they insist on driving, you won't go with them. Suggest that you'll call someone else for a ride, take a cab or walk.

  6. Locate their keys while they are preoccupied, and take them away. Most likely, they'll think the keys are lost, and they'll be forced to find a different way home.

  7. Avoid embarrassing the person or being confrontational if at all possible, particularly when dealing with men.

Resources

Get help. A great place to start is www.alcoholscreening.org, a site providing an assessment that determines the extent of personal drinking habits. The Web site also provides links to nationwide resources, and users can plug in local ZIP codes to find area treatment programs.

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