By understanding how much alcohol is contained within each drink provided, it allows you to make judgments about your customers or friends drinking patterns and where that might lead them.
There are different quantities of alcohol in each major type of alcoholic beverage; beer, wine and spirits. A 340ml malt beer (at a typical 5% alcohol by volume) contains 12g of alcohol; a 340ml cider (at a typical 6% alcohol by volume) contains 16g of alcohol: a 25ml tot of brandy, whisky, gin, cane or vodka (at a typical 43% alcohol by volume) contains 11g of alcohol; and a 120ml glass of wine (at a typical 12% alcohol by volume) contains 11g of alcohol (Wolmarans, Langenhoven, Faber 1993).
While what is considered a standard drink differs from country to country, in South Africa it is generally accepted that a drink containing 12g of alcohol would be regarded as standard.
In South Africa all alcohol beverages must state on the label the percentage of alcohol by volume in the container.
Alcohol and the body
Alcohol is primarily absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestines. The bloodstream carries the alcohol to the brain resulting in progressive impairment.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.
It is measured by the number of grams of alcohol in 100ml of blood. For example, a BAC of .05 means .05 grams of alcohol in every 100ml of blood.
- The legal limit for BAC for fully licensed car drivers is below 0.05 (gram/100ml) or 0.05%
- A BAC in excess of .15% can cause considerable depression of the central nervous system.
- Other drugs capable of depressing the central nervous system will increase the effects of alcohol on the brain.
As BAC increases, it can lead to unconsciousness. In extreme circumstances, it can retard the part of your brain that controls breathing and cause death. Alcohol poisoning is death by asphyxiation. This can occur with a BAC greater than 0.40%.
Factors affecting blood alcohol concentration
There are a number of factors that will impact upon BAC:
- Gender - Female bodies contain a higher fat to water ratio than males. With less water to dilute the alcohol, the BAC will be higher.
- Size - A larger person will have more water in their body to dilute the alcohol than a smaller person and therefore the BAC will be lower.
- Fitness - Muscle processes alcohol whereas fat does not.
- Food - The presence of food in the stomach slows the rate at which alcohol enters the bloodstream after absorption through the stomach and intestines. This generally results in a lower BAC in the short term, however alcohol will eventually be absorbed and will remain in the bloodstream for a longer period.
- Rate of drinking - If liquor is consumed at a rate faster than one standard drink per hour, the BAC will rise as the body can only process one standard drink per hour.
As blood containing alcohol circulates through the liver, alcohol is removed by a process known as oxidation.
- 95% of the alcohol you consume is ultimately removed from the body by the liver.
- 5% is removed through breath, urine and perspiration.
- It takes a healthy liver approximately one hour to process a typical drink.
The following methods DO NOT have any effect in reducing the level of alcohol in a person's body.
- Going to the toilet
- Drinking themselves sober
- "the hair of the dog"
- Going for a swim
NONE OF THESE METHODS WORK.
The only way to sober up is to give your body TIME to process the alcohol consumed.
The South African Department of Health has published guidelines in terms of what is regards as sensible drinking and these are not more than three standard drinks (340ml beer, single tot of spirits or a glass of wine) per day for men and not more than two standard drinks a day for women.
A broader definition of what can be described as responsible drinking is the enjoyable consumption of alcohol beverages within the limits set by your health, circumstances and your obligations to family, friends and society. Irresponsible drinking on the other hand is drinking beyond those limits and placing yourself and those around you at risk.
What is intoxication?
A person is in a state of intoxication if their speech, balance or co-ordination is noticeably affected and there are reasonable grounds for believing this is the result of the consumption of liquor.
As alcohol accumulates in a person’s bloodstream and in turn flows to the brain, their behaviour is affected.
As the amount of alcohol consumed progressively depresses the central nervous system, the impact will eventually be such as to significantly affect the drinker’s understanding of events and their observable behaviour.
At this point a person is considered to be intoxicated or drunk. If the consumption of alcohol continues, the level of intoxication will eventually reach a point where the drinker lapses into unconsciousness.
Recognizing the signs
People generally progress through a number of stages when continuing to consume alcohol:
A noticeable change in behaviour.
- Becoming loud and boisterous.
- Suddenly using offensive language.
- Slurring or mistakes in speech.
Lack of judgment.
- Being careless with their money.
- Complaining about the strength of a drink.
- Suddenly becoming bad tempered or aggressive.
- Annoying other customers.
- Spilling drinks.
- Fumbling with cigarettes.
- Difficulty in picking up change.
- Trouble removing articles from a wallet or purse.
This stage is where people are becoming visibly affected by alcohol and is often viewed as the transition into being intoxicated.
Loss of coordination.
- Swaying and staggering.
- Difficulty in walking straight.
- Bumping into furniture and other patrons.
Decreased alertness/lapsing into unconsciousness.
- Delays in responding to questions.
- Not hearing or understanding what others are saying.
- Asleep in a corner or on the bar.
WARNING: Certain types of disabilities can create the impression that a customer is intoxicated. Dealing with people with disabilities requires care, sensitivity and professionalism. In most cases it is normally a combination of these signs, in conjunction with a person smelling strongly of liquor that would indicate that a person is intoxicated.