How alcohol and drugs affect you and your body

Alcohol and drugs and can impair behavior and judgment, depending on your personal alcohol tolerance, gender, weight, amount and type of food in the stomach, health and psychological conditions, and previously ingested medication(s).

What Is A Standard Drink

What Is A Standard Drink

Most references to drinking alcohol refer to the amount of alcohol contained in a “standard drink.” A standard drink is defined as any beverage that contains 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons). Whether pouring your own drink, having a cocktail at a bar or enjoying a beer at the stadium, it is absolutely necessary to recognize you may be consuming more alcohol than what is included in a standard drink.

Below is a chart outlining the standard drink equivalents as well as the number of standard drinks in different container size of a beverage and the percent of alcohol by volume in each.


standard drink equivalents approximate number of standard drinks in:
beer or cooler
12 oz.
~5% alcohol
  • 12 oz. = 1
  • 16 oz. = 1.3
  • 22 oz. = 2
  • 40 oz. = 3.3
malt liquor
8-9 oz
~7% alcohol
  • 12 oz. = 1.5
  • 16 oz. = 2
  • 22 oz. = 2.5
  • 40 oz. = 4.5
table wine
5 oz
~12% alcohol
  • a 750 ml (25 oz.) bottle = 5
80-proof spirits (hard liquor)
1.5 oz
~40% alcohol
  • a mixed drink = 1 or more*
  • a pint (16 oz.) = 11
  • a fifth (25 oz.) = 17
  • 1.75 l (59 oz.) = 39

*note: depending on factors such as the type of spirits and the recipe, one mixed drink can contain from one to three or more standard drinks.

These are approximate, as different brands and types of beverages, such as micro-brews and types of liquor, vary in their actual size and thus alcohol content.

  • What Is A Standard Drink, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 18 July 2014. Retrieved from
  • Garriott, James C.(Ed.). (2008). Garriott’s Medicolegal Aspects of Alcohol(5th). Tuscon, AZ:. Lawyers & Judges Publishing Company, Inc.
  • The ABCs of BAC25 July, 2014.

Absorption, Metabolism, and Elimination of Alcohol

Absorption, Metabolism, and Elimination of Alcohol

Processing of ingested alcohol by the body begins with absorption by the stomach and small intestines, a process that generally requires some 1 to 3 hours, depending on the type and quantity of the alcoholic beverage, and the presence of food in your stomach.

Alcohol enters the bloodstream by simple diffusion, and does not have to be digested. The presence of food in the stomach slows the rate of alcohol absorption, but absorption is also influenced by other factors including the type and amount of alcohol, your gender, height, weight, food consumption, the types of spices in the food, body temperature, the presence of certain medications in the body, and health issues.

Body fat and skeletal mass absorb very little alcohol. Thus, an identical quantity of alcohol per unit of body weight will result in a higher concentration of alcohol in the blood of women than in men because of physical differences between men’s and women’s bodies.  Any amount of alcohol consumption will impair your body’s ability to function normally.

Nothing you can consume will assist the process of alcohol absorption in your system, only time will allow your body to absorb and eliminate the alcohol.

Finally, of the alcohol absorbed, 90-98 % is oxidized, 1-5 % is excreted in an unaltered state in urine, and another 1-5 % is expired via the lungs. The total time to eliminate alcohol from the body is dependent upon the variables that influence absorption (see above).



First Signs of Impairment

First Signs of Impairment

Alcohol and drugs can change or alter the way a person feels, thinks or acts. They affect the nervous system by changing the flow of electricity and the release of the body’s natural nerve chemicals called neurochemicals. Even in small amounts, alcohol and drugs can cause impairment.

There are two kinds of actions that alcohol and drugs can have on a person. They can slow down the nerve action or speed up the nerve action.

Suppressors, sedatives or downers are drugs that slow down the nervous system. They include alcohol, barbiturates, tranquilizers, opiates such as heroin and marijuana, under most conditions.

Enhancers, stimulants or uppers are drugs that speed, excite or pick-up the nervous system. Drugs that speed up the mind and body include; speed (amphetamines), cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA). Drugs that speed up the mind are Acid and PCP.

It’s important to note that some drugs can slow down and speed up reaction such as marijuana, which can increase your heart rate and increase brain activity, as well as can mellow you out and slow you down.

While it is important to know that the signs of impairment differ with the individual, specific impairment signs to look for after a person has consumed alcohol or taken drugs:

Signs of Impairment Related to BAC Levels:.02% – .04%:Feel relaxed; impaired judgment; less inhibited; decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time; decline in visual functions.

.05% – .07%:

Emotions and behaviors are magnified; may have loss of small muscle control, impaired judgment, lowered alertness; reduced coordination; reduced ability to track moving objects; reduced response to emergency driving situations.


Muscle coordination becomes poor; harder to detect danger; judgment; self-control; reasoning and memory are impaired; clear deterioration of reaction time and control; slurred speech; slowed thinking.

.15% and above:

Far less muscle control than normal; vomiting may occur, major loss of balance, amnesia, blackouts, substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing.

Alcohol, Tranquilizers, Barbiturates, Opiates, Marijuana

  • Impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions
  • Impairs muscle coordination
  • Decreases peripheral vision
  • Causes multiple vision
  • Causes night vision problems
  • Causes longer time to react
  • Reduces visual tracking
  • Impairs the sense of timing
  • Increases impulsive risk taking
  • Unable to predict consequences
  • Causes sleepiness
  • Impairs motor coordination
  • Causes longer time to react
  • Impairs memory
  • Impairs perception and timing
  • Causes drowsiness after high
  • Increases dizziness
  • Decreases concentration
  • Impairs judgment of speed
  • Impairs judgment of distance
  • Unable to recover from glare
Amphetamines, Speed, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Acid

  • Causes false sense of alertness
  • Increases edginess
  • Reduces coordination
  • Causes overreaction
  • Blurs vision
  • Decreases near vision
  • Promotes overconfidence
  • Drowsiness on withdrawal
  • Reduces tracking ability
  • Promotes fast driving
  • Overlooking traffic signals and signs
  • Overrates driving skills, conditions
  • Increases risk-taking
Hallucinogens: LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Mushrooms

  • Increases unpredictable and dangerous behavior
  • Causes false perceptions
  • Causes false visions
  • Causes hallucinations
  • Blurs vision
  • Decreases coordination
  • Increases confusion
  • Flashbacks can disturb normal driving behavior
  • Increases light sensitivity
  • Distorts perceptions
  • Slows down recovery from glare
  • The ABCs of BAC, 25 July, 2014. Retrieved from:
  • Wanberg, Kenneth C., Milkman, Harvey B., Timken, David S. (2005). Driving with Care: Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Driving Safety Education-Strategies for Responsible Living. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications, Inc.

Measuring the Presence of Alcohol

Measuring the Presence of Alcohol

Since alcohol’s immediate effects are due to its effect on the brain, it would be desirable to know the alcohol concentration in the brain after drinking. Obviously, direct measurements are impractical for most purposes, and other means must be used for estimating “brain-alcohol concentration.”

Blood Alcohol

Chemical tests of blood drawn from a vein or capillary is an indirect way of estimating alcohol concentration in the brain in live humans. The amount of alcohol in a person’s body is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called the blood alcohol concentration, or “BAC.” A BAC of .10 means that you have one tenth of a percent of your blood volume is alcohol or that you have 1 part alcohol per 1000 parts blood.

Breath Alcohol

Other chemical tests that relate alcohol presence elsewhere in the body to alcohol presence in the blood, have also been used, the most common being tests of alcohol in air expired from the lungs. This is called the breath alcohol concentration, or “BrAC.” This analysis has become the primary means of determining alcohol involvement in motor vehicle violations.

Behavioral Tests

In addition to chemical tests, improved behavioral tests for alcohol and/or drug impairment are now being employed widely to assist police officers in identifying alcohol and/or drug impairment among drivers suspected of an impaired driving violation. The standardized field sobriety test (SFST) of one’s performance in a set of three sub-tests is being used in Oklahoma. The sub-tests are: horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn (WAT), and one-leg-stand (OLS). HGN requires the subject to visually follow a moving object, and the angle of onset and degree of nystagmus (an involuntary jerking of the eye) is observed. Alcohol-impairment causes an earlier onset and a greater degree of nystagmus. HGN has been found to be the best index of alcohol of the three tests.


Impaired Driving Laws

Impaired Driving Laws

Approximately 20,000 drivers are arrested every year for a DUI or an alcohol or drug-related driving offense in Oklahoma. While the laws vary in each state for impaired driving, Oklahoma has several laws that define alcohol/drug related driving offenses:

Driving While Impaired (DWI)

A person is driving while impaired when there is evidence that there was, at the time of the test, an alcohol concentration in excess of five-hundredths (0.05) but less than eight-hundredths (0.08). However, no person shall be convicted of driving while impaired in the absence of additional evidence that the person’s ability to operate such vehicle was affected by alcohol to the extent that the public health and safety was threatened or that the person had violated a state statute or local ordinance in the operation of the motor vehicle

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

A person is driving under the influence when they drive, operate, or are in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state, whether upon public roads, highways, streets, turnpikes, other public places or upon any private road, street, alley or lane which provides access to one or more single or multi-family dwellings, who:

  • Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration, as defined in 47 O.S. § 756, of eight-hundredths (0.08) or more at the time of a test of such person’s blood or breath administered within two (2) hours after the arrest of such person;
  • Is under the influence of alcohol;
  • Has any amount of a Schedule I chemical or controlled substance, as defined in 63 O.S. §2-204, or one of its metabolites or analogs in the person’s blood, saliva, urine or any other bodily fluid at the time of a test of such person’s blood, saliva, urine or any other bodily fluid administered within two (2) hours after the arrest of such person;
  • Is under the influence of any intoxicating substance other than alcohol which may render such person incapable of safely driving or operating a motor vehicle; or
  • Is under the combined influence of alcohol and any other intoxicating substance which may render such person incapable of safely driving or operating a motor vehicle.

The fact that any person is or has been lawfully entitled to use alcohol or a controlled dangerous substance or any other intoxicating substance shall not constitute a defense against any charge of driving under the influence.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Under 21

A person under the age of 21 is driving under the influence when they drive, operate, or are in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state who:

  • Has any measurable quantity of alcohol in the person’s blood or breath at the time of a test administered within two (2) hours after an arrest of the person;
  • Exhibits evidence of being under the influence of any other intoxicating substance as shown by analysis of a specimen of the person’s blood, breath, saliva, or urine in accordance with the provisions of 47 O.S. § 752 and 47 O.S. § 759; or
  • Exhibits evidence of the combined influence of alcohol and any other intoxicating substance.
Aggravated Driving Under the Influence

Any person who is convicted of a violation of driving under the influence with a blood or breath alcohol concentration of fifteen-hundredths (0.15) or more is guilty of aggravated driving under the influence.

Child Endangerment by Permitting Child Abuse

A person who is the parent, guardian, or person having custody or control over a child as defined in 10A O.S. § 1-1-105, commits child endangerment when the person:

  • Knowingly permits a child to be present in a vehicle when the person knows or should have known that the operator of the vehicle is impaired by or is under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance; or
  • Is the driver, operator, or person in physical control of a vehicle in violation of 47 O.S. § 11-902 while transporting or having in the vehicle such child or children.

However, it is an affirmative defense to this paragraph if the person had a reasonable apprehension that any action to deny permission for the child to be in the vehicle with an intoxicated person would result in substantial bodily harm to the person or the child.



Oklahoma has a DUI-D per se law. This law prohibits you from operating a motor vehicle in the State of Oklahoma with any amount of a Schedule I chemical or controlled substance or one of its metabolites or analogs in your blood, saliva, urine or any other bodily fluid at the time of a test of your blood, saliva, urine or any other bodily fluid administered within two (2) hours after your arrest.

Additionally, Oklahoma prohibits you from operating a motor vehicle in the State of Oklahoma while under the influence of “other intoxicating substances.” The term “other intoxicating substance” means any controlled dangerous substance as defined in the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act and any other substance, other than alcohol, which is capable of being ingested, inhaled, injected or absorbed into the human body and is capable of adversely affecting the central nervous system, vision, hearing or other sensory or motor functions.

Per Se

(purr say) adj. Latin for “by itself,” meaning inherently.

What About Drugs

What About Drugs

It is well known that drugs, even those prescribed by a physician, can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.  Oklahoma participated as a survey site in the NHTSA Roadside Survey in 2007, which found that approximately one in six weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription and over-the-counter drugs which were determined by a panel of experts to possibly cause impairment.

Always read the label

Reading the product label is the most important part of taking care of yourself or your family when using over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (available without a prescription). This is especially true because many OTC medicines are taken without seeing a doctor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has worked to ensure the labels on all OTC medicines (from a tube of fluoride toothpaste to a bottle of cough syrup) have information listed in the same order; are arranged in a simpler eye-catching, consistent style; and may contain easier to understand words. If you read the OTC medicine label and still have questions about the product, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.

Mixing alcohol with drugs

Alcohol is not the only drug that can impair your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. In 2013, 3.4 percent of all traffic fatalities in Oklahoma were drug-related. Drugged driving is just like drunk driving. If you are driving under the influence of illicit, prescription or over-the-counter drugs, you run the risk of receiving a DUI. “Avoid alcoholic drinks,” “alcohol…may increase drowsiness,” “be careful when driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery.” You’ve probably seen these warnings on medicines you’ve taken. The danger is real. Mixing alcohol and medicines can be harmful. Alcohol, like some medicines, can make you sleepy, drowsy, or lightheaded. Drinking alcohol while taking medicines can intensify these effects. You may have trouble concentrating or performing mechanical skills. Small amounts of alcohol can make it dangerous or illegal to drive, and when you mix alcohol with certain medicines you put yourself at even greater risk. Combining alcohol with some medicines can lead to falls and serious injuries, especially among older people. In addition to these dangers, alcohol can make a medication less effective or even useless, or it may make the medication harmful or toxic to your body.

Some medicines that you might never have suspected can react with alcohol, including many medications which can be purchased “over-the-counter”—that is, without a prescription. Even some herbal remedies can have harmful effects when combined with alcohol.

Medications typically are safe and effective when used appropriately. Your pharmacist or other health care provider can help you determine which medications interact harmfully with alcohol.

Medicines may have many ingredients

Some medications—including many popular painkillers and cough, cold, and allergy remedies—contain more than one ingredient that can react with alcohol or other drugs. Read the label on the medication bottle to find out exactly what ingredients a medicine contains. Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions about how alcohol or other drugs might interact with a drug you are taking.  Drug Interaction Checkers are also available online.

Some medicines contain alcohol

Certain medicines contain up to 10 percent alcohol. Cough syrup and laxatives may have some of the highest alcohol concentrations.

Older people face greater risk

Older people are at particularly high risk for harmful alcohol–medication interactions. Aging slows the body’s ability to break down alcohol, so alcohol remains in a person’s system longer. Older people also are more likely to take a medication that interacts with alcohol—in fact, they often need to take more than one of these medications.

Timing is important

Alcohol and medicines can interact harmfully even if they are not taken at the same time.

Alcohol/Drug interactions

Here is a List of Medications that can cause harm when taken with alcohol and describes the effects that can result. The list gives the brand name by which each medicine is commonly known (for example, Benadryl®) and its generic name or active ingredient (in Benadryl®, this is diphenhydramine). The list presented here does not include all the medicines that may interact harmfully with alcohol. Most important, the list does not include all the ingredients in every medication.


Oklahoma is currently increasing the amount of law enforcement officers that are Certified Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) making it easier for officers to detect a drugged driver.

Mixing alcohol and medicines puts you at risk for dangerous reactions. Protect yourself by avoiding alcohol if you are taking a medication and don’t know its effect. To learn more about a medicine and whether it will interact with alcohol, talk to your pharmacist or other health care provider.


Mixing Alcohol With Medicines, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 18 July 2014. Retrieved from

The Current Over-the-Counter Medicine Label: Take a Look, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 28 July 2014. Retrieved from

2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol a Drug Use by Drivers, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  7 November 2014.  Retrieved from