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BC’s Responsible Beverage Service Program

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Alcohol Effects

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Factors that Influence Intoxication

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When drinking, each person will be affected differently. Many factors may influence how quickly alcohol affects a patron.

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1. Rate of consumption

Increasing the number of drinks consumed in a given time period will greatly influence the rate of intoxication.

2. Amount consumed

“Doubles” and drinks made with more than one type of liquor typically contain more alcohol than standard drinks (a five-ounce glass of wine, or a 12-ounce glass of beer).

3. Age

Young and healthy people break down alcohol faster than the elderly and people in poor health. Younger patrons have more blood in their system, and their livers process alcohol more efficiently.

4. Gender

Women generally have more body fat than men and less body water with which to dilute alcohol. Women also have lower levels of the metabolizing enzyme required to break down alcohol.

5. Body weight and type

An overweight person generally becomes intoxicated faster than a muscular person who weighs the same and drinks the same amount of alcohol. Fatty tissue contains less water than muscle, so overweight bodies are less capable of diluting alcohol.

6. Food consumption

Food slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. On an empty stomach, alcohol reaches the brain in a few minutes and begins to affect behaviour and coordination. After a full meal, alcohol can take up to six hours to reach the brain. Food does not absorb the alcohol. It merely slows the speed at which alcohol is absorbed. Fatty foods are especially effective in slowing down the alcohol-absorption process. As fatty foods are more difficult to digest, they remain in the stomach longer than other types of food. The effect of the alcohol still occurs, but at a slower rate.

7. Medication and other drugs

Many common drugs (prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and illegal drugs) impair the user and increase the effects of alcohol. Using alcohol with other drugs can be very dangerous to a person's health and safety. In particular, research shows that the most clinically significant interactions occur when alcohol is consumed with other substances like cannabis, which exacerbate the effects of alcohol. The result is an intensified state of intoxication.

8. Environment and mood

Many factors including the lighting, décor, music, and seating pattern may affect a guest's behaviour and consumption of alcohol. The surroundings, including interaction with other guests, may trigger emotional responses. Alcohol usually exaggerates moods. A person who is depressed or upset will likely become more depressed and upset when drinking.

9. Fatigue and stress

Physical, mental or emotional fatigue and stress make a person more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.

10. Tolerance to alcohol

Experienced drinkers develop tolerance to alcohol. After prolonged regular drinking, the liver develops an ability to break down alcohol more rapidly, and brain cells may become less sensitive to alcohol. For a person who has developed a high tolerance to alcohol, it takes higher quantities of alcohol to show signs of visible intoxication. This has implications for responsible service because the person may not demonstrate typical signs of intoxication early on. This often results in an underestimation of intoxication because of alcohol's invisible impact.