Despite increased awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, in the past two weeks, two area men have been arrested after their blood-alcohol levels tested above an almost incomprehensible 0.50 percent – a fatal level for most people.
The arrests should come as an eye-opener as to how intoxicated some heavy drinkers can become and should also serve as a warning to the potential effects of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.
On Sept. 17, a 28-year-old North Webster man tested 0.55 percent after being found staggering in Milford – nearly seven times the legal limit. He was arrested for public intoxication.
Then last week, a man crashed into four minivans along Maplecrest Road during after-school traffic about 2:30 p.m. He tested 0.52 percent and was charged with driving under the influence.
Its far from the norm, said Dr. Aaron White, health scientist administrator for the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholisms division of epidemiology and prevention research. Most people would be dead at .5.
How can anyone consume so much alcohol without passing out?
Generally, it takes years of regular alcohol abuse to develop a tolerance that high, that you could still be functional, White said.
Indeed, in the Milford arrest, a doctor said the man survived only because he had become accustomed to drinking large quantities of alcohol.
But dont for a second think that such tolerance makes it safe to drive – or ever to drink that much under any circumstances.
As White explained, there are different types of tolerance to alcohol. The first tolerance a heavy drinker might develop is to be less affected by the sedative effects of alcohol. Later, a drinker may even develop a tolerance to some of alcohols effects on motor skills.
But, he emphasized, even heavy drinkers do not develop a tolerance to alcohols effects on decision-making – a crucial quality necessary to drive a motor vehicle.
In the Milford case, the town marshal said the man was mixing vodka with an energy drink.
While the effects of energy drinks on higher blood-alcohol levels are uncertain, anything you do that keeps you up longer, that lets you drink more, is conceivably dangerous, White said.
Fortunately, no one was killed in the Maplecrest wreck, but the arrested driver and two others were taken to the hospital. The fact that two people were found with such super-high blood alcohol levels should give everyone reason to pause and, for those serving or providing alcohol, to remember that regular, heavy drinkers may be much more intoxicated than they appear.