The mathematics of alcohol consumption

During the holidays there is a lot more alcohol consumption than usual. Truthfully, I am against teenagers drinking. Your brains are still forming and certain quantities of alcohol can cause some permanent damage. But I know that some of you do and some of you will. So learn a little about how alcohol works on your body and the time frame of its effects. Learn how to take care of yourself, and perhaps help educate your friends as well. The following alcohol math is the same for adults as it is for teens.

Begin by remembering this: Generally speaking, it takes at least 20 minutes after you’ve consumed an alcoholic drink for the effect to take place, and it won’t reach its full effect for 35-45 minutes. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that alcohol isn’t working if you don’t feel a buzz right away.

More math: one equals one equals one. The actual alcohol content of one 12 oz. beer is the same as about one 5 oz. glass of wine, or one shot of hard liquor. People think that they won’t get as drunk on beer as they would on hard liquor, but you can. It may take you longer to down a beer, but one beer will have the same effect. One drink will raise your blood alcohol content roughly .02 percent for a person who weighs 150 pounds. If you weigh less, it will raise the alcohol content higher. If you weigh more, it will raise it a little less. If you have an empty stomach, it will raise it faster. In Hawaii one can get be booked for Driving Under the Influence with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent. That is four drinks. (.02 x 4 = .08)

“The liver is the primary site for alcohol metabolism. Alcohol is detoxified and removed from the blood through a process called oxidation. Oxidation prevents the alcohol from accumulating and destroying cells and organs.” (webmd above) I told you it wasn’t good for you. I’m old enough to have lived long enough to see some long-term negative effects of alcohol misuse in people. Alcohol is removed at the rate of approximately .015 percent per hour. Drinking coffee doesn’t speed it up. Here’s a formula you can memorize. It takes your body roughly 4 hours to get the alcohol from 3 drinks out of your body. (.015 x 4 = .06 and .02 x 3 = .06) With a blood alcohol content of .05 percent (2 ½ drinks) your driving and ability to make good judgments is significantly impaired.

Here is a list of the impairments:

w Exaggerated behavior

w May have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes)

w Impaired judgment

w Usually good feeling

w Lowered alertness

w Release of inhibition

w Reduced coordination

w Reduced ability to track moving objects

w Difficulty steering

wReduced response to emergency driving situations

And here is a list of the impairments at .08 percent, which is legally drunk in Hawaii. That’s four drinks:

w Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing)

w Harder to detect danger

wJudgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired

w Concentration

w Short-term memory loss

w Speed control

w Reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search)

w Impaired perception

The main reason that it is against the law to drink and drive is that your judgment suffers, and your body’s reflexes really slow down. Even the tiny muscles in your eye that focus from near to far, or that open and close the iris to let more light in, slow down. That means you can’t focus quickly or could be blinded by lights coming around a curve. It’s just not worth it. Don’t let your friends drive drunk, and make an agreement with your parents that if you think you are too drunk to drive home, they will come and get you.

If you are caught having any alcohol in your blood when you are driving before age 21, you will lose your license. Use the designated driver system, or watch your alcohol intake. One drink may be all you need to feel a little relaxed. Relaxation is one of the effects of blood alcohol level at .02 percent.

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows your body down. That’s why people pass out. You may think that it elevates your mood, but what actually is happening is that it is depressing your inhibitor reflex. Our inhibitor reflex is what holds us back from just jumping into a situation. So you may feel freer and do things that you might not normally do. 

Girls, are you understanding this? Boys will give you lots of drinks hoping that you might say “yes” to some things that normally you would not dream of. And remember that you will get impaired sooner than your “date” if you consume the same amount of alcohol.

Binge drinking is drinking many drinks in a short amount of time. It is the most frightening way to drink, because it can be deadly. If you remember that alcohol is a depressant, you’ll understand the potential danger of binge drinking is that it can slow your heart or lungs to a stop, which means you die. I know a girl who was working with another girl who binge drank on her lunch hour. She came back drunk, but in a few minutes became unconscious. They had to call 9-1-1, she was taken to the hospital and she had her stomach pumped.

There is some disagreement about specific alcohol amounts to be considered binge drinking, but this one is generally accepted: Binge drinking is when girls consume 4 or more drinks in a session or boys consume 5 or more drinks in a session. Just don’t do it. You spend time fixing yourself up to look attractive before you go out. A very drunk person is not attractive and vomit makes it worse. Love yourself enough to take care of yourself. Be safe and help keep others safe.

What if the girl had become unconscious as she was walking somewhere? She could have fallen and cracked her head. This happened to a boy at the University of Hawaii. There’s danger in being alone when very drunk. People have died by passing out and then vomiting. They then breathe in their own vomit and die by asphyxiation. That was the story of how Jimi Hendrix died. Such a waste of a life of a brilliant musician!

Don’t make a mistake now that you’ll regret for the rest of your life. Find natural highs. We are lucky that we have beautiful beaches in Hawaii, but there is much more that can make you feel wonderful: trails, mountains, sports, streams, a comfortable couch and a good book, jogging, yoga, meditation, good music, Tai Chi or Qi Gong, surfing, dancing, laughing, and chocolate and more can all make you feel better. Take care of yourselves, OK? You came to this world with a plan for your life. Take care of your body so that it can be strong for you when you need it. At 21, you can legally drink. The math is still the same.


Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at


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