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Defending DWI Cases: Are Men & Women Equal When It Comes to Alcohol?

In attacking driving while intoxicated prosecutions, it is critical to understand the process by which alcohol is absorbed and metabolized to assess whether a breath alcohol concentration alleged by the state is accurate. The issues typically break down into two categories. One is the process by which alcohol is processed by the body. A second set of issues relates to the analysis of the breath or blood sample. This article only focuses on how differences in sex can affect a person's blood alcohol concentration.

Sex is an important factor in evaluating blood alcohol concentrations. When it comes to sex and alcohol, men and women are definitely not equal at all primarily because of absorption and metabolism.

An individual's level of intoxication is normally a function of a few major variables that are unrelated to sex: the amount consumed, weight, time frame, and food consumption. When alcohol is consumed, it travels into the stomach. Some is absorbed into blood through the stomach and most is absorbed into the blood stream mostly in the large intestine. Food slows down how quickly alcohol gets into your blood.

How drunk a person feels is usually correlated to the percentage of alcohol in your blood. The amount of alcohol in the blood is partly related to the amount of water in your body. On average, women's bodies tend to have lower proportional water content than men (49-52% v. 58-61% depending on whose study you read). This is because women tend to have more body fat than men.

Lower proportional water content causes women's blood alcohol concentration to rise faster than men. In other words, if a man and a woman who weigh exactly the same drink the exact same amount over the exact same time, the woman will have a higher blood alcohol concentration.

Women also have a lower amount of an alcohol metabolizing enzyme called ADH in their stomach than men. This causes more alcohol to reach their blood causing blood alcohol concentration to go higher.

Once alcohol is in the blood, it is primarily eliminated through metabolism in your liver although some is eliminated through breathing, sweat, saliva and urine. When it comes to metabolism, women tend to metabolize or eliminate alcohol faster than men.

It is important to note that there are many other variables that can affect alcohol concentration. For example, if a person has an abnormal hematocrit level - a high or low amount of hematocrit can also affect blood alcohol concentration because it either allows more or less water into a person's blood.

Alcohol metabolism can also be affected by drugs. A 1984 Study showed that oral contraceptives can slow the rate of metabolism in women from 0.019% per hour to 0.015% per hour and also that during the premenstrual cycle metabolism can further slow down. Some drugs can slow down alcohol metabolism by utilizing similar receptor sites in the liver causing someone to remain intoxicated for a longer period of time.

Additionally, chronic drinkers or alcoholics present an entirely different scenario. When people are drinking heavily every day, many of the processes can become altered, and all assumptions change.

The bottom line is that differences in sex cause alcohol to be processed differently by the human body. These are factors that must be taken into account by your attorney in assessing any defenses you may have to a prosecution for driving while intoxicated.

This also demonstrates that trying to predict your own breath alcohol concentration while drinking can be tricky. The safest course of action is to not drink and drive.

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