You may not be as sober as you think you are

After a drink or two at the bar, you may still feel clear-headed enough to drive home, but should you? Nearly everyone knows how dangerous drunk driving can be. However, not everyone shares the same feeling of drunkenness at the legal BAC limit of .08.

Studies have shown alcohol affects people differently, even at the same amounts. If you have been drinking, it is important to take steps to avoid accidents and DUIs.

When it comes to alcohol, not all brains are alike

In a report on alcohol-fueled blackouts, the BBC explored the differences between drinkers who reported periods of memory loss and those who didn’t.

Researchers found that people who blacked out could appear coherent in the moment. They could recall things in the short term and even perform simple calculations, but their actions didn’t translate to long-term memory. Instead, they may have switched off or suppressed their hippocampus. That’s a part of the brain that helps us fuse our short-term memories into our personal narratives.

The researchers noted other risk factors, including:

•· Drinking on an empty stomach

•· How often someone gets drunk

•· Lower body weight

•· Your sex-women are more at risk than men

These factors all may cause a person’s BAC to rise more quickly, and that can lead to blackouts. The report also noted that people who suffered blackouts had a harder time controlling their behavior after drinking.

These risk factors for blacking out are even more interesting when you consider that the hippocampus, which is impaired during blackouts, is also a part of the brain’s reward system.

Gender differences in responses to alcohol

As noted in a previous post, researchers have studied the different ways men and women process alcohol. Researchers have also noted gender-based differences in the brain’s reward system. Men who suffer from alcoholism have reward systems an average of 4.1% smaller than those of non-alcoholics. But alcoholic women have reward systems that average 4.4% larger than those of non-alcoholics. Researchers don’t know exactly what this may mean, but it supports the idea that men and women experience alcohol and drunkenness differently.

Subjective perceptions of sobriety

More broadly, there are many ways in which individuals absorb and experience alcohol. As we’ve been discussing, someone may think he or she is not impaired, even though the individual is.

For example, you may experience a .08 BAC differently than someone else. You may be well on your way to passing out, or you may feel fine. For this reason, it’s important to err on the side of caution. Even though you may feel – and actually be – less impaired than someone else with the same BAC, you could still face charges for .08.

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