Aug. 4, 2011 -- intro:
Think you know your level of alcohol tolerance? Think you know how many drinks it'll take you to get tipsy?
Most alcohol recommendations are based on a 155-lb. adult male. Usually, drinking three standard-sized beverages – like a 12 oz. beer – consumed in under an hour can get the average man drunk.
But some experts say that many people don't know their level of tolerance. In fact, there are genetic, biological and physical factors that can make you drunk faster.
Here's a look at a few characteristics that contribute to your alcohol tolerance:
quicklist: 1category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Size url: text: No, not height. Weight. The larger you are, the more alcohol you are able to consume before you begin to feel tipsy.
"We, in general, metabolize one drink an hour," said Dr. Corey Slovis, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
But those who weigh less are more affected by the same amount of alcohol. A larger body mass index and a higher volume of plasma in the body contribute to the ability of larger people to consume more, many experts said.
quicklist: 2category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Ethnic Background url: text: Does ethnicity matter? Can the Irish really drink some of us under the table? Are the Asians lightweights?
Ethnic background is an uncontrollable characteristic that factors into whether a person can drink more and hurt less.
"The enzyme that metabolizes alcohol may be less abundant in some groups," said Slovis.
Some ethnicities, including Asians, have a genetic mutation in the enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which brings on rosy cheeks and a rapid heartbeat, even with a small amount of alcohol.
"Many can't even drink to intoxication because they become flushed," Dr. Michael Fingerhood, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "At such low levels they have such an effect."
Native Americans also metabolize alcohol much slower than many other ethnicities, said Slovis.
As for the Irish, there's no hard evidence to suggest they are genetically superior drinkers than other ethnicities, experts said.
"If you're in an environment where a lot of people drink, it's more common to find drinkers," said Fingerhood. "In this case, it's very culturally dictated."
quicklist: 3category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Food url: text: Eating more is a surefire way to delay feeling drunk.
"The more carbs and the more fat you consume, the more you'll delay intoxication," said Slovis.
But that's no excuse to drink more, said Slovis.
"You're not blocking the absorption, you're just delaying so you don't peak as quickly," said Slovis.
In fact, the delayed intoxication can be confusing. Some might drink more than usual, and the combination of food and drink can make you more likely to get sick.
"You don't appreciate how much you've had until it hits you," said Slovis.
The higher the proof and the emptier the stomach, the stronger the effects.
quicklist: 4category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Timeurl: text: Many emergency rooms see the highest level of alcohol-related cases during the first weekend of the college semester.
"When you're naive to alcohol, a little goes a very long way," said Slovis.
Over time, regular consumers of alcohol are able to drink more without feeling the effects.
"Someone who drinks more over time will look less impaired at the same level of someone who drinks less frequently," said Fingerhood.
Alcoholics are a prime example of how strong tolerance can be. Even if a person has quit drinking for decades, he or she can still drink to the amount they could before stopping without feeling any effects.
"There's memory for tolerance that we don't understand," said Fingerhood.
quicklist: 5category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Ageurl: text: While tolerance takes time to build, older age can take it away.
"Older people can be snowed by alcohol amounts that hardly touched them when they were younger," said Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Physical changes and changes in brain wiring as we age make it easier to feel the effects faster, said Martin.
For postmenopausal women, the changes in estrogen levels significantly slow alcohol metabolism, said Fingerhood.
quicklist: 6category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Genderurl: text:Premenopausal women are more likely to get drunk faster than men who drink the same amount of alcohol, said Fingerhood.
Body size and composition are obvious reasons for the difference. Men have more body water than women, which allow for wider distribution of alcohol throughout the body. Women have more fat than water weight, so alcohol is concentrated in a smaller volume, said Martin.
Alcohol is also known to hit more women harder in the long run.
Women are more prone to liver toxicity and all other complications from alcohol than men, said Martin.
quicklist: 7category: Handling Your Alcohol Consumptiontitle: Perceptionurl: text: While perception doesn't affect how drunk you really are, it can affect how drunk you feel.
"Expectancy and previous experience do influence how people respond," said Martin.
If some are told and believe there's alcohol in a drink when in reality there isn't, many might begin acting drunk even if they're not, Martin said. Likewise, a person given alcohol but not told their drink is spiked might appear less drunk, he said.
Perhaps you felt that energy drinks or coffee got you back to functioning sooner.
"You get stimulated and might feel alert, but you're not reasoning any better and you don't have a quicker reaction time," said Slovis.
It takes the same amount of time to detoxify with or without consuming stimulants like coffee, even though you may perceive yourself to be more sober.