DUI: Gender Differences in Alcohol Absorbtion

Question: I was drinking with my boyfriend over the weekend. First we went out to dinner for steaks and had some wine and then we went to a comedy club where we had some drinks. My boyfriend drank more than I did; he drank more wine and mixed drinks, but I had some too. I know I drank less than he did, that was obvious.

He got pretty drunk, that was obvious too. So I said I'd drive because I really didn't drink that much and I really don't drink too much anyway. On the way home I got pulled over by a Gwinnett County police officer for speeding. I admitted to drinking because I thought I'd get in more trouble if I lied to the cop. I did all his tests and I took a breath test on the road and I took a breath test at the jail.

I was surprised in a bad way that I blew such a high number on the blow test. I blew a .174. I know that's over twice the legal limit and I can't believe that I blew that number. I admit I felt tipsy and I was a little concerned but I thought I'd make it home safely at least. My boyfriend encouraged me to drive, but I shouldn't have listened to him because he was drunk.

I don't know what could have caused me to drink less than him but still be drunk. My friend who's a doctor said it could have something to do with taking birth control and that I was on my period. I'm just trying to figure it out so I don't ever get another DUI charge.

P.P. in Lawrenceville, GA

Answer: Thank you for that interesting question. There are documented gender differences that can impact Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Women become intoxicated faster than men because they have less water in their bodies and more adipose tissue (fat), which is not easily penetrated by alcohol.

A woman's menstrual cycle can also affect her rate of alcohol absorption. Her hormone levels during her menstrual cycle create an elevated intoxication level and this intoxication lasts longer during the "luteal phase."

And studies have shown that women taking birth control pills will absorb alcohol faster, resulting in a higher BAC level than a woman who is not taking the pill.

Additionally, the enzyme that begins to metabolize alcohol in the stomach, gastric alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), is found in significantly higher concentrations in men (about 50% more) than in women.

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