The 6 stages of getting drunk

(Dr Izak Loftus, forensic and anatomical pathologist of the Pathcare Group)

One drink and the conversation starts flowing. Pour another and you start relaxing as your confidence grows. By the next drink you're cheeky, chirpy and ready to party. But by the time you get into bed the world has turned upside down - and in the morning you have the mother of all headaches.

What has happened to your brain?
Alcohol floods your brain like an enormous tidal wave, scientists have confirmed, so it's no coincidence you start off feeling jolly but later struggle to stay on your feet. The suppressing effect of alcohol affects one area of the brain after another.

The wave breaks in the forebrain, then washes sideways and backwards over and through the brain and finally spreads to its deepest and most vulnerable part, the cerebellum, midbrain, brain stem and medulla oblongata. Your peripheral vision can be affected after a single glass of wine - even before the wave reaches your hindbrain.

Let's take a step-by-step look at how you're literally brain-washed by the alcohol you drink, from the moment you're the jolly party animal until the end when you stagger around drunkenly and eventually pass out.

  1. The jovial phase

    Drinking less than half a glass of alcohol an hour is enough to suppress the functions of the frontal lobes which control your inhibitions, self-control, willpower, ability to judge and concentration.

    When this part of the brain is being suppressed you have fewer inhibitions, your self-confidence is boosted, you become more jovial and daring and you talk more - and louder. Believe it or not, at this stage your judgment is diminished and your personality has been sufficiently altered to increase your risk of dying an unnatural death - as a result of an accident or fight, for example.

  2. The slurring phase

    Next in line to experience the alcohol wave are the parietal lobes at the sides and on the top of your head. When your blood alcohol level is about 0,10 g/100 ml (typically after two to three drinks an hour) your motor skills are impaired. Your speech may be slurred but funnily enough you don't seem to notice. Complicated movements such as buttoning your shirt or fastening a necklace are likely to become more challenging and you may experience a slight tremble.

  3. The blurring phase

    When the alcohol reaches the back of your head and the occipital lobe your blood alcohol level will be about 0,15 g/100 ml. By this time you've had four to five drinks (or two to three doubles) in an hour. Your intoxication level is becoming quite dangerous even though you might not think so.

    Your vision is deteriorating - it's becoming increasingly difficult to judge movement and distance and your peripheral vision decreases. If you're driving at dusk you'll have trouble spotting a pedestrian or the little boy chasing his ball; unable to stop in time you could kill someone or crash into the back of a slow-moving lorry.

  4. The toppling over phase

    When your alcohol level reaches 0,2 g/ 100 ml (after four to six drinks or three doubles in an hour) the alcohol wave is crashing over your cerebellum. By now your balance will be severely affected and you'll have trouble standing.

  5. The legless phase

    Your blood alcohol level is in the region of 0,25 g/100 ml and your midbrain has become affected. You're paralytic, jittery and nauseous and your reflexes are severely impaired. By this time you may have lost consciousness.

  6. The deadly phase

    If you drink four doubles an hour your blood alcohol level will quickly exceed 0,35 to 0,4 g/100 ml. With this amount of alcohol in your body your brain will be hit with a vengeance. It's now a matter of life and death: if the alcohol reaches the medulla oblongata (the part of the brain controlling breathing and blood circulation) you can die.

How many drinks?
A single drink can be enough to push your alcohol level over the legal limit of 0,05 g per 100 ml of blood for drivers.

There really is just one rule - if you're going to drive, don't drink any alcohol.

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