Do short people get drunk more quickly?
May 6, 2013 4:12 AM   Subscribe

All other things being equal, does a short person's blood alcohol level reach 0.05 faster than a tall person (because they have less blood and/or a smaller liver)?
posted by dontjumplarry to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Assume the short and tall person both drink the same amount.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:19 AM on May 6, 2013

Do "all other things being equal" include the two people's weight? Because I think that is the more important factor here.
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:23 AM on May 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

Does "all other things being equal" include their body weight? Or are you asking whether a light, short person will get drunk faster than a heavier, taller one?
posted by third word on a random page at 4:23 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it has more to do with blood volume, which correlates relatively closely to body weight, than height. This is highly unscientific, but when I worked at a blood bank, years ago, the rule of thumb was one quart of blood per 10-12 pounds of body weight.

Having said that, absent some weird congenital abnormalities or diseases, weight and height generally correlate positively, so you'd expect a tall person to weigh more than a short person with the "same" build. So, yes, all things being equal, you'd expect a shorter person to become intoxicated, which is measured as a percentage of blood volume, on less alcohol than it would take for a tall person
posted by hwestiii at 4:25 AM on May 6, 2013

Assume both have similar (average) builds. Not skinny, not fat. So obviously the tall person will weigh more.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:32 AM on May 6, 2013

All other things being equal, a person who weighs less will have a higher blood alcohol content than someone who weighs more.

I believe is irrelevant whether the weight difference is because both people are of average build and different heights or because both people are are the same height but different builds.

Here's a blood alcohol calculator you can play with. You can see that the important variables are sex and weight, along with how much you've had to drink over what period of time.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:30 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not height, but weight, actual pounds, that matters. A 200 pound person will metabolize alcohol differently than a 100 pound person.

So if the short person also weighs less, then yes, that person will get drunker with less alcohol.

It's simple math.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on May 6, 2013

I do not encourage anyone to conduct these sorts of experiments themselves, but in the interests of science we have had a couple of parties where a breathalyzer was present. The unfortunate byproduct of this technology was a kind of video-game mentality where people tried to set the high score. This is clearly not the best possible outcome, although it did lead to several awesome stories that we retell within our group at carefully selected embarrassing moments. During the early stages of the evening (where we able to stick to our experimental protocol) we made several observations. The first is the one that everyone expected. In general, heavier people absolutely see slower rises in their blood alcohol level for the same level of alcohol consumption than lighter people. We also found that women tended to reach peak blood alcohol levels more quickly than men of the same approximate weight, although over time they seemed to be about equal. In other words, women's blood alcohol curves were steeper, but tended to peak at about the same level as men. However, there were idiosyncratic differences between individuals. One very thin and tall woman who rarely drank alcohol demonstrated near invulnerability to modest amounts of alcohol. Her BAC rose as slowly as the heaviest man. We weren't able to persuade her to try more than 2 drinks, so it may be that this effect would not last, but we attribute it to her hummingbird-like metabolism.

Interestingly, we found that people who gave no outward appearance of drunkenness despite fairly substantial alcohol intake still registered fairly high BAC readings. In other words, their apparent lack of symptoms like slurring or uncoordinated movements was not a result of lower BAC, but rather some superior ability to act normal despite relatively high BAC levels. This seemed to correlate to friends who drank more frequently, although our experiment was not constructed to study that effect, so there are a thousand ways it may have been biased. But it did clearly indicate that the guy who seems fairly sober despite consuming a lot of booze is still at a very high risk of a DUI conviction.
posted by Lame_username at 6:56 AM on May 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

So, simple math kind of sucks because we do not understand human metabolism nearly as much as we think we do. And even so we do know enough to know that human metabolism doesn't often express linear relationships. Mechanistic views of metabolism rarely give us accurate predictions.

The human metabolism (unlike a machine) is rife with buffer systems, catalyzed reactions and enzymatic reactions, which are all systems in biology that do not give rise to linear relationships in biochemical reactions. Usually biological systems have the ability (as buffer systems) to soak large amounts of whatever they're designed to deal with and then have some sort of massive failure mode, which usually cascades to a similar mechanism in regards to not being linear but which tends to throw off undesirable side effects. Add to that, catalyzed and enzymatic reactions both affect kinetics of a system to such a degree that only specialized simulations have a chance at predicting behavior.

Also, there are studies that show that intoxication (biological) and drunkenness (behavior) can be very differently expressed, depending on social upbringing and social context and expectations (which I realize very likely doesn't inform BAC).

But at the same time I agree that in general, it seems like body mass plays a significant part in alcohol metabolism and can slow any response if interpreted/interpretable on a linear system.
posted by kalessin at 8:25 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

What kalessin said. With the anecdotal caveat that, as a short thin woman who often tries to match her taller, but proportionately built (that is, also slender) dude friends drink-for-drink, uh...we pretty much do. With some internal variation as to how much drunker, and how much more quickly.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:10 PM on May 6, 2013

Weight and body fat percentage matter more than height. Some of the biggest lightweights I've ever known were athletes - really tall, really fit, 7% body fat kind of guys.

I am a small, thin woman and I am drunk after two drinks.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:31 PM on May 6, 2013

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