Effects of Eating and Smoking
on DUI Breath Alcohol Tests

Continued From page 1...

The pilot study and experiment findings have defined the food conditions which will make the maximum difference in BAG. It is important to emphasize, however, that these are not all or nothing variables. Rather, almost any food, eaten during the time interval of two hours or less prior to drinking, can be expected to produce some reduction in BAG compared to drinking in a fasted state. Although a small amount of food may have relatively minor effects, it would be unfortunate if the public believed that only a full meal would suffice. Snack foods, light meals, and typical party foods which accompany drinking all can be eaten with some benefit expected for the individual who wishes to minimize BAC.

There are some significant limits to these findings which should be noted. The alcohol beverage (80-proof vodka and orange juice mixed in a 1:1.5 ratio) was consumed over a half-hour period. No examination was made of other types of alcohol or of other alcohol concentrations, nor was it possible within the scope of this study to examine the condition in which alcohol is consumed as multiple drinks over a longer time period. The individual who may use the findings from this study as a basis for estimating BAG is likely not to duplicate the laboratory conditions and will need to be advised of the limits of the data.

Clearly a high calorie meal is more effective than a low calorie meal of equal weight. However, to determine whether weight of food is a critical variable, an additional test is needed. Specifically, the question requires comparisons of meals with equal calories but varying weight. The tests did not include this condition, and thus the issue is not resolved by these data.

Also, the findings are based on a study of male subjects only. It is expected that the effects of food on BAG will be closely similar for women, but no data have been obtained with female subjects.

Finally, the subjects were young men, ages 2-30 years, and "age" as a variable was not included in the stud. It is possible that findings for older individuals will differ from those reported. Physiological changes, including changes in body composition, metabolic processes, and organ function which may occur with aging, presumably may affect the reported food-alcohol relationship.

It can reasonably be assumed that food will have some effect under these various conditions, but the extent of that effect has not been established. It is recommended that further study include a wider age range and include women as subjects. Additionally, if food is to find optimal use as an alcohol countermeasure, it will be necessary to examine the effects in circumstances more typical of social drinking. For example, it will be important to the alcohol user to know what may be expected if he/she has consumed an average-size, typical evening meal at 6 or 7 P.M. and then goes to a party or bar and drinks steadily for the rest of the evening without further food intake. Further study also will be needed to determine food effects on BAG when alcohol is consumed simultaneously with a meal.

It is recommended that the following findings be incorporated into a pamphlet for drivers:

  1. Eat a meal in close proximity to the time of drinking.
  2. Eat a full meal, if possible, with a variety of foods which are largely protein and/or carbohydrates.
  3. When it is not possible to have a meal before drinking, take advantage of whatever food is available. Almost any food will be better than no food at all.
  4. Avoid drinking when no food has been eaten for more than two hours.

Eating and smoking can both affect the absorption of alcohol. A recent study indicates that cigarette smoking can also influence absorption - and thus the validity of attempts at retrograde extrapolation. In an article entitled "Cigarette Smoking and Rate of Gastric Emptying: Effect on Alcohol Absorption", by Johnson, et al., 302 British Medical Journal (1991), researchers tested blood samples of a group of smokers for blood alcohol concentrations both after smoking and after prolonged abstinence. The result was that "areas under the venous blood alcohol concentration-time curves between zero and 30 minutes and 60 minutes and the peak blood alcohol concentrations were significantly less during the smoking period compared with the nonsmoking period." Gastric emptying, as shown by scintillation cameras, was also found to be slower during the smoking evaluation. The scientists concluded that the effect of smoking on alcohol absorption has "considerable social and medico-legal relevance," and that the ingestion of nicotine should be taken into account in studies of alcohol absorption.

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