Vol. 3, No. 4
Proponents of social drinking often claim that alcohol in moderation is harmless. Even Christians sometimes claim that the Bible condemns drunkenness -- not drinking alcohol. Other Christians who recognize that Scripture prohibits the pleasurable consumption of alcohol sometimes characterize even a single drink of alcohol as being "one drink drunk!" Of course, proponents of alcohol scoff at such a summary statement regarding even meager amounts of beverage alcohol. However, just how much alcohol must one drink before intoxication occurs? How does intoxication occur?
When someone drinks an alcoholic beverage it flows into the stomach. While it is in the stomach, the drinker does not feel the effects of the alcohol, but alcohol does not remain in the stomach very long. Some of it is absorbed through the stomach walls into the bloodstream, but most alcohol passes into the small intestine and then into the bloodstream, and this circulates throughout the body. Once alcohol is in the bloodstream it reaches the brain and the drinker begins to feel its effects. (Gail Gleason Milgram, Ed.D., "Facts On: The Effects of Alcohol," Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 1997, https://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~cas2/clearinghouse/factsheet/fact15.html. [14 Sep 1988])
Irrespective of the variables between persons who consume alcohol, the process that results in intoxication is the same for everyone. Irrespective of the amount of alcohol one drinks, the body processes alcohol in the same way. However, the discernible effect of alcohol can be mitigated by a number of factors, including the size and weight of a drinker, how rapidly one drinks and whether there is food in the stomach.
Whether one appears intoxicated or how long it takes for an obviously intoxicated person to regain his sobriety depends on how much alcohol one drinks and the body's ability to rid itself of the alcohol.
The body disposes of alcohol in two ways: elimination and oxidation. Only about 10% of the alcohol in the body leaves by elimination from the lungs and kidneys. About 90% of the alcohol leaves by oxidation. The liver plays a major role in the body's oxidation of alcohol. . . . The liver can oxidize only a certain amount of alcohol each minute; the oxidation rate of alcohol in a person weighing 150 pounds, for example, is about 7 grams of alcohol per hour. This is equivalent to about 3/4 of an ounce of distilled spirits, 2 1/2 ounces of wine, or 7 3/4 to 8 ounces of beer per hours. If a person drank no more than 3/4 of an ounce of whiskey or half a bottle of beer every hour, the alcohol would never accumulate in the body, the person would feel little of the effects of the alcohol, and would not become intoxicated. (Ibid.)
Most drinkers do not, for instance, nurse a single beer for two hours to avoid intoxication. Further, the vast majority of drinkers, besides any avowed appreciation for its taste, drink alcoholic beverages to experience a calculated effect -- ranging from relaxation to purposeful drunkenness. For that effect to occur, the drinker must embrace some degree of intoxication. It matters not to the child of God who subscribes to divine injunctions that the degree of intoxication in many instances may be legally permissible.
The effect of alcohol on the human body is a matter of degrees, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. No alcoholic beverages when consumed affect such marginal reactions as to avoid adversely interacting with the body. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, quoted in Jeffcoat's book, The Bible and "Social" Drinking, acknowledges that the least trace of alcohol evidences a degree of intoxication.
Blood alcohol of 1/10 of one percent can be accepted as prima facie evidence of alcohol intoxication recognizing that many individuals are under the influence in the 5/100 of one percent range. . . . There is no minimum (blood-alcohol concentration) which can be set at which there will be absolutely no effect. (Minutes of the 1960 annual meeting of the American Medical Association, and "Are You Fit to Drive?", Journal of the American Medical Association. [emphasis mine, ler], recorded by Jeffcoat in his book on page 98.)
This statement simply means that imbibers are drunk to the extent of the amount they consume. There is no minimum amount of alcohol in the body fluids which can be accepted as indicating absolutely no impairment by alcohol. [emphasis mine, ler]. (Jeffcoat, p. 98.)
Alcohol acts directly on the brain, and affects its ability to work. The effects of alcohol on the brain are quite complex, but alcohol is usually classified as a depressant. Judgment is the first function of the brain to be affected; the ability to think and make decisions becomes impaired. As more alcohol is consumed, the motor functions of the body are affected. (Milgram)
Intoxication begins with the first drink of alcohol. Intoxication is the effect of alcohol on the body. Alcohol begins to affect the body shortly after being ingested. "Alcohol is different from foods or other drugs in that it does not require digestion before absorption." (Willard Alls, What the Christian Should Know About Alcohol and Alcoholism, Restoration Publications, Greensburg, Indiana, c. 1975, p. 26.) Otherwise, successive drinks of alcohol simply produce additional degrees of intoxication. Really, the words "intoxication" and "drunkenness" are synonyms. One drink drunk is a valid description of intoxication from both medical and biblical perspectives.
[Editor's Note: A book entitled Beverage Alcohol, written by the Editor is available for sale. This title is published in paperback format. Please contact us via email to purchase it.]