Many people boast that they have a high tolerance to alcohol, which means that they are able to consume more alcoholic drinks compared to the average person and still remain relatively sober. Is this true? Yes. Can alcohol tolerance be a defense to DWI? Probably not.
Alcohol tolerance refers to the body’s response to the effects of ethanol found in alcoholic beverages. Numerous studies have been conducted that repeatedly confirm variability in terms of individual alcohol tolerance.
A person’s tolerance for alcohol may be supported by genetics, or may be built up and increased through regular drinking over an extended period of time. The reduced sensitivity results in the need for higher quantities of alcohol to be consumed before a person can experience the same effects of alcohol as before the tolerance was established.
When it comes to alcohol, there are two kinds of tolerance at work: metabolic tolerance and functional tolerance. Metabolic tolerance refers to alcohol being metabolized at a higher rate in chronic drinkers. Functional tolerance, on the other hand, refers to an actual change in the system or organ’s sensitivity to alcohol.
Alcohol Tolerance Research
Extensive research has established that heavy drinkers and alcoholics often develop high levels of alcohol tolerance. Alcoholics can become increasingly tolerant of the effects of alcohol at higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels—even levels that are potentially fatal.
When you gain a tolerance for alcohol, you become desensitized to the effects that it may have on the average person. This means that in order to experience the same effects from smaller doses of alcohol previously, you will now need to consume a greater dose of alcohol.
Individual differences in terms of alcohol tolerance vary greatly. One person may appear to be incapacitated after an alcohol dose below the legal limit, while another person with a fairly high blood alcohol reading may show almost no response.
It is important to note that even if some studies show that chronic alcohol users can have twice the tolerance level to alcohol compared to the average person, functional impairment can still be measurable by blood alcohol concentration levels—even in heavy alcohol users.
Getting Arrested for DWI
In Minnesota, operating a vehicle with a BAC level of .08 percent or more will very likely result in a DWI charge. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an average adult male who consumes five or more drinks in a two-hour period will have a BAC level of .08 percent or above. The average adult female will arrive at the same BAC level after consuming four or more drinks.
Can you get arrested for DWI if you have a high tolerance to alcohol and drive a vehicle? It’s possible, although your chances may be less. People with higher tolerance to alcohol may have lower chances of getting involved in accidents at BACs of .08 to .10 percent compared to infrequent drinkers with the same BAC levels.
A higher alcohol tolerance may also present some problems to law enforcement officials on the lookout for signs of impairment. Drivers with BAC levels higher than the legal limit, after all, may not exhibit signs such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and fumbling fingers.
If you do get caught drunk driving, however, the alcohol tolerance defense will not get you out of a DWI charge. As long you have a BAC of .08 percent or higher, you will be charged with a DWI. Since tolerance to alcohol varies so widely among individuals, it would be extremely difficult to create an alcohol tolerance standard defense, or to create a uniform drunk driving law.