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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Bars & Clubs

"I started wasting dollars on the mediocre juke box," said Edler.

In Bars & Clubs

"I was surprised I was legally drunk," said Karpinski.

In Bars & Clubs

"After blowing a .07 after just one drink, I knew I was in trouble," said Lawrence.

In Bars & Clubs

"I would avoid the highway and busy streets," said McKinney.

In Bars & Clubs

"I actually felt more calm and less silly than I did earlier in the test," said Tarnoff.

In Bars & Clubs

The photographic evidence is all the remains of the unscientific test.

What does it feel like to be legally drunk?


What does it feel like to be legally drunk? That's a question we've all asked ourselves: What's the difference between buzzed and over the limit? And how many drinks does it take to be too drunk to drive?

With Wisconsin's legal blood alcohol content limit at .08 percent, it seems that the answer depends on many factors: body weight, how much food is in your stomach, and how fast you drink. So we decided to take one for the team and run our own unscientific test. Using a Sharper Image breathalyzer, we took five OMC employees (men and women of different sizes and statures) for an afternoon of work-endorsed drinking.

The rules were simple: Drink the same drink until you blow a .08 (or over), then stop. According to the breathalyzer's instructions, you can't accurately take a blood alcohol test until you haven't had a drink or smoked for 20 minutes. We followed the manual to a tee -- fully understanding that a consumer breathalyzer would hardly hold up in court. Like we said, this was unscientific -- but it was good enough to let us know, in a general sense, when the law tells us we shouldn't get behind the wheel.

A major disclaimer: We're not endorsing getting wasted -- but we are interested in seeing how it feels to be "drunk" -- at least according to the State of Wisconsin -- because that affects how people decide whether or not they are sober enough to get behind the wheel. So ... armed with plenty of designated drivers, as well as a non-drinking note-taker, we began the test at 3 p.m. (yes, being an employee at OnMilwaukee.com is hard work). The results, we thought, were rather surprising:

Molly Snyder Edler
Staff Writer, Kids' & Family Editor
135 pounds
Four whiskey sours: .10 percent (1 hour, 45 minutes)

After the first two drinks, I blew a .05 and felt pretty relaxed. I also started craving cigarettes, a sure sign that I'm in the drinker's zone. After another drink (and a cigarette; thanks Craig), I blew a .08 and started wasting dollars on the mediocre juke box. I didn't feel drunk, but definitely tipsy. After the fourth drink, however, I felt nice 'n toasty. I suddenly had a lot more to say and could have chatted for hours. I felt like I could have driven a short distance, but would have felt paranoid if I passed a cop on the way home. Overall, I was surprised it took four whiskeys to get me legally loaded. Considering how many people get DUIs and DWIs, I always assumed it was really easy to accidentally slip one sip over the line, but surprisingly, the legal limit seems quite reasonable to me.

Zach Karpinski
Programmer
185 pounds
Five Shiner Bocks: .10 percent (2 hours, 2 minutes)

My first one-and-a-half beers were more or less ingested at a normal speed, probably due to playing pool. Andy suggested I was drinking too slowly halfway through the second beer. At this point I started pushing myself, drinking more quickly than I normally would have (for the sake of science, of course). After two beverages my stomach was full but I felt pretty much normal. Once the 20-minute wait was up, I needed another drink very badly. I was now playing pool just to take my mind off wanting that third beer. At this point my BAC was .03 percent. After my third beer, I felt like I was playing pool better and felt like I had more energy than before. I was still at .03. However, I now felt like I was lagging behind because my BAC had not changed at all. I retrieved my fourth beer and slammed it; immediately grabbing a fifth beer. After drinking this last beer fairly quickly my final result was .10. I didn't feel all that different physically but did notice a "buzz." I had no qualms with driving and was surprised I was legally drunk. I think most of my work toward becoming legally drunk happened in the last 45 minutes of the test and can probably be attributed to drinking more quickly than normal.

Julie Lawrence
Staff Writer
120 pounds
Two vodka tonics: .08 percent (1 hour)

After blowing a .07 after just one drink, I knew I was in trouble and would probably be the first of the group to reach the legal limit. Sure enough, after finishing my second vodka tonic I was at .08 percent. We were drinking slightly faster than I do normally (I tend to be something of a slow poke) so I admit that I felt buzzed when I reached the legal driving limit, although I still felt in control enough to drive myself home if I needed to. As the first one "out," I had nothing better to do than continue on drinking with the group, albeit unofficially. Surprisingly, after my third drink -- which was an hour after my first -- I was back in the realm of legal blood alcohol content at .07 percent. According to the breathalyzer, I was OK to drive, but I felt fairly tipsy at this point and would not have felt comfortable driving.

Craig McKinney
Interactive Designer
190 pounds
Five whiskey old fashioned sweets: .13 percent (2 hours, 1 minute)

With only a quick yogurt/apple lunch in my stomach and two drinks down in 30 minutes, I was definitely beginning to feel loosened up and craving a post-drink cigarette. However, after the 20 minute "settle time" required for the breathalyzer, any slight buzz feelings faded and I did not expect to blow a .05 percent. My third old fashioned went down faster but brought no change in drunk feelings, with the exception of not wanting to wait another 20 minutes for the next drink. My alcohol content actually dropped a point to .04. Half-way through my fourth beverage I became much more outspoken, and as I gulped down my fifth drink I felt noticeably affected -- compared to three drinks. Over the next 20 minutes I felt slightly lightheaded while noticing my game of pool went considerably downhill. I was definitely feeling buzzed, yet wanting another drink -- and I was very surprised to have a .13 BAC. If the night was ending, I would avoid the highway and busy streets, but I would still feel comfortable driving home. However, with a carbohydrate-heavy dinner my limit dropped back within an hour and a half.

Andy Tarnoff
Publisher
200 pounds
Five Bloody Marys: .12 percent (2 hours)

After two drinks in close succession, I blew a meager .02. I felt a little warm and happy after the first, and actually a little buzzed and talkative (more than usual, that is) after the second. The third Bloody Mary hit me a little harder, and the 20 minutes I had to wait after finishing the drink before I could take the breathalyzer felt like a lifetime. I felt noticeably more sober than I did as soon as I finished the drink, but I blew a .05 after three. At that point, I felt safe to drive, but I would have thought twice about getting on the highway. After the fourth drink, I felt about the same, but after the fifth I could definitely feel the alcohol's effects. That's when I blew a .12 percent and ended the experiment. Legally drunk, I actually felt more calm and less silly than I did earlier in the test. Had I not known my BAC, I would have felt comfortable driving short distances, but I would have never gotten on a highway. According to the breathalyzer, it took me exactly two hours to surpass the legal limit.

Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor
Sober note-taker:

What is perhaps most alarming is that when the drinkers passed the legal limit or were just below it, none seemed all that drunk and certainly didn't seem drunk enough that they couldn't drive. Most could still talk coherently, play pool, walk without difficulty. It definitely ought to make one think twice before driving after a couple drinks.

Talkbacks

barnesiznoble | Dec. 26, 2008 at 2:01 a.m. (report)

I wouldn't be surprised if you folks have heard about this since conducting your experiment, but thought I'd throw in my two cents. Long story short, there's been a complete recall on the Sharper Image Breathalyzer, as the claims to .001 BAC accuracy turned out to be completely untrue. The recently-settled lawsuit orders the company to pay $1.2 million in damages, and an additional $100,000 for falsely advertising the effectiveness of the product. However, despite all this, Sharper Image has not admitted doing anything wrong. That being said, I know your experiment was done more for human interest and possibly humor than true science. I just thought I'd contribute in any way possible.

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OMCreader | June 2, 2006 at 1:48 p.m. (report)

Debra McMillon said: I think that was a good experience. However, I wasn't clear about how much each person had eaten before they started drinking. I always have 1 drink a hour rule I follow when I'm out drinking and I always eat first. I wonder what my count would be!!

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OMCreader | April 6, 2006 at 8:52 a.m. (report)

freak boy said: It feels normal to me. I am drunk all the time.

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OMCreader | April 3, 2006 at 9:26 p.m. (report)

Party Girl said: I agree that it varies on your own experiences and size and abilities at driving. I drink to some what would be the equivilency of a "Binge Drinker"-as in myself having about 5 or 6 captains with at least 1 or 2 shots in there in a night. I drive very well. My friends trust me enough to take themselves home! But im also 5'10''

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OMCreader | April 3, 2006 at 12:26 p.m. (report)

Dave W. said: There is a larger question here that needs to be answered...Did any of the OMC people that got drunk have to call in sick for work the next day because they were hungover?

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