Sex Differences Can Lead to Increased DUI Potentials for Women

Byline: By Lesly Eichelberger

Posted: July 8, 2012

Amanda turns down the radio as she notices flashing police lights in her rear view mirror. She pulls over and her thoughts are racing. How many drinks did she drink tonight? How much time has passed since her last one? As the officer walks to her window, she realizes she does not know enough about her body to make an intelligent guess about her own level of intoxication.

According to the Franklin County Probation Department, this happens to many women because they are uneducated about the Pa. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws and they are unaware of alcohol metabolism’s physiological processes.

Women and men's different metabolisms

According to the Probation Dept.’s Student Workbook, women do not metabolize alcohol as well as men. A man and a woman who weigh the same and ingest equal amounts of alcohol will have significantly different blood alcohol content, or BAC Women will have a higher BAC and consequently are at more risk of earning a DUI than males.

The BAC limit in Pa. is .08%. Anyone caught driving above this limit is subject to penalties, including fines and possible incarceration.

Chambersburg Police Sergeant, Walter Bietsch, says, "An officer must have probable cause to administer a breathalyzer test. Usually it depends on what the officer observes during initial contact with the driver... an officer looks for certain characteristics of intoxication, like glassy eyes or incoordination when getting their documents together."

Hormonal fluctuations and other concerns for women

According to the Alcohol and Drug Consultation, Assessment and Skills Program (ADCA), the hormonal fluctuations occurring during a woman’s menstruation cycle can cause her to feel more intoxicated from less alcohol consumption and the effects can last longer. The week before her menstruation cycle begins is the luteal phase. This is the time when alcohol is most intoxicating.

According to the ADCA, oral contraceptives can mimic the luteal phase, increasing the risk for a DUI and lessening women’s ability to effectively predict their reaction to alcohol.

Another genetic disadvantage for women who consume alcohol is their water composition. In the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ study, women have significantly less water density than men. The average woman is made of 45-50% of water and the average man is comprised of 55-65% of water. It is the water in your body that dilutes alcohol and enables it to pass as waste as urine. The study shows that women are less able to dilute and pass their ingested alcohol, causing them to have a higher BAC for a longer time period than men. Evidence of the difference in alcohol metabolism due to sex is reflected in the charts.

Jocelyn Kirchner ‘14 says that she is aware of the differences that sex makes when metabolizing alcohol. Even so, she feels that sometimes social pressure influences a drinker more than knowledge. She says, "I know that my limit is a lot less than a guy’s, but I feel like there is always some type of competition. It’s all in fun, but it can cause you to drink more."

Societal pressures towards drinking

Bietsch agrees that social pressures contribute to over-drinking. He says, "Social settings allow for a drinker to become preoccupied and lose count of how many drinks that they’ve had."

Bietsch says, "The safest way to go out and drink is to designate a driver beforehand. That way, there is someone sober to watch over you."

Kirchner ’14 says having a designated driver is important to having a good time out without experiencing future consequences. But, she warns that sometimes those drivers who promise to remain sober do not keep their promise. She says, "I looked over and saw my D.D. [Designated Driver] drinking a beer. I told him if he didn’t put it down, then we would have to leave."

Sergeant Bietsch offers another solution if when in this situation. He says, "If it’s your last resort, call on us for a police escort. We would gladly get you home safely, rather than have you risk your lives or the lives of others."

Last Updated: July 8, 2012

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