Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ethanol Once More

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Above: Liz and Carley, as drunks, in Leland School's 2004 production of "Lucky Stiff"

The Traverse City Record-Eagle ran a nice AP article on ethanol fuel this week.

Meanwhile I've been thinking about ethanol as drink. At work I was required to take TIPS training, as in Training for Intervention, as in intervening with people who want to drink more than they should. The training included a lot of quantified, scientific information that we are supposed to use to estimate how intoxicated a subject will become. For instance, a 150 pound male of average build will have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .05 after two drinks on an empty stomach. Unless it is a carbonated drink, then the alcohol will be absorbed more quickly. Or if a person carries more body fat, then the alcohol will be absorbed more quickly because fat and alcohol don't mix. If they've eaten a full meal recently, alcohol works more slowly. If they took prescription medicines, then drank, well that's just a wild card. Anything could happen.

I'm a gaming employee. Everything is a game for me. I tend to be pretty competitive, although my mind works in ways that allow me to redefine the game until I've found goals that are attainable; until I find a way to win the game. What bothered me about the TIPS training was that I was being asked to use a bunch of subjective observations-- starting right out with the old "Guess my Weight" question from the carney's booth-- to deduce someone's Blood Alcohol Content. The cop parked outside of the casino lot gets to actually test for BAC, but I have to guess. Yet they made a big deal of my personal liability in this and emphasized that an actual BAC test is the only thing that matters in court. There is no way to win the game, unless I make sure that nobody ever gets more than 2 or 3 drinks.

I'm not complaining about having to monitor alcohol consumption. I just wish there was a more scientific way to do it.

BUT THEN...I read this article about a prison inmate who swigged off a bottle of hand sanitzer and got drunk. It seems that your basic Purell-type hand sanitzer is about 60% ethyl alcohol, or 120 proof.

The 49-year-old inmate, who was not identified, was treated for alcohol poisoning. His blood alcohol level topped .33 percent, Doyon and Welsh wrote in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine today.

“We’re primarily concerned about at-risk patients,” Doyon said. “Patients who intentionally do this to get drunk, especially those hospitalized, institutionalized or in rehabilitation or nursing care facilities.”

There is also a concern about middle and high school students drinking hand sanitizer to “be cool,” Welsh said. “It’s important for parents and school personnel to be aware that it is happening.”

He suggested parents treat hand sanitizer like any other potentially harmful household product, including storing out of reach of small children and instructing children not to drink from it.

In the casino, we have a problem with people who have been cut off continuing to try to get a drink, get their friends to buy them drinks, or even sipping off their friends' drinks. Now we have to monitor their hand sanitizer as well?

Thinking about this at work, I helped myself to a big dollop of Purell in the breakroom, spread it on my hands, and then licked the back of my hand to see what it tasted like. Not bad. Not so great, either. Kind of like if you had made gin with lavender instead of juniper berries. Would I choose it for a night out? No. Would an underage drinker mix it with Mountain Dew? There's probably already a name for this homemade kiddie cocktail.

But what about the extremely underage? I was thinking about babies licking the stuff off of hands. But when we talked about it in the breakroom, Rob asked if it could be absorbed by the skin.It turns out that skin absorbtion, or even inhaling the fumes are ways to get alchohol into the bloodstream.

If a 150 lb guy needs 2 ounces (4 Tablespoons) of 120 proof to get borderline drunk, then the 15 lb baby needs a little over a teaspoon. Maybe less, because babies have a high percentage of body fat. Maybe more, because babies are always eating. The mom who slathers Purell all over the pacifier that fell on the ground or the bar of the shopping cart or her own or her child's hands at every opportunity may be planting the seeds of alcohol dependency as she kills all those germs. She may be getting the kid drunk. Those compulsive hand-cleaning people that reach for the hand sanitizer every 5 minutes may be getting enough to get buzzed up, or at least to relax a little.

The breakroom conversation was getting funny. Rob asked me "So how do you know if a baby is drunk?" I got out my TIPS training manual and reviewed the list of "behavioral cues for approaching intoxication".

"Well, you have to see whether the baby has lost his inhibitions. Or has impaired judgement." It seems being drunk pretty much means acting like a baby, so a baby could be drunk quite a bit and no one would know. Of course if your baby gets to the impaired reaction phase and starts "lighting more than one cigarette" you'll know something's up.

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