Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer’s free daily podcast on iTunes.
Mel Gibson was arrested on suspicion of DUI on Friday after a Breathalyzer test administered by police officers measured his blood-alcohol content at 0.12. (The legal limit in all 50 states is 0.08.) According to the police report, Gibson made anti-Semitic remarks while in custody—he has since apologized for his “belligerent behavior.” How drunk was Mel Gibson?
Pretty drunk. Assuming that Gibson weighs approximately 180 pounds, he would need to consume between five and six drinks in an hour to attain a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 percent. One drink is roughly equivalent to 1.5 ounces of 80 proof alcohol, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer. * (Click here for a chart that shows the effects of varying amounts of alcohol on men and women of different body weights.)
It’s not that simple to interpret a blood-alcohol reading, though. To figure out exactly how many drinks Gibson had, you’d need a lot more data, including how long before taking the Breathalyzer test he’d started drinking, how fast he was drinking, and whether he had eaten any food. Moderate drinkers can metabolize about a drink an hour. Heavier drinkers—Gibson claims to be battling alcoholism—process alcohol even faster. That means if a heavy drinker and an infrequent drinker have the same blood-alcohol percentage, it’s likely the bigger drinker has quaffed more beverages.
Might a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 cause you to lose control of your words? It can definitely impair your judgment. According to the National Institutes of Health, a BAC between 0.11 and 0.20 might cause mood swings, anger, sadness, and mania. It could also affect “reasoning and depth perception” and lead to “inappropriate social behavior (e.g., obnoxiousness).”
Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.
* Correction, August 2, 2006: This piece originally stated that 1 ounce of 80 proof alcohol has the same amount of alcohol as 5 ounces of wine and 12 ounces of beer. The equivalent amount is 1.5 ounces of 80 proof alcohol. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.