Toxicology is the branch of medical science concerned with the detection and effects of poisons. Toxicology specific to blood alcohol focuses on an individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC), expressed as a percentage of ethanol in the blood. The BAC is used as a metric of alcohol intoxication for medical and legal purposes. As Australia occupies 10th place in international rankings of highest alcohol consumption, blood alcohol toxicology is a particularly relevant field.

Consuming alcohol faster than the body can metabolise it results in alcohol intoxication, which causes progressive impairments to coordination and decision-making. Symptoms can include confusion, blurred vision, slower reflexes, nausea, and memory loss. An extremely high BAC can even result in coma or death.

Being under the influence of alcohol places individuals at a greater risk of being either a perpetrator or victim of crime. Intoxication increases the likelihood of engaging in risky and reckless behaviours as drinkers lose the ability to make rational decisions. A high number of violent and sexual assaults involve at least one party under the influence, and roughly half of traffic injuries involve alcohol.

Many industries have restrictions on the BAC of their workers. For workers operating machinery or driving heavy vehicles, they must have a BAC of zero. Some workplaces implement alcohol testing as a protocol, engaging in pre-employment screening or random tests.

As a legal substance, alcohol is widely consumed and ingrained heavily in Australian culture. In relation to this, blood alcohol assessments comprise one of the widest applications of toxicology, with the opinions of toxicologists playing pivotal roles in court proceedings.

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The consumption of alcohol, while a legal substance, always carries some degree of risk. This risk tends to compound as more alcohol is consumed and inhibitions and motor skills are drastically reduced. As well as risks at the time of drinking, consumers of alcohol also expose themselves to more long-term risks. Binge drinkers suffer much higher rates of liver cancers, while mouth and stomach cancers are also linked to alcohol consumption.

While the rule of thumb stands that most people are able to process one standard drink per hour, toxicologists are needed to properly consider the numerous variables that render this inexact. Factors dictating the alcohol absorption rate for different consumers include their size and health, whether they are a regular drinker, and whether they also consumed other drugs.

Claims related to blood alcohol toxicology usually result from alleged driving under the influence offences, or in alleged unfair dismissals from workplaces with a zero BAC limit. The influence of alcohol also plays a unique and critical role in many sexual assault cases, as in many Australian states individuals are considered incapable of consenting if they are extremely intoxicated.

Toxicologists serving as expert witnesses in cases with blood alcohol as a factor are frequently faced with questions involving estimation of BAC from given ingestion, or ingestion required to reach measured BAC. Consulting toxicologists can use retrograde extrapolation techniques to obtain a BAC some time after the event, and can also conduct post-mortem forensic evaluations with regards to BAC. The opinions they provide can be useful to plaintiffs and defendants alike.

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Relevant Articles What is Toxicology

Toxicology is the study of chemicals that can cause problems for living thing; it’s a wide-ranging field. The problems that concern toxicologists stretch from inconvenience to disaster—from mild skin irritation, for instance, to death.

What is BAC?

BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Content and is the industry terminology describing the percentage of alcohol present in an individual’s bloodstream at a particular point in time. Put simply, the higher the BAC number, the greater the impairment.

Forensic Toxicology

Forensic toxicology deals with the investigation of toxic substances, environmental chemicals or poisonous products. If you have ever been asked to take a drug test for work or you know someone who has, then you are already familiar with one of the applica

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Profiles of Experts in Pharmacology / toxicology - blood alcohol

Below are short profiles of a few experts with expertise in this field.

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