The law on intoxication cannot escape being a pragmatic compromise between the competing demands of social defense against drunken violence and the logic of men’s requirement

The law on intoxication cannot escape being a pragmatic compromise between the competing demands of social defense against drunken violence and the logic of men’s requirement


Alcohol intoxication (also known as drunkenness or inebriation) is a physiological state that occurs when a person has a high level of ethanol (alcohol) in their blood. Common symptoms of alcohol intoxication include slurred speech, euphoria, impaired balance, loss of muscle coordination (ataxia), flushed face, reddened eyes, reduced inhibition, and erratic behavior. In severe cases, it can cause coma or death.

Toxicologists use the term “alcohol intoxication” to discriminate between alcohol and other toxins. Acute alcohol intoxication results from a very high level of alcohol in the blood. This term is used by health care providers, often in emergencies.

Signs and symptoms of Intoxication:

The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • dangerous anger
  • seizures (fits)
  • slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths a minute)
  • pale, bluish skin
  • Cold and clammy skin. [1]

The Level of alcohol and impacts in human body:

Ethanol is metabolized to acetaldehyde by alcohol dehydrogenate (ADH), which is found in many tissues, including the gastric mucosa. Acetaldehyde is metabolized to acetate by acetaldehyde dehydrogenises (ALDH), which is predominantly found in liver mitochondria. Acetate is used by the muscle cells to produce Acetyl-CoA using the enzyme acetyl-CoA synthetase, and the Acetyl-CoA is then used in the Citric Acid Cycle.[2] It takes roughly 90 minutes for a healthy liver to metabolize a single ounce, approximately one hour per standard unit.

Ethanol’s acute effects are largely due to its nature as a CNS depressant, and are dependent on blood alcohol concentrations:

  • 20–99 mg/dL – Impaired co-ordination and euphoria
  • 100–199 mg/dL – Ataxia, poor judgment, labile mood
  • 200–299 mg/dL – Marked ataxia, slurred speech, poor judgment, labile mood, nausea and vomiting
  • 300–399 mg/dL – Stage 1 anesthesia, memory lapse, labile mood
  • 400+mg/dL – Respiratory failure, coma and death

As drinking increases, people become sleepy, or fall into a stupor. Ultimately, the respiratory system becomes depressed, and the person will stop breathing. This is a common cause of death on college campuses.[citation needed] The most important thing for friends who witness someone “passing out” from too much alcohol is to get them emergency medical treatment. Commonly, comatose patients aspirate their vomit (resulting in vomitus in the lungs, which may cause “drowning” and later pneumonia if survived). CNS depression and impaired motor co-ordination along with poor judgment increases the likelihood of accidental injury occurring.[3] It is estimated that about a third of alcohol related deaths are due to accidents (32%) or intentional injury (13.7%).[4]

Legal issues:

Laws on drunkenness vary between countries. In the United States, for example, it is a criminal offense for a person to be drunk while driving a motorized vehicle (driving under the influence) or operating an aircraft. This is also the case in the United Kingdom and many other countries.

The blood alcohol content (BAC) for legal operation of a vehicle is typically measured as a percent of unit volume of blood. This ranges from a low of 0.00% in Romania and the United Arab Emirates, to 0.05% in Australia and Germany, to 0.08% in the United Kingdom, the United States, and New Zealand.[5]

Additionally, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibits crewmembers from performing their duties with a BAC greater than 0.04%, within 8 hours of consuming an alcoholic beverage or while under the influence of alcohol.[6]

Minesites in Australia enforce a 0.0% BAC while on shift, thus regularly conduct alcohol tests across all personnel, colloquially known as “blowing in the bag”.

In the UK and US, police can arrest those deemed too intoxicated in a public place for public intoxication, “drunk and disorderly” or even “drunk and incapable”. In the UK and Australia, being “drunk in a public place” is an offence in itself. [7]There are often legal penalties for the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons.[8]

Intoxication and social defense:

[9]Research developments since the appearance of MacAndrew and Edgerton’s landmark volume, Drunken Comportment (1969), are summarized. The challenge of moving beyond the book is to understand what lies behind cultural variations in drunken comportment.  Four specific factors in variations in drunken comportment are discussed.  (1) A common contrast is between “wet” societies, where drinking is panelized and every day, and “dry” societies, where alcohol is set apart as a special commodity.  Problems with this contrast are discussed, and the need for cross-cultural studies comparing expectancies from intoxication.  (2) There is a need to study variations in the definition of intoxication as a “time out” state. In some societies, intoxication is likened to possession by spirits; a rationalistic version of this can be found in Canadian court decisions viewing extreme intoxication as potentially “akin to automatism”.  (3) If bad behavior is a foreseeable consequence of drinking, why do some societies nevertheless not hold the drinker responsible?  In Anglo-American and similar societies, drunkenness has some excuse value, but it is not a very good excuse.  Compromises like this seem to be found also in other cultures.  (4) Pseudo intoxication is fairly widespread, and seems to mark social situations where alcohol has enhanced excuse value.  It appears to be a stratagem of the weaker side across cultural boundaries, and of the young where age-grading favors older groups.  Concerning the possibility of cultural changes in drunken comportment, it is argued that there are historical examples, but such a shift requires a substantial social change.

Public Intoxication:

[10]Public intoxication is the appearance of a person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a place open to the general public. In most American jurisdictions, public intoxication is considered a misdemeanor, and in some states, alcoholism is a defense if the offender agrees to attend a treatment program. Also known as ‘drunk and disorderly conduct‘, public intoxication is hazardous to the both the offender and those in his environment. However, being intoxicated in public is not enough for an arrest to be made. The offender must fulfill one of three criteria to be arrested for ‘drunk and disorderly conduct’.

Criteria for a Public Intoxication Arrest:

  • Causing a public disturbance
  • Being dangerous to those around
  • Being a threat to the well being of oneself

Most people arrested for public intoxication are taken to jail until their sober up. A fine is usually issued the following morning when they are let out. More severe punishments will be issued if violence, damage, or injury to others occurred.

Intoxication Defense:

General intent crimes do not require an intent to break the law, just an unlawful act (“actus reus”) and an intent to act in such a fashion.[11] Specific intent crimes, however, require a certain mental state (“mens rea”) to break the law. One such offense, for example, is residential burglary. Residential burglary requires not only an unlawful entry into an inhabited dwelling, but the specific intent to commit some felony therein. When it comes to intoxication defenses in criminal law, even “voluntary intoxication” (the knowing and voluntary consumption of alcohol or drugs) is a defense to a “specific intent” crime, whereas only “involuntary intoxication” (“My drink was spiked!”) is a defense to a general intent crime. As for punishment, intoxication may be a mitigating factor that decreases a prison or jail sentence.

Societies have tended to have an ambivalent attitude toward public drunkenness. In some eras, alcohol consumption or drug-taking have formed the basis of religious or other socially approved ceremonies and festivals. In other eras of a more puritanical nature, intoxication has been stigmatized as a sign of human weakness, of immorality, or as a sin. This lack of consistency reflects different attitudes and cultural standards of public behavior and propriety. Alcohol and drugs may affect the inhibitions that help to keep socialized individuals from breaking the prevailing social taboos which may or may not have been expressly criminalized. In more modern times and depending on the nature of the crime, the potential effectiveness of the defense will sometimes hinge on whether the defendant’s intoxication was voluntary or involuntary. Hence, the potential defense would be denied defendants who had voluntarily disabled themselves by knowingly consuming the relevant liquids or substances, while allowing a defense to those who had unknowingly consumed them.

The men’s requirement for Intoxication:

[12]In some states, a distinction is based on the nature of the mens rea requirement. While voluntary intoxication may not be a defense to an offense of basic (sometimes termed “general”) intent, it is allowed as a defense to offenses requiring a specific intent. This term refers to two separate types of offense:

  1. Some offenses are based on basic intent where the mens rea is no more than the intentional or reckless commission of the actus reus. But a limited number of offenses are defined to require a further element in addition to basic intent, and this additional element is termed specific intent.
  2. The inchoate offenses such as attempt, solicitation, and conspiracy require specific intent in a slightly different sense. The test for the existence of mens rea may be:

(a) subjective where the court must be satisfied that the accused actually had the requisite mental element present in his or her mind at the relevant time (see concurrence);

(b) objective where the requisite mens rea element is imputed to the accused on the basis that the reasonable person would have had the mental element in the same circumstances;

(c) hybrid where the test is both subjective and objective.

The rationale for the existence of criminal laws is as a deterrent to those who represent a danger to society. If an accused has actually committed the full offence, the reality of the danger has been demonstrated. But, where the commission of the actus reus is in the future, a clear subjective intention to cause the actus reus of the full offense must be demonstrated. Without this “specific intent”, there is insufficient evidence that the accused is the clear danger as feared because, at any time before the commission of the full offense, the accused may change his or her mind and not continue.

If a “specific intent” in either sense is required and there is clear evidence that the accused was too intoxicated to form the element subjectively, this fact is recognized as a defense unless the loss of control was part of the plan. But this is of little value to defendants since there are almost always offenses of basic intent that can be charged and/or the basic intent offenses are usually lesser included offenses and an alternative verdict can be delivered by judge or jury without the need for a separate charge. [13]In English law, note the controversial Haggard v Dickinson [1980] 3 All ER 716 which held that, for the purposes of the statutory defense of lawful excuse under s5 Criminal Damage Act 1971, a drunken belief will found the defense even though this allows drunkenness to negate basic intent. This is limited authority and does not affect the generality of the defense.

Conclusion: The law on intoxication cannot escape being a pragmatic compromise between the competing demands of social defense against drunken violence and the logic of men’s requirement. This statement is certainly true if we consider it only by law. But, there are some other uncovered things happening in this world which are not discovered and cannot be find through the law.


1.      Mäkelä, K. (1983) The uses of alcohol and their cultural regulation, Acta Sociologica 26:21-31.

2.      Bales, Robert F. “Attitudes toward Drinking in the Irish Culture”. In: Pittman, David J. and Snyder, Charles R. (Eds.) Society, Culture and Drinking Patterns. New York: Wiley, 1962, pp. 157–187

3.       Rorabaugh, W.J. “The Alcoholic Republic,” Chapter 2 & 5, Oxford University Press.


5.       Walton, Stuart. Out of It. A Cultural History of Intoxication. Penguin Books, 2002. ISBN 0-14-027977-6.

6.      Bales, Robert F. “Attitudes toward Drinking in the Irish Culture”. In: Pittman, David J. and Snyder, Charles R. (Eds.) Society, Culture and Drinking Patterns. New York: Wiley, 1962, pp. 157–187

7.      Taylor, S. (1996) Experimental investigation of alcohol-instigated aggression, presented at a conference on Intoxication and Aggressive Behavior: Understanding and Preventing Alcohol-Related Violence, Toronto, October.

8.      Teahan, J.E. (1988) Alcohol expectancies of Irish and Canadian alcoholics, International Journal of the Addictions 23:1057-1070

9.      Lurie, N. O. (1971). The world’s oldest ongoing protest demonstration: North American Indian drinking patterns. Pacific Historical Review, 40, 311–332.

10.  Room, R. (1996). Drinking, violence, gender and causal attribution: A Canadian case study in science, law and policy. Contemporary Drug Problems, 23, 649–686.

Partanen, J. (1991). Sociability and intoxication: Alcohol and drinking in Kenya, Africa, and the Modern World. Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, vol. 39, Helsinki

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[2] Smith, C., Marks, Allan D., Lieberman, Michael, 2005, ‘Marks’ Basic Medical Biochemistry: A Clinical Approach, 2nd Edtn, Lippincott Williams & Williams, USA, p. 458

[3] McArdle, P (2004). Substance abuse by children and young people. Arch. Dis. Child. 89: 701-704

[4] The World Health Organisation (2007) Alcohol and Injury in Emergency Departments

[5] Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits Worldwide

[6] Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rules

[7] Licensing Act 1872“. Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament 1872. 1872-08-10. Retrieved 2010-05-08


[9] MacAndrew, C. and Edgerton, R. (1969) Drunken Comportment: A Social Explanation.  Aldine, Chicago.

[10] Public intoxication ‘law contributor’ August 22, 2008

[11] Rubin (1993) The Voluntary Intoxication Defense AOJ Bulletin IOG. pages 3 & 4.

[12] Rubin (1993) The Voluntary Intoxication Defense AOJ Bulletin IOG. pages 5-7.

[13] “Report on Malicious Damage 6”. The Law Reform Commission of Ireland. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-21.