Mission Impossible: Getting drunk on beer

by | Recent Studies




A study by Dr. Leon A. Greensburg, professor of physiology at Yale University, proves with numbers it is impossible to get drunk on beer.  His point is the stomach cannot hold enough alcohol to possibly become intoxicated.  He’s a professor at Yale with the numbers to back his claim; we have to take him at his word right?

A new definition of intoxication

The good Dr. Greensburg states people will only exhibit abnormal behavior if their blood alcohol content is above 0.15 percent.  This number is higher than most state legal limits.  Most states will consider you under the influence if your blood alcohol content is somewhere between 0.05-0.08 percent.  You are intoxicated if your blood alcohol content is above 0.10 percent.  At 0.15 percent, you are loaded.

  • 0.08 is usually considered “under the influence”

What is the doctor drinking?

The next problem with this study is the Greensburg’s choice of beer.  He must be shopping at the grocery store for his beer (in Colorado supermarkets cannot sell beer over 3.2% ABV).  He states the average beer content in America is 3.7%.  In order for your blood alcohol content to be 0.15 percent, you would need 2.5 quarts of the 3.7% beer in your stomach.  The reason he believes you cannot get intoxicated is because the stomach only holds 1.5 to 2 quarts.  Your stomach cannot hold the required amount of beer to become intoxicated.

Of course the beer alcohol content chosen is key to his thesis.  There are very few beers with an alcohol content this low unless you live in a weird place like Colorado where they sale 3.2% ABV beer in grocery stores.  Most beers are between 5 and 6 percent alcohol by volume.

  • Try this experiment with Avery beers, and you will get a very different result
  • Coors Light and Bud Light are both 4.2% ABV.  A six-pack of these low alcohol beers will give you a BAC of 0.112 in one hour.
  • Most beers are 5% ABV or higher. A six-pack of Fat Tire will give you a BAC of 0.146.
beer caps

How many beers of normal strength would you need to consume to get drunk?

Ever been to a kegger?

Further more he states the body destroys or eliminates beer at 1/3 quarts per hour.    That is an interesting claim I haven’t heard before.  Alcohol is absorbed much quicker into your system than the rest of the beer.  Usually you eliminate or metabolize 5-10% of the consumed alcohol in an hour.  You might eliminate 1/3 quarts of something, but most of the alcohol is staying inside you.

According to Dr. Greensburg, a person would need to drink more than three quarts of the beer within one hour.  He says this amount was “physiologically unnatural”.

“Unnatural”?  I seriously have a hard time believing this professor spent any time on a college campus.  Ever hear of the beer bong?  Beer pong?  (Hey!  That rhymes!)  Andre the Giant was reported to have 119 beers in six hours.  That is a beer every three minutes.  While most average sized men cannot match this pace, you’d be surprised how much you can stuff into a stomach.

  • The study assumes the expelled liquid contains the same ABV content
  • You can drink 6 beers in an hour

When was this study again?

Here is the clincher.  This study happened back in 1955.  Why on earth are people reporting it now?  The legal limit back in 1955 was 0.15 percent, which is probably why he chose the number as “intoxicated”.

You can try to claim “I only had 6 beers” in court, but the judge isn’t likely to be lenient.  The current legal limit is 0.10 for legal intoxication.  Drinking some where between three and four Fat Tire beers will put you “under the influence” and five will put you well over the legal limit.

Next time you read a study claiming something too good to be true, you might want to read it closer.


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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!