When you take a drink of alcohol, it is absorbed into the blood through the mucous lining of the gastrointestinal tract: the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, and the small intestine. The rate of absorption increases as the alcohol moves through the tract.
Absorption from the stomach into the bloodstream (by way of blood-carrying capillaries in the stomach lining) is faster than from the esophagus or mouth. Common wisdom - that drinking on an empty stomach will get you more intoxicated, faster - is true because there is nothing else in your stomach to compete with the alcohol in terms of getting absorbed.
Ranitidine - the key ingredient in Zantac and similar products - blocks the so-called first pass metabolism of alcohol. When alcohol is ingested, the further it passes through the digestive tract, the more ethanol is absorbed into the blood stream. The organs of digestion involved are the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine, and the colon. More ethanol is absorbed as it travels further through that tract.
Over-the-counter anti-acid and anti-heartburn medicines like Zantac (containing Ranitidine) reduce the amount of acid that the body produces. The more of the drug you take, the more the body reduces acid production, thus there being less acid in the stomach to break down the ethanol then absorbed into the blood. This is how Zantac works. Heartburn and upset stomach occur due to the body producing acid in the stomach to the point where the person becomes uncomfortable. The more Ranitidine that is consumed, the less stomach acid is produced.
Ranitidine decreases the body’s ability to produce the acid that is used in the stomach to start metabolizing alcohol. This allows more ethanol to pass from the stomach into the small intestine, where the body more readily absorbs ethanol into the blood than if the stomach had digested the ethanol. The result is that more ethanol is absorbed into the blood through the small intestine. This is the key component to why Ranitidine causes an elevated blood alcohol content, or BAC.
Generally speaking, in Colorado for example driving with a BAC of .05 or greater is against the law (including if .08 or greater "driving under the influence" or DUI). People who consume Zantac (or similar product containing an equal amount of Ranitidine) and then consume alcohol - even minimal amounts - may unknowingly and involuntarily have their BACs elevated to where driving a vehicle is against the law. What would be considered a small amount of alcohol consumption becomes amplified when the stomach did not break down the ethanol and the small intestine allowed the ethanol to pass into the blood. And the higher BAC level persists for a longer time when Ranitidine is a factor.
Because criminal offenses must be based on a voluntary act, a defense amounting to involuntary intoxication can be a defense to DUI.
Call Sanderson Law, P.C., if you need help. 303-444-8846.
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