Coming Soon: Tech That Can Detect When You’re Hammered

Coming Soon: Tech That Can Detect When You’re Hammered

Nearly everyone’s been there before: A harmless beer turned into a courage-restoring eight. Maybe a stomach-churning 10. (Dammit, 15?!) Anyway, before your drunk-ass brain realizes it, you’re a big slobbering mess of a human who can’t find his pants or make coherent thoughts into coherent sentences.

And look, you don’t need us to tell you that getting absolutely schwasted typically leads to terrible decision-making (i.e. drunk driving, unprotected sex, soul-baring snapchats to your ex) that put your health and life at risk (to say nothing of your social life).

But fear not, dudes: Researchers have hunkered down to solve this very problem. Thanks to the power of science, they’ve come up with some pretty killer ways to help you on that front.

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The Science

In an intriguing, but not exactly eye-opening, researchers at The Ohio State University found that young people decide if they’ve had enough to drink much like a car on cruise control “decides” whether to pump the brakes or accelerate, researchers say. 

Researchers collected data from nearly 1,500 of-age students in bars and at parties in San Diego—what, were the parties in Ohio too boring?—by performing portable breathalyzer tests to get participants’ blood alcohol content (BCA) levels. They then sifted through the data for patterns and quizzed students over the course of the night.

In the beginning, the students were asked how drunk they intended to get. They then tested their BAC several times over a few hours to see how much they stuck to (or strayed from) their initial “goal,” so to speak. Ultimately, students who wanted to feel “buzzed” adjusted their consumption to maintain a BAC of about .05, while those who wanted to get “very drunk” averaged around .1 (FYI, it’s illegal to drive a car with a BAC of .08 or higher in most states).

Bottom line: college students drink until they get the buzz they’re aiming for, then adjust their pace—nursing a beer rather than chugging it—or throwing some soda and other non-alcoholic beverages into the mix to maintain this level of drunkenness. Seems pretty basic. You probably didn’t need a study to tell you that. 

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But, from this information—a sort of mathematical model—scientists believe they can expose more of students’ drinking behaviors and help derail people from making dicey choices, which is important—seeing as 88,000 people die every year from alcohol-related causes, the researchers say.

This initial research has laid the groundwork for follow-up study about to begin on Ohio State’s Columbus campus. Sixty Ohio State seniors (of legal drinking age) will wear blood alcohol monitors—basically ankle bracelets—so researchers can get more precise data on how their BAC varies over a night out. The patch will detect a participant’s BAC through sweat since it’s in close contact with skin. 

What’s more, over the study’s two-week span, the students will wear personal fitness monitors so researchers can pinpoint even more data, like their sleep and exercise habits. Students will complete surveys transmitted randomly to their smartphones throughout the study and answer questions about their health and well being at any given moment.

“We could track as many as 5,000 different variables per person during that two-week period, plus all the social interactions between the people in the different groups,” study author John Clapp said in a press release

Their ultimate goal, though, is to develop a smartphone app that will alert you when you’ve had enough to drink. Clapp says they’d like the app to be customizable so you can dictate if you want your drinking to be moderated on a certain night (say your office holiday party); and if you hit your threshold, the app can send an alert and suggest you eat, drink some water, and/or take a break before you throw back another shot, maybe even remind you not to drive home and help call a cab.

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The Tech

You don’t have to wait much longer, though. There are already innovations coming out soon.

The researchers say the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently sponsored a design competition for an easy-to-wear commercial BAC biosensor, and the winning design is set to be available in January 2017 for around $99. It’s called the BACtrack Skyn, and it resembles a fitness monitor that communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth.

Researchers from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering have also unveiled a device that monitors and reads your BAC in as little as 8 minutes, and sends alerts to your smartphone.

“It resembles a temporary tattoo, but is actually a biosensor patch that is embedded with several flexible wireless components,” Seila Selimovic, Ph.D., director of the NIBIB Program in Tissue Chips said in a press release. No word on where or when this one will be available, but stay tuned.

And in the meantime, no drunk snaps to your ex. Understand? None.

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