CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- 'Tis the season for holiday parties, and drinkers are urged to "know when to say when" before getting behind the wheel
. But for many, "when" is only a guess. They've never learned specifically how factors such as their gender and weight, combined with what they've eaten, what they drink, and how quickly they've imbibed, determine their blood-alcohol concentration (BAC).
One way to learn, risk-free, before heading out to the next party, is through a new Web site -- www.b4udrink.org -- and an interactive program that can be found there: the Blood Alcohol Educator (BAE).
"What the program allows people to do is interactively simulate the important relationship between amount consumed and what happens to your body over time," says Janet Reis, a University of Illinois professor of community health, who developed the BAE prototype.
By knowing that, they can better set their own safe limits, Reis said. At the center of the BAE, online in both English and Spanish, is a virtual bar. After entering a gender and weight into the program, the user can choose drinks and how fast to drink them -- by "slamming," drinking or sipping -- getting a constant update of the resulting BAC, its effects, and how long it will take to return to sobriety.
"People don't understand that there's a real physiological limit on the amount of alcohol we process [or metabolize] in a given hour," Reis said. "Your body simply has to have time to rid itself of alcohol."
At any point while at the BAE bar, the user also can check on a group of six imaginary friends, each affected differently by the same pattern of drinking. The 105-pound woman, for instance, can be over the legal limit after two drinks in 40 minutes, while a 225-pound man drinking at the same rate won't get there until six drinks and two hours later.
If people realize they each have their own limit, Reis said, they might be able to better regulate their drinking or intervene with others. Since women are affected by alcohol more than men, women can learn to appreciate the difference and gauge intake accordingly.
The BAE was initially part of an interactive CD-ROM, "Alcohol 101," developed to influence drinking behavior among college students. Leading its development were Reis; William Riley, the UI dean of students, and Lawrence Lokman, with The Century Council, a national non-profit organization funded by America's leading distillers.
With support through a UI partnership with the Council, the CD has been produced and distributed for use on more than 1,200 campuses nationwide. It's also being used by the U.S. military and the NCAA, and has won several awards. The Century Council launched the b4udrink.org Web site last month.
To access the BAE, users need to have the Shockwave application installed on their computers to work with their browser, but the program is free and a link is provided for downloading.
To date The Century Council also has produced and distributed, free of charge, more than 100,000 CDs with the BAE program. Although the Blood Alcohol Educator is not being marketed for use by people under the legal drinking age, Reis thinks it could have potential as a tool for adults in educating that age group -- such as in driver-education programs, high schools, or as a tool for parents to address the issue of drinking with their kids. Most teenagers will have occasions to be around friends drinking alcohol, even if they're not drinking themselves, she noted, so they can benefit from understanding alcohol's effects
. "This is a way, I think, without blame, without fingerpointing, without accusation, and without encouragement to actually try the product," Reis said, "to explore what the actual relationships are between how much a person drinks ... and what happens to them."
For more information on the BAE program, or to order free BAE CDs, contact The Century Council through its Web site (www.centurycouncil.org) or by calling (202) 637-0077. [Members of the news media can contact Monica Gallagher at the same number.]