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Back to school, bartenders.

To keep federal highway funds, Alaska will comply with mandatory alcohol-server training.

If the feds have their way, it won't be enough just to be a mixologist. Bartenders will have to be one part biologist, one part chemist, one part psychologist and one part pharmacist. Besides knowing what's in a Long Island Ice Tea, they'll have to know how it passes through your pyloric valve, the symptoms of its effect on your brain, and they'll need to be alert to your moody, anxious moments.

If the bartender's truly a fine blend of the above "ists," he'll find out if you're taking Tagamet or other medication for ulcers that might double the effect of alcohol.

That's a tall order. But consider the alternative: The amount of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in your body used to measure legal intoxication will be reduced from .10 percent to .08 percent. Doesn't sound like much ... until you find out a bottle of wine, split with your spouse at dinner, puts you at risk of drunk driving.

Just a half bottle of wine.

The National Transportation Safety Board intends to cut off highway funding to states that don't adopt five of six measures that it believes will reduce the number of drunken drivers and help curb the misuse of alcohol. Alaska already complies with four. Now the state has to pick its poison from one of the other two measures: mandatory alcohol server training or .08 percent BAC.

"I don't like the federal government telling me what to do any more than the next person," says Carol Wilson, executive director of CHARR, a statewide association of managers and owners of cabarets, hotels, restaurants and retail businesses. "Legalizing .08 percent BAC will kill the restaurant and bar business.

"Responsible drinkers will be affected more than drunk drivers, so we'll throw our efforts behind statewide, mandatory alcohol-server training rather than lose highway funding," Wilson notes.

In Anchorage, alcohol server-training is already mandatory. Anyone who serves alcohol to the public must take a course that teaches everything from the clinical effects of alcohol to how to spot fake IDs. Bartenders. Liquor store sales clerks. Waiters. Waitresses. There are several programs to choose from, but CHARR's program, Techniques of Alcohol Management (TAM), co-sponsored by the Anchorage Restaurant and Beverage Association, has trained the largest number of people, about 10,000.

Alaska was the second state to recognize the need for alcohol-server training. Michigan developed and used TAM first in 1983. In 1984, CHARR bought the copyright to TAM, and today it conducts three or four courses each month in Anchorage alone. Courses are also taught in other parts of Alaska upon request. About 25 states throughout the country now use TAM and some, like Oregon, have developed their own state-mandated training program.

Front Line of Defense. With the potential for statewide mandatory training, CHARR has begun training instructors around the state who will be able to schedule regular TAM classes in their home towns. To find out what such a course offers, you can attend one of the four-hour training classes conducted by Wilson in Juneau.

The small business owners who are licensed to sell alcohol, and who make up CHARR, are justifiably concerned about the misuse of the product they sell. Because hotels, restaurants and bars are social-gathering spots as well as places to drink, owners and workers not only feel, but are legally responsible for the welfare of their patrons.

People who serve drinks are the front line of defense for patrons, business owners and for themselves. Drunk driving and its legal ramifications have brought this about. So: The primary objective of TAM is to reduce alcohol-related driving accidents. TAM is taught in five segments: clinical effects of alcohol; legal considerations; patron intoxication; customer disturbances; and false identification.

TAM teaches that size, bulk, even gender, affect the amount of alcohol you can drink before you show signs of drunkenness. Tolerance for alcohol built over a period of time also enters the equation, but generally, one glass of wine, one beer, one mixed drink, one shooter, all have about the same effect: They produce a blood-alcohol concentration of .02 percent in a muscular person weighing 150 pounds.

Take Time for Sobriety. When it comes to drinking, the flying nun can not keep pace with the bionic man. If she has five drinks in one hour, she will be legally drunk. He may be able to drink more before he is legally impaired, but here's the rub (or the great equalizer if you are a small woman): After they both loosen up, show some signs of poor judgment, slur a few words and start bumping into each other, nothing will sober up either drinker but time. Once intoxicated, regardless of size, their livers take the same amount of time to remove the alcohol from their bodies. Forget cold showers. Forget coffee. Only time will make you sober.

Because alcohol is water soluble and our bodies are mostly water, alcohol is easily absorbed, but not in our stomachs like most people think. Absorption begins in your mouth, where only 2 percent to 4 percent is taken into the bloodstream. Your stomach absorbs 20 percent to 25 percent. When alcohol leaves the stomach, it goes into the intestines, where about 70 percent of the absorption takes place.

Now, here come the new tricks. The pyloric valve allows the stomach's contents to pass to the intestine, where fast alcohol absorption takes place. By itself alcohol does not remain in the stomach long: It's an irritant, and passes rapidly through the intestine and into the bloodstream.

Bring on the Pasta. Putting any kind of food into your stomach allows the pyloric valve to close until food is digested. Fatty foods like potato chips, peanuts and cheese take longer to digest, thus keeping the pyloric valve closed and the alcohol in your stomach, slowing its absorption rate.

Certain kinds of munchies do more than make you thirsty for another drink. They slow the effects of alcohol, but not because of the popular misconception that food absorbs alcohol. In fact, a big pasta dinner several hours before you go out for a night on the town produces the opposite effect. Your pyloric valve will already be in full swing when you add alcohol to the mix.

You actually need to drink as slowly on a full stomach as on an empty stomach. And of course, the person who slams down 10 drinks in rapid order while eating a greasy sausage pizza does one of two things: vomits, or floods the stomach and forces open the pyloric valve. When 10 drinks hit the intestine at once, "instadrunk" occurs. Either way, your night is likely to be over.

Anxiety creates a situation similar to the greasy pizza. It causes the stomach to excrete a mucus that slows down or stops digestion. Several quick drinks will not produce a "high," so you may have a few more. Eventually, you relax, and bingo, the mucus disappears and a lot of alcohol is dumped into your intestine at once.

Other clinical effects of alcohol of interest are:

* Women have a higher fat content, which absorbs alcohol faster than men, and they do not metabolize alcohol as well as men.

* Alcohol dilates the small blood vessels in our skin, allowing a loss of body temperature. This is more critical to know in Alaska than in Florida.

* One drink stimulates the appetite, several drinks kill it.

* A sequence of emotional and physical behaviors are good indicators of our state of sobriety. Inhibitions go first; we loosen up, then our judgment shows signs of deterioration. Next, motor control is impaired, words may come out slurred or we might loose our balance. In advanced stages of drunkenness, we lose emotional control and, finally, autonomic functions such as breathing shut down and can lead to death.

Bad News is No News. "It never fails. Every time I teach this class, I can find an alcohol related incident in the daily news," says Wilson.

She opens the latest USA Today and reads some details. Drunk driving and other public drunkenness have contributed to public awareness of alcohol abuse. In spite of a decrease in alcohol-related deaths (down from 45,000 people 10 years ago to 25,000 in 1990), there is a stronger social intolerance for alcohol today.

It is not socially acceptable to be visibly drunk anymore. Designated drivers are increasingly popular among friends out for an evening of fun. Bars like the Triangle Club and the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau give designated drivers free coffee, pop and non-alcoholic beer on New Year's Eve.

"Instead of lowering blood alcohol concentration limits that affect the casual or moderate drinker, we need to focus legislation on the real abusers, on the drunk drivers," says Joe Thomas Jr., CHARR board member and owner of the Triangle Club.

Indeed, working toward tougher penalties for repeat drunken drivers is on CHARR's agenda. According to executive director Wilson, stiffer penalties for teenage abusers is also in the works.

Last session two state bills proposed legislation that would have taken drivers' licenses away from people under 21 who were convicted of buying and/or possessing alcohol. If the subject was under 16 and had not yet received a license, the bills would bar him from getting a license until the age 21. During the last hours of the 1992 session, both bills died in the House.

"Oh, we'll have someone introduce them again this session," promises Wilson.

The Alaska Legislature is currently reviewing five bills aimed at stiffening drunk driving laws and making alcohol-server training mandatory:

* House Bill 61 - Reduces the legal blood-alcohol level from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.

* House Bill 2 - Requires school districts to perform random drug and alcohol tests on school bus drivers.

* House Bill 136 - Mandates that drunk drivers serve three days in a halfway house instead of jail for the first conviction.

* Senate Bill 84 - Requires a holographic symbol on drivers' licenses to prevent tampering or duplication.

* Senate Bill 83 - Requires that alcohol servers complete a course designed to demonstrate how to identify and handle drunk drivers.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Alaska's compliance with federally mandated alcohol-server training
Author:Bowers, Barbara
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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