What? happens??to your??body when??you drink??

2015-02-01 15:00

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City Press asked a volunteer, Phumlani Langa, to drink for science. We then asked Dr Meg Timm, a doctor working at Hillbrow Hospital’s community health centre, to monitor his body’s response

Sober as a judge

It’s 10 minutes before 4pm. Phumlani Langa (23) looks calm and curious as he watches Dr Meg Timm open her bags to take out a blood pressure monitoring machine and other equipment.

He stretches out his arm for his blood pressure to be measured. A few minutes later, Timm pricks his index finger to check the sugar levels in his body before measuring Langa’s height and weight.

His drink, a bottle of dry red wine, is brought in and he suddenly lights up.

“That’s what I’m talking about?...?let the games begin,” he says.

After Langa takes a few sips, we ask him if he’s worried about getting drunk.

“I will probably be ‘nice’, as the kids say, after finishing this bottle but definitely not drunk. I drink about a six-pack of beer at a go, so wine is nothing for me,” he says, sipping on his tipple.

“We will see what happens at the end,” Timm jokingly responds, while observing and taking notes about Langa’s behaviour.

“You seem a bit relaxed now,” she says after a while.

“Oh yes, I am,” Langa replies.

Just getting started

It’s 30 minutes later and Timm checks Langa’s blood pressure and the dilation of his pupils. She asks him to walk along a straight line she has marked out with a tape on the carpet.

He has no problem negotiating the line as he bounces from one end to the other.

“Your blood pressure has gone up, but it’s nothing to worry about,” she says.

Langa is not at all bothered.

Although he appears to display no ill-effects physically, the booze is beginning to reach his brain.

Langa has become far more talkative. He is chatting on the phone and asks Timm questions every now and then.

“He has become more sociable. I guess that’s expected because alcohol stimulates relaxation,” Timm says.

Tipsy time

By 5pm, Langa has become louder. He comments about feeling a bit tipsy but “certainly not drunk”.

Timm measures his blood pressure again – it’s up by 14 points – and asks him to walk along the line again.

He wobbles a bit and, when Timm notes it down, he asks her if he could try the walk again (traffic police have probably heard this one before).

“I didn’t wobble! I can do it again! You will see,” he says.

It’s a firm no from Timm, who has already jotted down the wobbly results. The drinking continues and Langa feels the need for a smoke break.

Making merry

Langa’s voice gets louder still, and it’s now after 5?pm. He is also laughing a lot. When asked if he is drunk, he responds with an emphatic “No!”

“I feel like I can do this all night long. I am a seasoned drinker,” he says.

“Aah!” Timm exclaims. “You lied to me; you said you only drink about a six-pack of beer at the most, but now you are calling yourself a seasoned drinker.”

“So what else do you drink when you are enjoying yourself with your friends?” she asks.

“I drink beer and gin mostly. But we share the bottle of gin,” he replies.

Langa’s blood pressure is slightly lower than 30 minutes ago. According to Timm, it is normal for a person’s blood pressure to drop as they continue drinking.


At 5.30pm, Langa is speaking much faster than he was earlier. He is also taking longer strides when he walks.

“I feel warm and loose,” he says.

Timm makes a note of this: “Langa is more euphoric.”

“His blood pressure is going down. Also, when he walks he is taking wider steps and is more sociable than before,” she adds.

Definitely on the path to drunkenness.

Phumlani Langa enacted the seven stages of inebriation – from totally sober to going home. No livers or kidneys were harmed during the shooting of these photos

Phuza time

It’s getting louder in the City Press boardroom as Timm and Langa talk about everything under the sun.

Langa seems to be volunteering a lot more personal information than Timm, though. He’s finished a bottle of red wine, had some cider and is currently on an alcopop drink.

“I can have something sweet now,” he says. “I don’t usually drink it, but I don’t mind it.”

He has clearly become less fussy. Langa’s face is slightly flushed. He stumbles as he walks along the straight line but again denies it when Timm points this out.

“No, I didn’t stumble. I am not drunk. See, I can hop on one leg!” he says as he gallops across the room. “To be honest, I am feeling nice. I suppose the Brutal Fruit is giving a kick,” Langa says.

Timm disagrees with Langa’s assertion that he’s not drunk. “He’s not slurring yet, but he’s speaking faster now,” she says.

Shayela time

Just over two and half hours later, Langa looks and acts happier than when he walked into the City Press newsroom.

He is louder. He is more talkative. His face is quite flushed.

Despite finishing a bottle of red wine (13.5% alcohol volume), a cider (4.5% volume) and two bottles of Brutal Fruit (4.5% alcohol volume), he’s confident he can continue drinking.

“I can still go on for hours. This is nothing to me,” he insists. “I told you I am a seasoned drinker!”

“Indeed you are,” agrees Timm, while doing another checkup.

“Your blood pressure is slightly higher than when we initially checked it.

“Your glucose level has also increased, but I think it’s because of the sugar in the alcopop drink,” she says. According to Timm, Langa is way over the legal alcohol limit to safely drive.

A blood alcohol calculator records Langa’s level at 0.1623 – nearly 3.5 times over the legal 0.05 blood-alcohol limit. We drive him home.

» Take our quiz and find out if you have an alcohol problem

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