Is alcohol a license to kill?

What are the effects of alcohol on memory and can intoxication serve as a mitigating factor in a criminal trial? Health24 investigates.

Being drunk cannot be used as an excuse for violent or irresponsible behaviour, says Prof Willie Pienaar of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Stellenbosch.

Only the first drink of alcohol would have a stimulating effect on the human brain. The second and third drink would act as an inhibitor and suppress brain function.

“As a person continues to drink, he becomes increasingly intoxicated until he reaches a point where brain function is so inhibited that the brain cannot commit events to memory – a state commonly referred to as alcohol intoxication delirium or ‘black out’,” says Pienaar.

People are known to do outrageous things and can commit complex tasks while being drunk, such as getting married or spending vast amounts of money, but cannot remember these events the next day.

Mitigating factor?
According to Pienaar, alcohol intoxication is now usually regarded as an aggravating circumstance.

However, if a person has a clean record, is not a habitual drinker, is generally a responsible person and has good character references, the court may regard intoxication as a mitigating factor.

“Some people become violent when they are intoxicated. All people need to take responsibility for their drinking behaviour and potential to become violent,” says Pienaar.

“Gone are the days when people can walk away saying: ‘the devil made me do it’. You are responsible for your alcohol abuse behaviour. And if you commit criminal acts while intoxicated, you are a criminal,” Pienaar says. – (Ilse Pauw, Health24)

Related article:
A-Z of alcoholism
Cheers - the lowdown on alcohol

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