Intoxication, or substance intoxication, is the state of being inebriated or drunk. Examples of intoxication include alcohol intoxication, cocaine intoxication, and intoxication by inhaling fumes. The state of being intoxicated is often referred to in such slang terms as being “wasted,” “sloshed,” “stoned,” “high,” or “blazed” (the last three referring to cannabis [marijuana] intoxication). Intoxication is often graded in slang terms as well, ranging from someone being “buzzed” or “tipsy,” to being “hammered,” “smashed,” or “trashed.” To explore this concept, consider the following intoxication definition.

Definition of Intoxication


  1. The state of being inebriated or drunk, typically after consuming, smoking, inhaling, or injecting alcohol, drugs, or other substance.


1375-1425    Late Middle English <Medieval Latin  intoxicātiōn

Alcohol Intoxication

Alcohol intoxication, or drunkenness, is the physical state that someone experiences when they’ve had too much to drink. Alcohol intoxication occurs when alcohol is introduced into the bloodstream faster than the liver can process it. Drinking alcohol makes the user feel euphoric, as it lowers inhibitions, which is why it is the most widespread intoxicant on the market.

In fact, many are surprised to hear that alcohol is considered to be a drug. Some religions consider the consumption of alcohol to be a sin, and many medical professionals refer to intoxication as poisoning, regardless of the level of intoxication, due to its effects on the person’s body.

Examples of intoxication symptoms include euphoria, flushed skin, and lowered inhibitions. The more the person drinks, the more symptoms present themselves, and so consuming larger amounts of alcohol leads to an impaired thinking, impaired balance, nausea or vomiting, and inability to make competent decisions; which can result in violent or otherwise unpredictable behavior. More severe, even life-threatening, side effects can result from drinking an overabundance of alcohol, such as depression of the central nervous system to the point that the individual may have seizures, become comatose, stop breathing, and die.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Provided the person drinking the alcohol has a healthy liver, alcohol is typically metabolized at a rate of 50 milliliters (1.7 fluid oz.) every 90 minutes. However, a liver afflicted by such diseases as cirrhosis, hepatitis, or cancer, metabolizes alcohol at a slower rate than a health liver, changing alcohol’s effects on the body. When alcohol is consumed frequently over time, very serious health problems are common, including kidney failure, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and lactic acidosis.

As a person continues to drink, alcohol’s effects on the body become more severe. The intoxicated individual becomes increasingly sleepy, until he ultimately passes out. If the individual has had an overly excessive amount to drink, his respiratory system shuts down, and stops breathing. An individual who drinks to the point of slipping into a coma is in danger of aspirating, or choking on his own vomit, which is a life-threatening condition.

For this reason, it is always recommended to let a drunk person “sleep it off” while he is on his side, so that if he vomits, the vomit will be more likely to run out of his mouth, than if he is laying on his back. If the person aspirates and survives, he may still not be out of the woods yet, as this can result in his developing pneumonia.

Because balance and muscle coordination become compromised when someone is drunk, it is more likely that he will end up accidentally harming himself or others. Poor judgment is another of alcohol’s effects on the body, which is why so many intoxicated people choose to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink, and end up being involved in accidents that either harm or kill themselves or other innocent people on the road. About one-third of deaths related to alcohol are accidental, while a surprising 14 percent are actually intentional.

Alcohol Poisoning

As mentioned earlier, many medical professionals consider any stage of intoxication to be “alcohol poisoning.” However, the alcohol poisoning that is more familiar to the general public is defined by healthcare professionals as “acute alcohol poisoning.” This very serious level of intoxication is diagnosed when the individual has such a high concentration of alcohol in the blood that it becomes an immediately life-threatening issue.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting while either unconscious or semi-conscious
  • Severe confusion and/or unpredictable behavior
  • Seizures
  • Pale, blue, cold skin
  • Sudden lapses in and out of consciousness

Alcohol intoxication is confirmed with a blood test, though law enforcement officers use breathalyzers or field sobriety tests while in the field in order to gain faster readings, particularly when they pull someone over for suspected intoxication. Some medical conditions, however, may exhibit symptoms similar to intoxication, so it is important that medical professionals rule out the possibility that the individual is suffering from a stroke, a mental health disorder, or diabetic emergency. It is also important to establish whether or not the person is intoxicated on a substance other than alcohol before attempting to treat him.

Contract Validity in Intoxication Example

In December of 1952, a man by the name of W.O. Lucy walked into a restaurant owned by a long-time acquaintance, A.H. Zehmer. Lucy shared a bottle of whisky with Zhemer, then convinced him to sell him the family farm. The two intoxicated men drew up an agreement on a napkin, in which the 470-acre farm was to be sold to Lucy for $50,000.

Later, when Lucy asked when Zhemer intended to complete the transfer, Zhemer claimed that he had only been “joking” when the agreement was drafted on a napkin, and that he had never actually intended to sell the farm. Lucy, who had brought in his brother to give Zehmer half of the money, sued Zehmer to enforce the contract, and Zehmer’s attorneys eventually admitted that no, Zehmer was not too drunk to understand what he was doing when the contract was made.

Interestingly, while the trial court agreed with Zehmer, holding that Lucy “had not established a right to specific performance,” the decision was ultimately reversed by the appellate court, which held that Defendant’s intent in making the agreement was irrelevant, and focused instead on whether or not Lucy reasonably believed that the contract was valid. The court agreed that he was correct in believing the contract to be legitimate. After over forty minutes of discussions following the appeal, Zehmer and his wife ultimately signed the agreement, and Lucy literally bought the farm.

Public Intoxication

Public intoxication is also referred to as “drunk and disorderly conduct,” in some jurisdictions, and refers to someone being drunk to the point of being unable to refrain from displaying their drunkenness publicly. Different countries have different laws when it comes to how they handle public intoxication:

  • Australia – Public intoxication is generally illegal in Australia; however if someone is observed to be drunk in public, the police typically drive the offender home to sleep it off, or to the nearest “drunk tank,” which is usually a jail cell or some other safe place where the offender can sober up before making his way back home.
  • Canada – Liquor laws are determined by Canada’s provinces, not its federal government. That being said, both drinking in public and public intoxication are considered offenses.
  • United Kingdom – Intoxication offenses vary in the U.K. by constituent country. It is generally considered an offense to be drunk and disorderly in a public place, however the police will only involve themselves if the offender is fall-down-drunk in the street, and cannot conduct himself in a reasonable manner. In these instances, the police will help the offender go on his way, or take him to a drunk tank to “dry out” (sober up).
  • New Zealand – It is not illegal to drink in public in New Zealand, and the local government must specifically say that alcohol is banned in a particular area before public consumption can be considered a crime. Being drunk in public is not an offense either, unless the person is making a nuisance of himself. In this case, the police will intervene and take the person to his home, or to the drunk tank.
  • United States – Laws regarding public intoxication vary by state, with the crime ranging from being classified as a misdemeanor in some states, to similar behaviors being classified as felonies in other states. As an example of intoxication law differences, public intoxication is legal in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; however, drinking in public in Milwaukee is not.

Intoxication Manslaughter

In Texas, lawmakers have created the term “intoxication manslaughter” to describe situations in which an intoxicated person has voluntarily consumed a drug or alcohol, and kills another person while operating a motor vehicle. Victims of intoxication manslaughter may be another driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian, and even if the victim dies from his injuries later on, rather than immediately, the intoxicated driver is still held criminally and civilly liable for that person’s death. Texas is the only state to officially use the term “intoxication manslaughter,” however other states have laws on the books that apply to similar situations, known as “DUI manslaughter,” “vehicular manslaughter,” and “DUI causing injury or death.”

Manslaughter and homicide are similar, in that they both involve a person killing another person; however, not all homicides are illegal, such as the killing of another person in self-defense. The definition of “manslaughter” is someone killing another person without intent or malice, as opposed to the more violent and premeditated “murder.” Because of the decrease in severity, manslaughter is treated less seriously than murder, and the sentences tend to be more lenient because the defendant normally has an excuse or an explanation that makes him less responsible than if he were to act out of malice or with premeditation.

In the event someone is unknowingly given a drug, for example, when someone slips a “roofie” into someone else’s drink, the resulting intoxication does not necessarily make the person responsible for causing injury or death to another person, because he did not consume the drug voluntarily.

Intoxication manslaughter also applies when the vehicle involved is not a car but a boat, an airplane, or even an amusement park ride. That’s right – there is actually a specific provision in Texas law stating that, if someone is intoxicated while operating or assembling an amusement park ride, and one or more of the passengers on that ride die as a result of that operator’s negligence, that person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Contract – An agreement between two or more parties in which a promise is made to do or provide something in return for a valuable benefit.
  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.
  • Malice – The intention to do evil, inflict injury, or cause suffering of another.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.
  • Premeditation – The act of considering or planning an action beforehand.
  • Roofie – Slang for the drug Rohyphenol, commonly used to render victims unconscious, or incapacitated.

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