how does blood alcohol percentage work
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What Is BAC?
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) refers to the percent of alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) in a person’s blood stream. A BAC of .10% means that an individual’s blood supply contains one part alcohol for every 1000 parts blood.
In California, a person is legally intoxicated if he/she has a BAC of .08% or higher.
Factors that impact BAC
- Number of standard drinks
- Amount of time in which drinks are consumed
- Body weight
- Water composition
- Enzyme production and levels
- Sex assigned at birth and corresponding hormone levels
For more information about alcohol metabolism, check out our alcohol metabolism page.
One standard drink
- One 12 oz. regular beer (4.5-6% alcohol)
- One 12oz. White Claw (5% alcohol)
- One 7 oz. malt liquor (7% alcohol)
- One 5 oz. glass of wine (12% alcohol)
- One 1.5 oz. shot of hard liquor (40% alcohol)
- One-third jigger (.5 oz.) of Everclear (95% alcohol)
More than one standard drink
- One 16 oz. cup of beer = 1.4 drinks
- One 40 oz. beer = 3.6 drinks
- One 22 oz. malt liquor = 3 drinks
- One 12 oz. glass of wine = 2.9 drinks
BAC Alcohol Monitoring Tests
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is a standard measurement used to describe how drunk a person may be. Different percentages of alcohol in the blood lead to different levels of mental and physical changes and risks. In the United States, a BAC of 0.08% is the legal limit, meaning one can no longer safely drive after this point. The percent is related to how many parts alcohol are in the blood; a BAC of 0.1% represents one part alcohol per 1,000 parts blood.
As the liver metabolizes
As the liver metabolizes about one standard drink per hour, one to two drinks raises the BAC a small amount: ranging from 0.01% to 0.05%, depending on individual factors like weight, gender, age, and potential prescription medications. Two to three drinks raise BAC to between 0.06% and 0.1%. Memory, judgment, reaction time, perception, and fine motor skills are affected at this point. Higher BACs lead to inappropriate social behaviors, loss of balance, slurred speech, memory loss, blackouts, low body temperature, trouble breathing, vomiting, and even sudden death.
Because of the dangers from high levels of alcohol in the blood, there are several scientific measurements that can measure BAC. The entire body is affected by alcohol, especially in large quantities, so there are several tests that are applied in different situations to determine how intoxicated someone may be.
Romberg balance test: Often given to determine whether one is intoxicated or not, the Romberg balance test is based on the concept that three functions are necessary to remain standing still: vision, proprioception (knowing where limbs are in space), and vestibular function (equilibrium as provided by the inner ear). Drinking alcohol changes how the inner ear senses the body’s orientation in space and changes how the brain processes visual images. Clues listed by the Romberg test that may indicate drunkenness include:
- Amount and direction of body swaying
- Eyelid or body tremors
- Estimation of time passing
- Muscle tone
- Sounds or phrases during the test, including whether speech is slurred
- Ability to follow directions and how quickly.
What’s My Blood Alcohol Content?
Breath tests can detect alcohol consumption about 24 hours after the person drinks, although they do not measure how high the individual’s BAC may have been in the past. Any remaining alcohol in the lungs will be measured in a chemical reaction in the device, which detects whether alcohol is present in the exhale by changing color from reddish-orange to green.
Because the liver is the main alcohol metabolizer in the body, the digested toxins will filter out of the body, in part, through the kidneys. Urine tests can detect metabolized alcohol between 12 and 48 hours after the person drinks, depending on how much alcohol they drink.
Very few occasions require a hair test to determine whether a person drank alcohol, but alcohol consumption can be detected for up to 90 days in hair tests.
Blood Alcohol Level & Effects on the Body
What are Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Levels?
A person’s liver can process about one standard drink an hour.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels in standard drinks include:2
Effects of High BAC Levels
Side effects and impairments resulting from increasing blood alcohol levels include:1,3,4
- Slowed reflexes and reaction time.
- Slurred speech.
- Memory trouble, blackouts, and memory loss.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Loss of physical coordination.
- Passing out.
- Heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure changes.
Across the U.S., in all states except for Utah, it is illegal for any persons 21 years or older to operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08%.5 In 2018, Utah changed their laws to reflect a BAC of 0.05% as the illegal limit for persons 21 years or older operating a vehicle.
If you or someone…
If you or someone you know frequently experiences these side effects or exceeds the BAC limits, it may be to seek professional help for problematic drinking habits. No matter how serious the problem seems, recovery is possible.
Our Admissions Navigators are available 24/7 to discuss treatment options with you today at 1-866-722-3982 or fill out the free and confidential form at the bottom of this page to verify whether your insurance might cover alcoholism treatment.
Understanding BAC Levels & Effects
Common symptoms, levels of impairment, and risks for various blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels include:1,6
- 0.02%: This is the lowest level of intoxication with some measurable impact on the brain and body. You will feel relaxed, experience altered mood, feel a little warmer, and may make poor judgments.
- 0.05%: At this level of BAC, your behavior will become exaggerated.