What are Blood Alcohol Levels?
Blood alcohol concentration, also referred to as blood alcohol content (BAC), is the metric used to measure the percent of alcohol in an individual’s bloodstream. Different blood alcohol levels are assigned varying levels of risk and determine the legality of an individual performing tasks like driving. Understanding blood alcohol levels can keep you from drinking too much and endangering yourself or others.
Factors Affecting Blood Alcohol Levels
According to Stanford’s Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, a number of factors impact the levels of alcohol in blood content levels.
- Weight. If two individuals consume the same amount of alcohol, the heavier individual will usually have a lower blood alcohol concentration.
- Sex. Due to differences in body composition, men generally metabolize alcohol at a faster rate than women. Studies have shown that women have fewer of the enzymes used to metabolize alcohol.
- Medications. Drugs can interact unpredictably with alcohol. If you’re taking medication, make sure its instructions permit drinking; when paired with alcohol, even Tylenol can have adverse effects on the liver.
- Speed of sipping. “Chugging” significantly increases risks when drinking. The more you drink in a short period of time, the more likely your system won’t be able to metabolize the alcohol and will instead shut down. Drink slowly to maintain control over your intoxication.
- Food. If you know you’ll be drinking, eat a high-protein meal beforehand. Drinking on an empty stomach irritates the digestive system, resulting in faster absorption of alcohol and excessive intoxication.
- Number of standard drinks. For more on what classifies a standard drink, read on.
The human liver can process about one drink per hour, and blood levels of alcohol in blood levels are based off a standard drink.
What classifies one standard drink?
- 12 oz. regular beer (4.5% alcohol)
- 8 oz. malt liquor (7% alcohol)
- 5 oz. glass of wine (12% alcohol)
- 1.5 oz. shot of hard liquor (40% alcohol)
- .5 oz. of Everclear (95% alcohol)
The Impact of Blood Alcohol Levels
As an individual’s blood alcohol level increases, so do their impairments. To know when your blood alcohol concentration may be too high, it helps to understand how levels of alcohol in blood can affect you.
- 0.01 – 0.03% – This is the lowest measurable blood alcohol level. At this mild level of intoxication, you may feel slightly warmer and more relaxed.
- 0.04 – 0.06% – Your behavior will become exaggerated (speaking louder, gesturing more), you may begin to lose control of small muscles (resulting in things like blurrier vision), and your judgment will be impaired.
- 0.07 – 0.09% – Mild impairment of speech, vision, coordination and reaction times make it dangerous for you to drive. In the United States (aside from Utah), it is illegal to drive at or above .08% BAC; you will test as legally impaired at this blood alcohol level if you’re 21 or older.
- 0.10 – 0.12% – Obvious physical impairment and loss of judgment. Speech may be slurred.
- 0.13 – 0.15% – At this point, your blood alcohol level is quite high. You’ll be affected by blurred vision, loss of coordination and balance, and potentially dysphoria (anxiety or restlessness).
- 0.16 – 0.19% – The term “sloppy drunk” applies. Dysphoria will become stronger, and nausea may occur. Walking becomes difficult, and you may fall and hurt yourself.
- 0.20 – 0.29% – You’ll feel dazed, confused, and disoriented. Balance and muscle control have deteriorated, and you may need help walking. You may not notice if you injure yourself, as feelings of pain are numbed. Nausea and vomiting are likely, and an impaired gag reflex could cause you to choke on your own vomit. Blackouts occur at this blood alcohol level.
- 0.30 – 0.39% – This is a dangerously high blood alcohol concentration. Your potential for death increases, as does your heart rate and the likelihood of unconsciousness. You may experience irregular breathing and loss of bladder control.
- .40% and over – Your heart or breathing may stop. A coma or death by respiratory failure is likely.
Measuring Blood Alcohol Levels
There are two ways to measure blood alcohol levels:
- Breathalyzer — Most commonly used by police officers on individuals suspected of drunk driving, the breathalyzer measures the amount of alcohol in an individual’s breath and gives quick results – but it does have limitations. While most individuals are familiar with the breathalyzer, it’s actually not the most accurate measure of BAC levels.
- Blood alcohol test — If you’re suspected of drunk driving and refuse a breathalyzer or think the results are inaccurate, you may request a blood alcohol test. A blood alcohol test is the most accurate way to test one’s levels of alcohol in blood. During this simple test, a medical professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm. This test is accurate within 6-12 hours after your last drink.
Get Help for Heavy Drinking
A heavy use of alcohol and binge drinking are both associated with alcoholism, which can lead to unhealthy blood alcohol levels becoming the norm – but finding the right treatment program can make a big difference. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of patients treated for alcohol abuse have no further symptoms one year later.
Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is widely known as one of New Jersey’s finest, most respected residential addiction treatment facilities. With comfortable 30-bed accommodations and 24-hour professional staff, we can offer clients a serene, relaxing environment amid the lush piney woods. This stress-free setting with its sense of warmth and welcoming enables you to feel comfortable and confident about your clean and sober life ahead.
When you enter treatment here with us, we will help you establish clear goals, both general in nature and specific to your needs. We will continue to monitor those goals, to make sure that you are progressing and buying into your recovery plan. Our mission is to help you
- Feel connected to the recovery community
- Share and demonstrate effective coping techniques
- Modify attitudes and patterns of behavior to help you create a happy and productive living sober life
In treatment, we’ll help you complete planned concrete tasks and find hope, optimism and healthy living. Our recovery program is not a revolving door treatment program; it is a recovery model designed to help clients go on to lead productive, happy lives. For more information, visit pinelandsrecovery.com.