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Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures the alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) in the bloodstream. Presented as a percentage, BAC reflects how fast the body absorbs, distributes, metabolizes, and excretes alcohol.
A person who consumes more than one alcoholic drink in an hour will have a higher BAC than someone who only consumes one drink per hour. If a person stops consuming alcohol, is unconscious, and still has alcohol in their gastrointestinal tract (GI), their BAC can still increase.
The body will continue to absorb the remaining alcohol in the GI tract. Therefore, the body will continue to release alcohol into the bloodstream and circulate it.
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The effects of alcohol on the body will depend on the blood alcohol level. The liver can only process approximately one standard drink per hour.
In most cases, one standard drink is:
The higher your BAC levels are, the more side effects you will feel from alcohol.
BAC testing involves using a blood test. People get it for various reasons.
A healthcare provider will administer the blood test through a vein on the inner part of your arm. They will clean the area and insert the needle into your vein, causing a slight pinching sensation.
The healthcare provider will draw a small amount of blood into a test tube. Once they’ve collected enough blood, they will remove the needle and place gauze or a cotton ball at the insertion spot to stop bleeding.
Finally, they will place a bandage over the top. The entire procedure usually takes around 5 minutes.
Someone may get their BAC tested for one of these reasons:
BAC test results usually come out in percentages, like:
However, they can also register as grams per milliliter (g/mL). This would show up as 0.04 g/100 mL. Sometimes, test results come back positive or negative.
BAC relates to the body’s ability to absorb and break down alcohol. It is essential to consider factors that may influence absorption and metabolism.
The amount of alcohol in a person’s blood will contribute to their BAC. The liver can metabolize one standard drink (14 grams of pure alcohol) in an hour.
If a person consumes more than one alcoholic beverage in that time frame, BAC will increase. This is especially true for those who partake in binge or heavy drinking.
In both scenarios, a large amount of alcohol in the body overwhelms metabolic processes and results in elevated BACs in little time.
Women face more difficulty in metabolizing alcohol than men. As a result, women will have higher BACs faster than men.
This occurs as a result of the following:
Weight can determine how alcohol diffuses in the body. For example, a person who weighs 130 pounds can consume two beers and have a lower BAC than someone who drinks the same amount of beverages but weighs less.
Similarly, a person with more muscle mass will be able to absorb and metabolize alcohol better than someone with a higher body fat percentage. Again, alcohol does not dissolve in fat.
Body size can also determine how quickly alcohol is absorbed and metabolized. Those with a more petite body frame have higher BACs than people with larger bodies, even when alcohol consumption is the same.
Drinking on an empty stomach can contribute to a higher BAC. Eating before drinking, especially food high in protein, is recommended to slow the absorption of alcohol.
In 49 US states, driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is illegal. The risk of alcohol-related car crashes exponentially grows when BAC is 0.08% or higher.
In Utah, since 2019, the maximum legal BAC is 0.05%. A person with a BAC of 0.05% can begin having trouble steering the wheel or responding to emergencies.
When someone has a BAC of 0.08%, different effects of alcohol may occur. These include:
These effects translate into speed control issues and limited information-processing capabilities like signal detection. Additionally, it is illegal for those under 21 to be driving with a BAC of at least 0.01%.
It is important to remember that even if someone doesn't exceed the legal alcohol limit, there is still a risk of alcohol-related traffic accidents. In 2020, there were 2,041 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where a driver had a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07 g/dL.8
When people decide to drive under the influence, they run the risk of suffering undesirable, possibly life-threatening events. These events include:
Planning before drinking is essential to avoid the adverse circumstances above. If you believe that you will consume alcohol, avoid driving a vehicle.If you believe you suffer from alcohol dependence or abuse, it is crucial to seek professional medical help. Healthcare specialists can help guide you through withdrawal, minimize your risk of overdose, and set you on your path to recovery.
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