As you the near the end of an evening out with friends, you ask yourself “should I risk having another drink before I need to drive home?” Although you feel fine and are confident that you’ll be able to drive safely, you still have to assess whether it’s worth enjoying another cocktail since it will increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). After all, the last thing you want is for a police officer to pull you over for a minor driving offense, have the officer smell alcohol, and ask you to take a breathalyzer test. If it gets to that point, how do you know if you’ll blow below the legal limit? Even if you “feel fine,” blowing over the legal limit (.08) could result in a life-altering DWI charge.
Before you can properly assess whether it’s worth the risk to have another drink before you need to drive home or embark to your next destination, it’s vital to understand, which factors affect your BAC. Let’s take a look at five variables that will impact your score.
Put simply, BAC measures the amount of alcohol in person’s blood stream. Per the University of Clemson, “A BAC of .10 percent means that an individual’s blood supply contains one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts blood.” Therefore, it’s only logical that the more alcohol you consume, the higher your BAC will read.
Another important factor to consider when trying to estimate how high your BAC will be is your body type. As a rule of thumb, the less you weigh, the more alcohol consumption will affect your body and BAC. The reason being that heavier people tend to have more water in their bodies, which helps dilute alcohol, thereby reducing their BAC. As such, heavier individuals will typically have a lower number than thinner drinkers, even when they drink the same amount of alcohol.
Male Vs. Female
Additionally, your sex could play a major role in determining how alcohol is absorbed by your body. According to the University of Rochester, females will typically have a higher BAC than males because your BAC is affected by your percentage of body fat, and since women tend to have more body fat than men, their alcohol consumption will lead to a higher overall number.
Further, dehydrogenase, the enzyme that absorbs alcohol is less prevalent in women than it is men. Dehydrogenase works before alcohol becomes part of the bloodstream, meaning that a woman drinking cocktails will process more alcohol into their bloodstream than males. Consequently, even if a woman and a man share the same height and weight and drink the same amount of alcohol, the effects of the drinking will be typically be greater for the woman and lead to a higher BAC.
Generally speaking, the faster you consume alcohol, the higher your BAC will be. Conversely, if you’ve consumed your drinks slowly over a long period of time, your BAC will not be as high. Think of it this way: if Person A drinks 5 beers in an hour while Person B drinks 5 beers over a 3 hour period, Person A will undoubtedly have a higher BAC even though they consumed the same amount of alcohol.
In the past, you may have been told something along the lines of “drink coffee” or “take a shower” to sober up. However, the truth is only time will eliminate alcohol and its effects, and reduce your BAC.
Lastly, the amount of food in your stomach when you begin drinking will drastically influence your BAC. More specifically, drinking on an empty stomach will cause you to become intoxicated quicker, which will lead to a higher number.
Notably, a New York Times article mentions a study performed by Swedish scientists in which they had their group drink after an overnight fast, and then drink a different day after they ate a typical breakfast. Unsurprisingly, they found that not only did the presence of food slow down the intoxication process, it also considerably lowered their BAC levels by about 70% (on average).
Point being, if you’re planning on drinking and driving later in the evening, it’s prudent to fill up on a meal beforehand to keep your BAC level down.
DWI and DUI charges happen to people of all ages, races and socioeconomic statuses. The best way to avoid a DWI or DUI charge is to be proactive, and learn as much as you can about the factors that affect your BAC, and to know how alcohol personally affects your body. That said, mistakes do happen, and if you’re in the undesirable situation of being charged with a DWI or DUI, make sure to contact Jim Medley & Associates. Jim and our team will provide you with guidance and legal expertise you need to get through a difficult ordeal.
To look at an approximation of what your BAC will be after a certain number of drinks, check out our infographic below!