Blood alcohol content, what it means, and its impact (full sample)

Blood alcohol content, what it means, and its impact (full sample)

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It is important to understand the impact that alcohol can have on your body, and one way of doing this is through the blood alcohol level or how much alcohol is present in a person's blood. This article explores the main topics around blood alcohol levels including a guide to the behavior of people with different concentrations of alcohol in their systems.

Areas of expertise

Many people enjoy a drink, and whether it's beer in a bar with your friends, a glass of wine with dinner, or a cocktail on a sunny day, responsible drinking is a normal part of people's lives. The amount of alcohol that we have in our body at a specific time can be measured through something called blood alcohol level, and this article explores what that means and the effect that it can have.

Simply put, an individual's blood alcohol level measures the percentage of alcohol (ethanol) in a person's blood. This level is increased by the alcoholic drinks a person consumes and is reduced by time as a person's body (especially the liver) cleanses the blood and removes the alcohol.

Factors that affect someone's blood alcohol level

The following factors affect the amount of alcohol in a person's body:

  • The number of alcoholic drinks they have had.

  • The amount of alcohol consumed in each drink (i.e., the strength and amount of drink consumed).

  • The length of time the drinks have been consumed over.

  • How long it has been since the person stopped drinking.

  • The person's weight.

  • The speed of a person's metabolism.

  • The person's gender.

Because there are so many factors to take into account, it is difficult to accurately predict how consuming a specific amount of alcohol will affect an individual without directly measuring their blood alcohol level.

Despite this, there are some rough estimates that can be made;  for example: a man weighing 160 lbs can expect to increase his blood alcohol level by roughly 0.02 for every drink he has. In this instance a drink would be considered one shot of liquor or spirits, one glass of wine or one can or bottle of beer.

How blood alcohol levels are measured

There are a few ways to measure blood alcohol levels, two of the more popular are through breathalyzer tests and drawing and testing an individual's blood.

  • Breathalyzer - A breathalyzer is a small instrument carried by law enforcement officials that can provide a fast and relatively accurate measurement of a person's blood alcohol level. It does this by getting a sample of exhaled breath from a person and performing analysis to find out how concentrated the alcohol is in the exhalation. It is then able to estimate the level of alcohol in a person's blood and if they are legally fit to drive.

  • Drawing and testing blood - Blood can also be drawn from a person and sent to a lab for blood alcohol level testing. This provides a very accurate result on the alcohol in a person's system and is often completed as a follow-up to a breathalyzer test.

The effects of different blood alcohol levels on an individual

Please note that the blood alcohol levels below and the number of drinks shown next to each are approximate and should not be taken as a guide to how much a specific individual could drink to reach that particular blood alcohol level. Everyone is different and it is important to understand your own tolerance to alcohol and to moderate your drinking accordingly.

Blood alcohol level of 0.0 (equivalent to no drinks)

This alcohol level indicates that there is no alcohol in a person's system and that they are acting, reacting and behaving normally.

Blood alcohol level of 0.01-0.029 (roughly equivalent to one drink)

With this low level of alcohol, an average person will appear normal and specialized testing would probably be required to find out if they had consumed any alcohol as there are unlikely to be any physical or behavioral signs.

Blood alcohol level of 0.03-0.059 (roughly equivalent to two to three drinks)

At this level, the effects of alcohol are more apparent. Individuals with this level of intoxication are likely to experience relaxation, joyful feelings, a reduction in their inhibitions, talkativeness and difficulty with concentration. In many parts of Europe, people cannot legally drive a car with a blood alcohol level of higher than 0.05.

Blood alcohol level of 0.06-0.09 (roughly equivalent to three to four drinks)

With concentrations of this level, the effects of alcohol consumption are more pronounced. Individuals will feel more disinhibited and extroverted. They may well have problems with perception, especially depth perception and seeing things in their peripheral vision. They will also encounter problems with reasoning. In the UK and the US, people cannot legally drive a car with a blood alcohol level of higher than 0.08.

Blood alcohol level of 0.1-0.19 (roughly equivalent to four to six drinks)

At this level, individuals are becoming very inebriated. Typical behaviors include boisterousness and mischief-making, a decreased sex-drive, over-expression, and possibly anger or sadness. People will start to see significant issues with reflexes, hand-eye coordination and motor control and may experience staggering and slurred speech. It is also possible that people with a low tolerance for alcohol may experience temporary alcohol poisoning.

Blood alcohol level of 0.2-0.29 (roughly equivalent to six to eight drinks)

Individuals with blood alcohol levels above 0.2 are becoming significantly intoxicated. With this much alcohol in their system, people have the possibility of falling into a stupor or falling unconscious, they will have loss of understanding and awareness of their surroundings, impaired sensations and memory blackout.

Blood alcohol level of 0.3-0.39 (roughly equivalent to eight to ten drinks)

At this blood alcohol level, the amount of alcohol in a person's system is becoming dangerous. They may experience a depression of their central nervous system, likely unconsciousness, problems with their bladder function and their breathing. At this level, there is a risk of death to individuals with poor alcohol tolerance, due to interference with the heart rhythm, breathing and other bodily functions.

Blood alcohol level of 0.4 to 0.5 (roughly equivalent to ten to twelve drinks)

Individuals with this amount of alcohol in their blood should receive medical assistance as there is a significant risk to life with blood alcohol concentrations this high. At this level, there is a general lack of responsiveness and behavior from a person, they may experience a seriously depressed nervous system, there is a significant risk of alcohol poisoning and vital bodily functions may be disrupted.

Blood alcohol level of 0.5 or higher (roughly equivalent to twelve drinks or more)

At this level, an individual is at severe and immediate risk of alcohol poisoning and death. They must receive medical attention as soon as possible.

Reducing blood alcohol level

There are several ways for an individual to manage and reduce their blood alcohol level:

  • Reduce the amount of alcohol that they drink through alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.

  • Slowing down their consumption of alcoholic drinks.

  • Consuming alcoholic drinks with a lower alcohol by volume measurement.

  • Drinking over a longer period of time (a person's blood alcohol level drops by 0.01 after every 40 minutes or so).

Note that caffeine, food, fresh air and the like are not effective ways of reducing blood alcohol levels.

In closing

Alcohol can be a perfectly normal part of an individual's life and in moderation can be a good addition to a social gathering. It is important to know your own limits and controlling your alcohol intake will ensure that you can enjoy your drinks in a safe, secure and responsible way.

Content originally written by Paul Maplesden, a freelance writer, and edited by me.

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