We all know that the legal limit for driving under the influence is .08, but what exactly does that mean? What does it feel like to have a .08 BAC? How can you tell what your blood alcohol content might be if you are feeling pretty sober? Why can some people drink more (or less) than you before their BAC is over the limit?
Before we dive into the factors that help determine your BAC (and could determine whether or not you end up facing a DUI), let’s briefly discuss two things: how alcohol gets into your blood in the first place, and why .08 is the legal limit.
When you have a drink with alcohol, some of that alcohol is absorbed into the stomach, but most of it is taken to the small intestines.
This is where BAC comes in. The small intestines carry alcohol to the bloodstream and throughout your tissues until it can be metabolized. The more alcohol you consume, the longer it takes your body to process it and get your BAC back to zero.
Why .08? It may seem like a random number, but the BAC was chosen based on research into how much alcohol you need to drink before it starts to affect your ability to drive. When your BAC reaches .07 or .08, alcohol starts to work as a depressant in your body. Your motor skills and judgment also start to slow down, and those are definitely two things that you need to be able to drive effectively.
What Factors Affect Your BAC?
Drinking alcohol and getting drunk are by no means straightforward. You may have some friends who can drink quite a few beers before they are “feeling it,” and other friends who just need one beer before they need to sit down. You may even feel the effects of alcohol faster or longer on some nights than on others. You could even feel completely sober and still end up blowing a BAC over the legal limit and end up being charged with DUI.
A few different factors come into play when detailing how your body absorbs and processes alcohol:
Time and Rate of Consumption – If you consume drinks quickly (for example, in a shot rather than a tall drink), your BAC will increase at a faster rate. It may also take longer for the drink to leave your system.
On average, it takes 30 minutes to feel the effects of alcohol, and one hour for your body to metabolize one alcoholic beverage. So if you go out and have a few drinks, be sure to take some extra time to allow your body to process them.
Food in Your Stomach – If you’re drinking, don’t skip dinner. Food helps to absorb alcohol and keep it in your stomach for a longer period of time. In other words, it keeps more of it out of your bloodstream for longer and gives your body more time to process it without raising your BAC.
On the flip side, anyone who consumes alcohol on an empty stomach puts themselves at risk of a higher BAC – even if they’re not drinking very much.
Medication –Prescription medications and even common cold and allergy medications often react poorly with alcohol. Mixing even just one drink with medication can spell disaster.
Avoid alcohol while on prescription medication if you can, and be sure to talk to your doctor about drinking and taking medication before you take anything new. As for over-the-counter medications, pay close attention to ingredients and warning labels.
Genetic Factors – Some people just have a low tolerance for alcohol in their genes. It’s not always fair, but that’s how it goes. For example, females tend to have a lower tolerance for alcohol than males.
A larger body, in height or weight, means that there is more water and blood present to dilute the alcohol being processed. However, bodies with more muscle mass will be able to process alcohol faster than those with primarily fat in their bodies.
Diabetics should also be careful when consuming alcohol, especially on an empty stomach.
All of these things are why those online calculators, smartphone apps, and other ways to calculate your possible BAC aren’t more accurate. Simply put, they can’t take all of the above factors into account.
The bottom line? Every night is different, If you’ve had a few drinks, it’s best to find a rideshare or designated driver rather than driving home yourself.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a charge is the same as a conviction, though. Even if you blew over the legal limit, it is vital that you fight your charges. Reach out to us to go over your defense options and start putting together a strong strategy to ensure you receive the best possible outcome.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.