Getting too high of a BAC not only can impair you from driving or functioning properly, but it can also lead to alcohol intoxication or death.
Blood alcohol content, blood alcohol concentration (BAC), is the percentage of alcohol that is in a person’s bloodstream. The higher percentage, the closer someone is to being intoxicated. A higher percentage also means that it will take someone longer to “sober up.”1
The body can only break down a limited amount of alcohol per hour. The amount of time varies, but it takes longer to break down alcohol than it does to consume it.
The process starts when alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the digestive system. Then, the enzymes inside of your body will start to metabolize the alcohol. This process happens through the liver, where it will be broken down and released. The little bit left over is eliminated through breath and urine.2
According to the CDC, a standard drink is 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Because of this factor, each drink can vary in the total amount that can be consumed before being considered a standard drink. It would be equal to a one-and-a-half-ounce shot, five ounces of wine, or twelve ounces of beer.3
Men tend to be bigger and have a higher alcohol tolerance than women, although this is not always the case. Men do break down some drinks faster due to a higher presence of certain enzymes. However, a standard drink is the same for a male as it is for a female. The only difference is that less alcohol will get into the male’s bloodstream than a woman.
With women, they receive higher concentrations of alcohol inside of the bloodstream than men do. Another reason for this aspect besides the enzymes is the fact that women tend to have less water inside of their bodies than men, leading to a higher concentration of alcohol. However, women do break down alcohol faster within their bloodstream due to their livers.4
To answer this question, it is important to understand how alcohol affects your body once it has been consumed. When you first drink alcohol, it is rapidly consumed and absorbed into your bloodstream. Approximately 20% will come through your stomach and the rest through your small intestine.5
Because alcohol is transferred into the bloodstream so quickly, people can normally start to feel the effects within five minutes. After about half an hour to an hour and a half, the alcohol level will peak within the bloodstream, and it will make its way to all the organs within the body.
It can take between two to seven hours for alcohol to be broken down within the bloodstream. Therefore, pace yourself to prevent blood alcohol poisoning, which happens when your blood alcohol content (BAC) gets too high.
A person might say they are drunk once they start to feel the effects of the alcohol within their system. These symptoms can vary depending on the person, and they do not correlate with the person’s blood alcohol content. However, they are a warning sign for the person to slow down drinking to avoid alcohol poisoning. Some signs of being drunk are as follows:6
Some more serious symptoms could be seizures, dehydration, coma, alcohol poisoning, vomiting, or death.6 These occur when a person gets closer to having too high of a BAC.
Blood alcohol concentration can affect people in different ways depending on their body weight, body fat, and sex. BAC is not an accurate way to describe how impaired a person may be because it can vary from one person to another.
Normally, between 0.02-0.039% BAC, there might be subtle euphoric feelings and an openness. Between 0.04-0.059%, a person might start to experience minor lapses in judgment and a feeling of relaxation.7
At 0.06-0.099%, there are normally struggles with balance, speech, lower reaction times, troubles with vision, and a lack of self-control. Once it gets over 0.10%, there are serious impairments regarding motor skills, and speech will become slurred.7
By 0.16%, a person might start to become nauseous and appear sloppy. At 0.20%, a person might need help walking and is normally confused, which is the time where a blackout experience might occur. Finally, at 0.25%, alcohol poisoning settles in. A person will normally go into a coma by 0.40%.7
Depending on how high your blood alcohol concentration gets, alcohol can stay in your system for up to a day. Most of the alcohol will be metabolized within seven hours after first drinking. However, it is detectable in various ways for up to twenty-four hours. Therefore, it is important to keep track of your intake because alcohol does not leave your system right away.
Several different factors determine how easily alcohol can be detected within your system. The amount of alcohol that was consumed is the biggest factor. However, there are a few other things that can also impact it significantly.
If a person has excess amounts of body fat, they will absorb less alcohol at a time from the blood. Fat holds less water, so the symptoms of alcohol are much more potent and can take longer to break down, which is one reason why women feel the effects of alcohol quicker than men.
Men and women break down alcohol slightly differently, causing them to react differently. Women normally become intoxicated quicker than men, which is because they have less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Women also have higher rates of body fat, making it more difficult to break down alcohol and store it.8
As a person gets older, their tolerance for alcohol tends to go down. Therefore, an older person might feel symptoms of being drunk earlier than when they were younger. Age can be a huge factor when it comes to how quickly alcohol reaches the bloodstream and how slow it breaks down.
Alcoholism runs in families. A person that has a family history of alcoholism is 400% more likely to become addicted. If a person can also genetically have more alcohol dehydrogenase, allowing them to break down alcohol faster. Other genetic factors such as body size, height, weight, and BMI can cause alcohol to break down at different paces.
The more food a person has in their stomach, the slower alcohol will reach the bloodstream. Food delays impairment and slows down the process. Having food in your system can also lower the peak BAC, too.8 Drinking more water can help with breaking down alcohol as well, making it very important. However, mixing alcohol with carbonated beverages will cause alcohol to be consumed quicker.
If a person is mixing substances with alcohol, it can increase the impact it has on the person. Using stimulants with alcohol can feel like it is having a negating effect, but it can put a person at serious risk for overdosing and alcohol intoxication.
Mixing depressants with alcohol can lead to further impairment and worsening symptoms of drunkenness. This can also lead a person to accidental intoxication or overdose fairly quickly.
Alcohol use disorder is a dangerous issue. Alcohol intoxication can lead to alcohol poisoning and possibly death. The average amount of time lost for each person was twenty-nine years. When a person is drinking excessively, several things could go wrong.
One of the worst things that can happen is alcohol poisoning. It occurs when the Blood Alcohol Content gets above a certain level. A few signs are:9
If you or someone you know are struggling with these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.
Excessive alcohol use can also lead to dependence, which is known as alcohol use disorder. When a person enters recovery from alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelming. Alcohol withdrawal is one of the few withdrawal processes that can end in death, so it must be done under the supervision of a medical provider. Some mild symptoms are:
Some more severe symptoms that can develop within a few days are as follows:
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is important to seek out medical attention right away. For more information on alcohol use disorder and how to start the path to healing, contact The PAC Program today.
If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.