Let's Follow that Drink!

Posted by Ryan Russman | Jun 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

Have you ever wondered, after an evening out to dinner with friends, what your Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC is?  Does it cross your mind, as you're getting into your car after beers while watching the game?  Do you wonder how long it will take to feel the effects of that drink you just finished?  Once the effects do kick in, how bad will they be?  How long will they last?

These are some of the most common situations when it comes to drinking and driving.  Clients are often fascinated to know that your Blood Alcohol Content can often be roughly calculated and that there are websites and phone apps that can even do the math for you!

DWI law is one of the most complicated areas of criminal defense law.  The sheer number of cases each year, along with the huge number that go up on appeal, result in a constant barrage of case law from the upper courts, sometimes conflicting, that an experienced DWI attorney must be able to assimilate.  Because of the ever changing landscape of DWI law, your attorney must remain up to date in order to effectively manage your DWI case.

One area in which he or she must be fully conversant, is the way alcohol is handled by the human body.

Before you even take your first drink, you body has already produced a certain level of alcohol.  The average human body creates, just by virtue of its own digestive and internal fermentation processes, approximately one shot of alcohol per day.  So without even drinking a cocktail, your BAC would already show the presence of alcohol.    A blood test or breath test will register the presence of this alcohol, if you were tested.  It isn't impairing you necessarily, because that is the base line amount of alcohol that is in your system at all times, but it is present.

Once you've consumed your first drink, your body begins acting on the alcohol immediately.  It makes its way into your stomach, but a very small amount is absorbed through the linings of your mouth and esophagus.  While it is only about 1-2% of the total, some of it does get absorbed into your blood stream almost immediately.The stomach will begin acting on the alcohol as soon as it settles there.  Only about 20% of the alcohol you consume, however, is absorbed by the stomach.  The rest (approximately 75-80%) will be absorbed into your system by your intestines, both large and small.

From the time the alcohol passes your lips, as it enters the bloodstream, it will begin affecting you.  As soon as it hits your bloodstream, it travels to your brain, where the true effects take place.  While the effects are slight, at first, as I'm sure you are aware, they become much more pronounced the more alcohol you consume, and the more alcohol that hits the brain.

The most effective way to measure the effects of the alcohol you've consumed would be to analyze slices of your brain.  This is somewhat intrusive, however, and generally frowned upon, even by most law enforcement personnel, so they've invented the breath testing machine and blood tests.

If you've consumed food, before or along with, the alcohol the effects will be slowed somewhat, but that won't stop it.  Fatty foods and foods high in protein are particularly effective in slowing alcohol absorption. Once the alcohol enters the bloodstream, however, its effects are immediate.  The average, moderate drinker (not an alcoholic or teetotaler) will begin to feel those effects as an amplification of mood at around a .03 blood alcohol content.  Once you reach a .06 blood alcohol content, you may notice an intensification of your emotions and any inhibitions you may have will begin to suffer.  At a .10 BAC you will experience a decrease in perceptual acuity, decrease in vision, balance, self control and speech.

As your BAC continues to increase, impairment becomes much more noticeable…to everyone but you.

At a .14-.15 BAC, the acuity of your vision will be impaired greatly along with your balance, perception and speech.  Your motor control will also be suffering at this point.  At a .20 most people require assistance standing and walking.  In addition, medical attention can become necessary.  If you continue to absorb alcohol until you reach a .30 you will probably lose consciousness and may require hospitalization.

While there are certain factors that must be taken into consideration when determining how quickly alcohol is absorbed INTO your system, its rate of elimination OUT of your system is fairly standard.  This rate doesn't usually differ from person to person, unless one is the victim of one of a few medical conditions.

The average person (again, not someone with a medical condition that effects alcohol elimination) can eliminate approximately between .015 and .16 BAC per hour.  This means that if your BAC rises to a level of .08 (or the legal limit for most people), you will still have alcohol present in your system 5 hours later.

Studies have shown that the ‘old wives tale' remedies to getting the alcohol out of your system don't really have any affect.  Coffee, cold showers, etc. don't really accomplish anything.  Vomiting would, but only because it gets rid of any alcohol in your stomach thereby avoiding its absorption. While it is true that DWI law is complex, and that the science behind your BAC is complicated, the art of controlling your BAC isn't.  It is generally recommended that you time your drinks so that you consume one standard drink per hour (for women) or two standard drinks per hour (for men), and drinks other non-alcoholic beverages between each drink.  It is also recommended that you stay away from carbonated beverages, as these tend to increase the rate at which you absorb the alcohol.  You should also consume foods high in protein and fats along with your first drinks, and time your last drink so that you have plenty of time for it to be eliminated by the time you drive home.

Also, keep in mind that whether you are impaired or not, an officer can always stop you and put you through the nightmare of a DWI investigation.  Most DWI officers will have made up their mind as to whether they are going to arrest you or not by the time they make contact with you at your car window.  We always recommend that you drink responsibly; understanding that the only sure way to avoid a DWI is to have a designated driver or to take a taxi home.

About the Author

Ryan Russman

Attorney Ryan Russman has dedicated his career to fighting for the rights of New Hampshire citizens. His practice, based in Exeter (Rockingham County) New Hampshire, is limited to cases involving DWI and DUI, other motor vehicle and criminal cases, and many cases involving personal injury. He is, however, best known as one of New Hampshire's leading legal authorities on DWI.


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