What's in a blood alcohol level?
October 26th, 2011
05:50 PM ET

What's in a blood alcohol level?

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday recommended the legal limit for driving drunk be lowered from .08 blood-alcohol content to .05 in an effort to reduce alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, which kill about 10,000 people a year.

Your blood-alcohol level can vary depending on your age, weight, previous alcohol and drug experience and the type of alcohol being consumed.

"You can drink alcohol faster than you can remove it from your body and that's when your blood-alcohol level goes up," says Robert Pandina, Ph.D., and the director of the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it takes the body roughly one hour to metabolize a single drink but the definition of what constitutes a drink changes depending on the alcohol. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

"If you keep drinking alcohol, it's not going to get metabolized any faster just because you've consumed more of it," explains Pandina. "Metabolism happens at a fixed rate until all the alcohol is processed."

Pandina calculates that a woman weighing approximately 110 pounds would have to drink between 12 and 13 ounces of 80-proof liquor in an hour to reach a blood-alcohol level of 0.40.

"It's still a lot but it's far less than people may imagine," says Pandina.

A person may need medical attention with a blood-alcohol level under 0.2. Vital functions may start to shut down before someone reaches 0.25. Death is possible with a blood-alcohol level of 0.3. And that's without prior liver damage from previous alcohol or drug use. A person with a damaged liver is at higher risk for catastrophic or fatal alcohol poisoning because his or her  liver cannot effectively metabolize the alcohol.

"The message is very simply when you know someone has been drinking and drinking heavily, don't wait," says Pandina. "It's quite possible to revive individuals even at very high alcohol levels and keep them from having catastrophic effects."

soundoff (1,600 Responses)
  1. jdoe

    @Crow: Calling something a "gateway" means nothing. You don't ban something because you believe it may lead to something else. Alcohol could easily be a gateway to other drugs, yet it's legal. People who do hard drugs also tend to drink as well.

    October 27, 2011 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. redwine

    Pick your way to go. Here you have one choice. One day, you'll be gone anyway.

    October 27, 2011 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr ILEVBAOJE, Isaac

    Thou shall not kill is expressly commanded by GOD in the decalogue.If smoking and drinking of alcohol kill or result in death, persons who indulge in these misadventure disobey willfully the commandment of GOD-the giver of life. Most people I have interviewed I confessed to me that that they will be happier if they could stop this habits.This implies spiritual bondage that requires deliverance.Prophet Isaiah asks a very pertinent question and provides the answer:Why do you spend money for that which is bread(food)?...come ye buy.and eat;yea come buy wine and milk without money and without price.If you come to GOD through His only begotten Son,JESUS CHRIST, there will be deliverance for you, right NOW!!!

    October 27, 2011 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Blorf

      The bible also says "Thou shalt not posteth drivel on the internet."

      October 27, 2011 at 20:44 | Report abuse |
    • Oh Really?

      I hate to tell you, but the Bible proves you are wrong. Jesus was without sin, yet even in the Bible, he turned water into wine, and had wine at the last supper. To say that the consumption of which is a sin is to say the Bible isn't truthful.

      May 14, 2013 at 13:46 | Report abuse |
    • bentley

      People (most americans) kill themselves with the poor quality of food they eat. From the logic in the fairy tales you believe in, nobody will reach heaven..hmmm guess the bible is true after all!

      May 14, 2013 at 14:26 | Report abuse |
    • Kenny

      Beer is God's gift to man. It is how God motivated us to build this civilization. For a long time we thought the Pyramids in Egypt were built with slave labor. We now Know they were built by people paid with Beer. Beer is the reason we stopped being hunter gathers and settled down on farms. You need a farm to grow grain to make Beer. We owe everything we have to Beer.

      May 14, 2013 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
    • Name

      People die from water intoxication every year caused by drinking too much water in a short period of time. By your biblical reasoning, people should not drink water either.

      May 14, 2013 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
    • jed clampett

      The number one cause of death is life. I will live my life as I please as long as I don't infringe on another's rights. This includes never driving after drinking.

      May 14, 2013 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
  4. us1776

    The "war on drugs" is the hugest failure. Multiple commissions have studied it and came to that exact same conclusion.

    The drug prohibition is meaningless. Anyone can get whatever intoxicant of choice that they like 24/7 in this country. The drug prohibition laws are completely ignored. Legalization would not change a thing. People already have full access to any drug they want. The only change would be that we could collect taxes on these sales. That's it.


    October 27, 2011 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. JonnyT

    I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate Amy Winehouse on her 96th day of sobriety 🙂 I'll drink to that!!!

    October 27, 2011 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. pismire

    Pot makes you paranoid. Pot makes you forget things. Pot makes you slow. Some people have very bad experiences with it and would kill innocent people if they were allowed to fly a plan, drive a car, a cab, a train while high. Anyone who says otherwise is really stupid. I mean seriously its not that simple. It isn't harmless. Is it fun? Hell yeah. Is it pretty harmless to your body? Sort of, although everyone knows inhaling ANYTHING that's lit is harmful... But seriously the pro-pot agenda is laughable. Pot is not like Candy or Coffee people. I suspect when there's a way to regulate it like alcohol is regulated, (measured in the body by cops on the street) and more importantly, when the government can figure out how to make $$ off it, it will be legalized in a very similar fashion to cigaretters and beer.

    October 27, 2011 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Howie

      Pot might make you paranoid, slow, and forgetful, but it certainly does not do that to everyone. I find that it makes me less paranoid – I can easily speak in front of an assembly when high, but get cold sweats sober. It doesn't slow me down, it slows down everything around me, allowing me much quicker reaction times than I have without. Operating heavy equipment? Better at it high. I see more of what is going on around me, due to the effect I mentioned a moment ago, events unfold in slow motion, enabling me to react far in advance of a dangerous situation. I am more 'in my body', allowing my physical reactions to be faster and smoother. Pot makes me a much more competent individual in all areas.

      October 28, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
  7. mary

    Why do people drink that s***t anyways!? ' 😐 amy whinehouse waz a very talented person i miss her!! im pretty sure every body does. im i right?

    October 27, 2011 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mordred

      Cause it's fun to get wasted.

      October 28, 2011 at 01:36 | Report abuse |
  8. Robert

    Pot pollutes your lungs and induces psychosis, both are unhealthy habits.
    It may also become a gateway drug for some users.
    There is NOTHING healthy about smoking pot and most medical marijuana users are just looking to get high without medical justification. There are only a small handful of symptoms (such as nausea from chemotherapy) that are alleviated by its use.

    October 27, 2011 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ruderalis

      Were you raised in the 50's?

      October 27, 2011 at 20:03 | Report abuse |
    • Juan

      It also makes you dance with black folk, uncontrollably. Its devil weed.

      October 28, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
    • Howie

      psychosis? really? clearly you have never tried it.

      October 28, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
    • purple grandaddy

      wow, another omnipotent person who must be a DR or some other published researcher to have such important things to say about weed with such authority.

      November 15, 2011 at 00:18 | Report abuse |
  9. Motaman

    Ah alcohol the drug that kills more people than every other drug combined and yet can be purchased right over the counter. Marijuana never killed anyone and if you get caught with enough you can spend the rest of your life in prison....and technically, in the federal system, enough marijuana plants can qualify you for a death sentence. Don't believe me look it up. And to all you cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking people who believe marijuana should be illegal go take a long walk off a short pier. I don't really care for other illegal drugs but I do love the good herb so Mr. President please LEGALIZE THE HERB AND END THIS FAILED WAR ON A WEED!!! I'll bet Miss Winehouses folks wished she was a pot head instead of a drunk because she would still be alive. Nuff Said

    October 27, 2011 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Name

      Technically, none of that is true.

      May 14, 2013 at 15:15 | Report abuse |
  10. Robrob

    "The "war on drugs" is the hugest failure. Multiple commissions have studied it and came to that exact same conclusion."

    Not really.

    "The drug prohibition is meaningless. Anyone can get whatever intoxicant of choice that they like 24/7 in this country. "

    Not true.

    "The drug prohibition laws are completely ignored. "

    Only by lawbreakers. Just like any other crime.

    "Legalization would not change a thing."

    It would make drugs legal, if it were already so easy to get them – why do you insist on making them legal?

    "People already have full access to any drug they want. The only change would be that we could collect taxes on these sales. That's it."

    And then people would cheat on the taxes – just like they already do with alcohol and tobacco. Why do you think we have an ATF?

    October 27, 2011 at 19:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. aginghippy

    @us1776: There would also be the significant change that we would not be filling jails with people caught using pot.

    October 27, 2011 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Derek

    Really, all this tired rhetoric about gateways, reckless driving, loss of ambition etc. The same tried old propaganda that the Federal Government stuffed into the narrow minds of many Americans in the last half of the 20th century.

    Well I hate to break it to you but Cannabis has been legal in many states and counties for years now and NONE of what you predict would be the result has ever happened. So, there you go you stated your predictions, those assumptions have been tested through practice and you have been shown to be wrong. It is also, after all the, your right to be incorrect.

    October 27, 2011 at 19:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ruderalis

    I see a lot of anti-cannabis comments out there. Just to clarify, cannabis does not give you withdrawals like alcohol and EVERY OTHER prescription pain killer out there. Also realize that California and many other states have legalized medical use. The Feds are now overthrowing that and stepping in to bust LEGAL users. Regardless if you agree with medicinal or recreational use of "pot," at least acknowledge that our voting process is seriously flawed. You can't purchase cannabis seeds, but you can go down to your local garden center anywhere in the US and buy poppy seeds. You can LEGALLY grow poppies (opium) for ornamental use... right... Not to mention mescaline is also legal to buy at local garden centers and also Home Depot. It's called San Pedro cactus, or Peruvian Torch. You can literally buy it, chop it up, dry it and get high LEGALLY. Now you go ahead and argue to me why not cannabis is illegal. OPEN YOUR EYES.

    October 27, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. terra

    Is all the mexicans fault

    October 27, 2011 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dom

    I am shocked that so many people are so surprised that you can die from alcohol... If you are of legal drinking age and you do not know that alcohol poisoning is a possibility then I'm sorry but you have no reason drinking. It is so ironic that I am sitting here drinking a cold bottle of heineken which I just legally purchased from the convenient store along with a pack of cigarettes.. I'd much rather be smoking a joint right now to be honest but unfortunately I can't go pick that up at the store even though it is physically impossible to overdose from smoking too much weed. If I wanted to I could die from alcohol poisoning tonight all it will take is a couple bottles of tequila and a case of beer. We wonder why our government can't get a single task done.. maybe it's because they're all too busy worrying about the things that go along with politics aside from their actual job (running the government) that they seem to not realize how hypocritical they are. I'm sure at least half of them are on opiates and taking an extra pill or two.

    October 27, 2011 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jon

    The only reason alcohol is legal is because the government couldn't stop people from making their own during prohibition. It's obviously addictive and dangerous to certain personality types and could be regulated in a much better fashion. As for pot, the government should give it a chance. Even "extreme" personality types tend to become more aware of their actions while under it's influence, the exact opposite of alcohol's effects. It can cause some to have anxiety and paranoia, but those people simply choose not to smoke it. Pot is not addictive, bottom line, no disputing this fact, and it is exponentially less dangerous to your health than alcohol, period. They should legalize it. With federal tax regulations and quality control, it has the potential to be a tremendous boon to our struggling economy (and deal a serious blow to Mexico's raging drug war). And besides, if it doesn't work out, they can always ban it again.

    October 27, 2011 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. jude

    Winehouse reportedly suffered from an eating disorder as well. Pehaps the fact that she was starving, as well as bone-thin made her even more susceptible. In an age when we expect female performers to be whip thin, eating disorders are epidemic and alcohol is often used as a comfort. Sad, but women need to liberate themselves from such expectations.

    October 27, 2011 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jeff

    I don't want people behind the wheel of a vehicle after they've smoked a joint or two either... Your comment is semi-idiotic...

    October 27, 2011 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. goo6er

    I always thought my drive and ambition had been stunted by Doritos.

    October 27, 2011 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Motaman


    October 27, 2011 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Rags

    Drink, drugs, whatever. Drink, snort, smoke, inject, whatever. None of that is 'really' necessary but deemed so by weak willed, weak minded people. You don't get stronger by doing things to weaken the mind, body, and spirit.
    Amy Winehouse? Should that be Amy Drunkhouse? What did this person ever do that contributed to the betterment of mankind? Except bring out the worst in some posters that think it's real cool to damage their small minds even further.

    October 27, 2011 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Dude

    Pot is for stupid uneducated people, like Carl Sagan.
    Pot is for non creative people, like The Beatles.
    Pot is for people who don't innovate, like Steve Jobs.
    Pot is for people with no leadership skills, like George Washington.
    Pot takes away your ambition, like it did to Thomas Jefferson.

    Wait, did I pick bad examples. . .

    October 27, 2011 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mr

      I seriously doubt that they lit up as much as the typical moron of today. The Beatles probably did, though. They suck, though.

      May 14, 2013 at 13:53 | Report abuse |
  23. realist

    sadly a lot of people lack the drive to begin with.

    October 27, 2011 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. bam

    the American workforce does not need to add HIGH to the fat lazy part they are already....

    October 27, 2011 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. sargeanton

    Who the heck is Winy Amehouse anyway? Doobie doobie doo.

    October 27, 2011 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. The Master

    I've consumed much more than 20 shots an hours and went to work the next day, no problem. She was a light weight!

    October 27, 2011 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jakey

    Actually you are wrong, there are many pot related deaths. Doctors refuse to classify pot as the root cause most likely because of the legal nature of the substance, but many deaths occur from using pot. Also, there are lots of crimes and violence associated with it. I have also seen seriously depressed and dysfunctional pot users......An occasional user will show much much less symptoms, but remember pot is a mild hallucinogen and it will alter you personality and perception of the world.

    October 27, 2011 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. LarryFlynt

    @Jeff: So, do you want to make drinking illegal again?

    October 27, 2011 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. DN3

    She was probably dehydrated at the time (or chronically dehydrated) plus if she hadn't been drinking for a while, her body wouldn't handle the alcohol as fast as before.

    October 27, 2011 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Reader

    I think I am addicted to reading these comments. I cannot quit laughing at all the ill-conceived thoughts that are written down and posted in this forum. Addiction is a state of mind. You can overcome it, just put your mind to it. All it takes is the courage and wisdom to understand what is wrong.

    October 27, 2011 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. tookay

    I am from Scotland and the pubs there shut at 1am. I had to move to england for work, and developed a serious drinking problem. The problem was that the pubs there closed at 11pm.

    October 27, 2011 at 23:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. V Saxena

    I frankly don't care. Tomorrow and the day after, I'm going to drink until I pass out, and that's that. 🙂

    October 27, 2011 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Tcat

    "disease" is a misnomer. Alcoholism is an addiction. They tell alcoholics its a disease so that they will be more likely to accept treatment. Suggesting that we make liquor illegal is stupid, we tried that in the prohibition and all it did was create a new source of income for organised crime syndicates. The name of the game is moderation. People become alcoholics because they drink too much too often, the whole "in the family" thing just means that somebody grew up watching a family member live an alcoholic lifestyle and thus are more likely to see that as an acceptable way of living. If you are one of those all or nothing types simply choose not to drink. Its that simple.

    October 28, 2011 at 00:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Josh

    OOO! Ooo! I know the answer to this question! How do people die from drinking?

    Answer: They're idiots.

    Moving on.

    October 28, 2011 at 00:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • A mom

      Actually Josh, it has nothing to do with being an idiot. Maybe some idiot gave it to them. Maybe some idiot nagged or taunted them into drinking more. Maybe some idiot left them alone.
      At least this article wrote a little bit about how a REAL person with any character whatsoever would help a person in a bad situation.
      Why are they idiots if they die of alcohol poisoning?
      I doubt ANYONE chooses to die of alcohol poisoning. I would say with about 99% certainty that anyone who dies of alcohol poisoning did not commit suicide and it was an accident.
      You should really think before you write. Learn to use a dictionary. Look up the word idiot. Because you young man are the idiot.

      October 29, 2011 at 20:23 | Report abuse |
  35. hoagie

    Let me think about all of this while I roast a bowl...

    October 28, 2011 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. hoagie

    Let me think about this while I roast a bowl

    October 28, 2011 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. deborah ann

    You all need to quit hating on each other. this world is so full of hate. drugs aan alcohol is a problem, we know that, hate is even worse. you need JESUS.

    October 28, 2011 at 02:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • purple grandaddy

      YOU need jesus. i am fine thank you

      November 15, 2011 at 00:12 | Report abuse |
  38. bilroth

    Why'd they write this article about alcohol? Didn't they see it was a discussion (generous description) of the pros and cons, likely BY so pros and cons, of pot use?

    October 28, 2011 at 10:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Pensive

    I am more interested in self government and self regulation than government regulation. I am more interested in changing behavior of individuals and groups than policy.

    Individual freedom is a beautiful and powerful thing. On the one hand it may lead to self-serving choices; on the other it allows us to protect others with our choices.

    About "drinking responsibly." "Responsibility" in this vein may apply to ones' self only, I suppose, because at many parties where alcohol is consumed there is the very real potential self-destruction of the one or two among the merriment of the rest- a whole lot of people. I am not harping on responsible drinkers, because I am grateful that for how many are not addicts... but I yearn for a broader appreciation for how our rights and freedoms can lead towards or away from the downfall of others. Yes it may be their own choice to drink irresponsibly, or it may be a disease or addiction they didn't choose. Argue it either way, but it should be included in the calculations of our own choices or else we falsely belive that what we do doesn't matter.

    To see grand vista I may walk to the edge of a cliff knowing that I have sure footing and am very unlikely to fall, but I always remember who else is with me, and who is watching in deciding whether or not I venture.

    I do not wish to tell others how to live. I am as grateful for your freedom as I am for mine. I do not drink and have never tasted a drop and I am fortunate not to have endured much ridicule for deciding to live this way. My great grandfather was an alcoholic. I am grateful to others who have helped me never step down from this decision. On eof my many arguments for my personal choice: If there is even a 2% chance of becoming an alcoholic, can I drink responsibly? What if my potential drinking buddy had a 2% chance but mine were zero? Is it worth it? Some will say yes, some will say no. For myself, I say no.

    Again, I am as grateful for others' freedom as I am for mine, but I hope this strikes a nerve in someone who may benefit from reading it. I need this kind of reminders frequently in other aspects of my own life. I also know this will make someone somewhere angry, but no matter:-)

    October 28, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. John macintyre

    Oh well , time for my trlple gin and tonic. These reseachers are full of chit , just looking for more money.

    November 1, 2011 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. purple grandaddy

    perhaps the reason marijuana hasnt become legal in the majority of the states as of yet is the billions and billions of dollars the all mighty pharmaceutical companies pour into anti drug campaigns. sadly, there are people becoming more and more addicted to their pills from those same pharmaceutical companies. and more and more people need rehab for pills rather than weed. its a natural plant, a weed. you dont have to smoke it, it makes a great medicinal tea..
    again, america, please educate yourself. its embarrassing.

    November 15, 2011 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. trichocereus peruvianus

    I think this is among the such a lot important info for me. And i'm glad studying your article. But want to observation on some common things, The site style is ideal, the articles is in reality nice : D. Just right task, cheers

    March 31, 2012 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Its absolutely good YouTube video in terms of quality, in fact pleasant, its quality is truly appreciable.

    July 4, 2012 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. mr

    My friend's cousin just got his 4th DUI. In my state, you end up paying around $10,000 – $15,000 per DUI. Lowering the breath rate is just another way to get more money. However, I'm not against it.

    May 14, 2013 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Great

    It's nothing more than modern day prohibition. How many people were killed as a result of drivers with a BAC between .05 and .08? Is the number statistically significant in a country of 300M people? Of those, how many accidents had other contributing factors? Of the fatal accidents, how many had a BAC right just over .08, indicating they were potentially trying to comply with the law? Those are the people who would have adhered to the new proposed standard. All of those with a BAC over .1 you can forget about. They could care less and a new law wouldn't stop them.

    How about this? Also create a law that states if a law enforcement officer pulls someone over, they automatically perform a breathalyzer with the results automatically logged. If they exceed the limit, the individual receives a mandatory suspension. I bet when they start catching a lot of law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, politicians, and others who enjoy "special priviledge", the laws will stay just as they are. It's a money grab, nothing more. Yes, unnecessary deaths are tragic, but in a country of 300,000,000, the number is rather insignificant, and yes, I've lost people close to me as a result of drunk driving. Besides.... When stadiums, bars, and other places start going under and losing revenue, you can bet the lobbyists will come out of the woodwork.

    May 14, 2013 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. moomoomoo

    I like alcohol. So much so that it makes me sick because I waste entire weekends on a drinking binge... morning to night. It's not the alcohol that's the problem. It's me that's the problem.

    May 14, 2013 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Twister

    My advise would be - if you ever even question if you have a problem w/ alcohol, then you likely do. Generally with genetic predispositions for many, you can't control it - even if you want to try. It will bite you in the butt....Just try your best, whatever measures possible, to quit - even if it's AA. While you might think that's embarrassing, don't be - the learnings apply to varying aspects of life. And, while the first window of tim will see unbearable - your perspective will change to where you don't think of alcohol daily....

    May 14, 2013 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Twister

    "first window of time will seem unbearable". And, no I'm not drinking. 🙂

    May 14, 2013 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. U.S. Citizen

    Tax Farmers have to keep their livestock productive and healthy.

    May 14, 2013 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Thornhill

    This will do nothing to lower traffic fatalities. It will merely clog our court system up more and strain lcoal govenment budgets. Knee jerks 101.

    May 14, 2013 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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