Understanding the basics of blood alcohol concentration

Many DWI arrests, which carry potentially serious penalties, are based on drivers’ BAC levels, or the ratio of alcohol to blood in their systems.

Each day, numerous people across New York are charged with drunk driving. In fact, there were more than 39,000 driving while intoxicated arrests across the state in 2015 alone, according to the New York Department of Criminal Justice. Essential to many of these arrests are the drivers' blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, levels. Most people know they could be charged with DWI if they are stopped by law enforcement and have a BAC level of .08 or greater. However, many do not understand what blood alcohol concentration is or what factors may affect their levels.

What is blood alcohol concentration?

When people consume alcoholic beverages, the alcohol is absorbed through the walls of their small intestine and stomach. From there, it enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body. The amount of alcohol in a driver's body is determined by measuring the ratio of alcohol to blood in his or her body. This measurement is the driver's BAC level.

What factors affect a driver's BAC level?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the amount of alcohol in drivers' systems can be determined between 30 and 70 minutes after they have a drink. However, there are numerous factors that may impact the rate at which their BAC levels rise. These include the following:

• The person's gender

• The person's weight

• The number of drinks a person has

• Whether a person has had anything to eat before drinking

• How fast a person consumes alcoholic beverages

It is a popularly held belief that the type of drinks people are having affect their BAC levels, however, this is not the case. In general, the amount of alcohol is the same in one shot of distilled spirits, one 12-ounce beer and one five-ounce glass of wine. Each of these is considered one standard sized drink.

Eliminating alcohol from the body

Sometimes, people are caught driving with elevated BAC levels because they think they have taken steps to sober up. This may include drinking coffee, eating something, taking a cold shower or sleeping. In actuality, however, time is the only way to eliminate alcohol from the system.

According to the AAA DUI Justice Link, it takes the average person's body anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes to process the alcohol in one standard sized drink. Therefore, alcohol may build up in the body if people are drinking faster than their bodies are able to metabolize the alcohol. This may contribute to their BAC levels continuing to rise even after they have stopped drinking.

Seeking legal guidance

In New York, and elsewhere, drunk driving is considered a serious offense. Consequently, the penalties people may face if convicted on alcohol-related charges may have life-changing implications. In order to help defend themselves and protect their rights, it may benefit those who have been charged with DWI to obtain legal representation.