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What is a Blood Alcohol Test?

Donald Singleton
June 7, 2022

Your liver processes alcoholic drinks after they are absorbed into your bloodstream. It is capable of processing one drink every hour. The standard definition of a drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of whiskey.

Note: This is just a standard definition and these ounces may vary!


Scroll down to our Blood Alcohol Test infographic:

What is a Blood Alcohol Test?

Intoxication, also known as drunkenness, happens when your liver cannot process the alcohol fast enough. Symptoms include altered behavior and impaired judgment. There are a variety of factors that determine the effects of alcohol, including age, weight, gender, and what food was eaten prior to drinking.

A blood alcohol test measures the level of alcohol in your blood.  It is also known as blood alcohol level test, ethanol test, ethyl alcohol, blood alcohol concentrations test, and blood alcohol content.

We already reviewed the different types of BAC testing.

What is the blood alcohol test used for?

You can use a blood alcohol test to find out if you:

  • Are drunk and driving. It is legal to drive with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent if you are 21 or older. Those under the age of 21 must not drive while impaired by alcohol.
  • Legally intoxicated. Different states have different legal alcohol limits.
  • Inhabiting a treatment program that forbids alcohol consumption.
  • When your blood alcohol level rises very high, you are suffering from alcohol poisoning, a potentially life-threatening condition. As a result of alcohol poisoning, breathing, heart rate, and temperature are seriously affected.

Binge drinking is more likely to occur among teens and young adults, which can result in alcohol poisoning. The technique of binge drinking consists of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Usually, binge drinking is defined as having four or five drinks within a two-hour period, although it can differ from person to person.

Drinking mouthwash, hand sanitizer, or certain cold medications that contain alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning in young children.

What is the purpose of a blood alcohol test?

Blood tests may be required if you have symptoms of intoxication and/or are suspected of driving under the influence. These symptoms include:

  • Insomnia, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Speech slurring
  • Slow reactions
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Unusual moods
  • Indecisiveness.

Alcohol poisoning can also cause the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Breathing problems
  • Seizures
  • Lower body temperature.

So what happens during a blood alcohol test?

In order to take a blood sample, a health care professional will use a small needle to take it from a vein in your arm. An amount of blood is collected in a test tube or vial after the needle is inserted. A needle may sting a little when it enters or leaves your body and it may sting for about five minutes.

Are there any preparations I should make before the test?

There is no need to prepare for a blood alcohol test.

What are the risks of the test?

There are very few risks associated with having a blood test. Most symptoms go away quickly after the needle was placed, but you may experience some pain or bruising.

What do the results mean?

There are many ways to assess blood alcohol content, including expressing it as a percentage. Here are some typical results.

  • Sober: BAC of 0.0 percent.
  • Legally intoxicated: BAC of .08 percent.
  • Very impaired: BAC of .08 to 0.40 percent. Walking and talking may be difficult with this blood alcohol level. Drowsiness, nausea, and confusion may also occur.
  • Over .40 percent BAC may cause serious complications. You could die or go into a coma if you have this much alcohol in your blood.

Results can be affected by when the test is taken. Blood alcohol testing is accurate only if it’s taken within six to twelve hours of your last drink. A health care provider and car wreck lawyer may be able to answer your questions.

How long after drinking alcohol does it show up in blood tests?

A blood test can detect alcohol up to 12 hours after drinking. The ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test can detect alcohol in urine for up to 3 to 5 days, while the traditional method can detect it for up to 10 to 12 hours.

What is the range of a normal blood alcohol level?

A person has one tenth of a percent of their blood volume as alcohol or 1 part of their blood volume as alcohol. A person is not considered intoxicated if their blood alcohol concentration is less than 50 mg/dL, or 0.05%. Ethanol levels in the blood may be critical when they exceed 300 mg/dL.

Do blood tests indicate heavy drinking?

It is likely that blood tests will reveal heavy alcohol use. A blood alcohol test’s accuracy is greatly influenced by timing. Typically, blood alcohol tests aren’t accurate until six to twelve hours after someone last drank.

Is it okay to drink alcohol the night before a test?

Fasting blood tests typically require you to fast for eight to twelve hours before your blood is drawn. Additionally, you should avoid drinking alcohol and exercising for 24 hours before the test.

What is a blood alcohol test - Infographic
Donald Singleton

Donald Singleton


A Georgia native, Don founded Singleton Law Firm in 1999 as a continuation of his lifetime commitment to serving his state and community. He has concentrated his trial practice to representing victims of serious injury and wrongful death arising out of trucking, car, bus and motorcycle accidents, premises liability and a wide variety of other causes.

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