Measuring BAC: There are three ways that BAC can be measured. It can be measured as a percentage of body mass per volume, by body mass per volume of blood, or a combination.
For instance, if an individual's BAC is 0.10%, it means that there is one gram of alcohol per 1,000 grams or 1,000 milliliters of blood.
Breathalyzer® test: A Breathalyzer® test does not directly measure the BAC. Instead, these tests estimate the BAC by measuring the amount of alcohol in an individual's breath.
Once alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, the liver breaks down (metabolizes) the alcohol. Once alcohol has been completely metabolized, the concentration of alcohol is equal throughout the body, including in the breath. Breathalyzer® tests can only detect that alcohol that has already been metabolized by the body. In other words, if the body is still absorbing alcohol, a Breathalyzer® test may detect a lower BAC than the individual actually has.
During the test, the individual blows into a plastic tube that is connected to a BAC monitor. The Breathalyzer® then provides an estimate of the individual's BAC. Eating breath mints or gum will not affect the results of a Breathalyzer® test. This is because the test does not measure the smell of the breath but the alcohol content of the breath.
Blood test: A blood alcohol test is the most accurate way to measure an individual's BAC. Because alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, this test can be performed just minutes after consuming an alcoholic beverage. However, this test is more expensive and invasive, and it cannot be performed on site. Therefore, it is performed less often than a Breathalyzer® test.
Urine test: A urine test may also be performed. This test assumes that there are 1.3 parts of alcohol in the urine for every one part of alcohol in the blood. However, this ratio can vary significantly among individuals. Also, it may take up to two hours after alcohol consumption for alcohol to be detectable in the blood.
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