fbpx

The Woods Law Firm

How Drunk am I? The DUI Guide to BAC Levels and when to call UBER

DUI Lawyer

One bad day can have a very serious effect on your life.  In South Carolina, one of the most common charges that most people can get is being arrested for a DUI (Driving Under the Influence). Every year, thousands of people are arrested in South Carolina for a DUI and are facing jail, license suspensions, expensive fines, ADSAP (Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program) classes and more.  The financial costs can be between $10,000 and $20,000 in costs if convicted and you may have to hire a lawyer to minimize the hit and represent you in court to find alternatives to your DUI.  In certain jobs and careers, you may lose a professional license such as a medical or nursing degree and your employer may fire you if your actions violate their workplace policies. All of which costs way more than the cab ride or UBER ride home after an eventful night. During the holidays, many police departments do a crackdown on drivers in an effort to promote highway safety. For many drivers, the threat of an arrest during the holidays and a more visible police presence are enough to scare the average person into not drinking and driving, however, for many sober or hard-headed drivers, a DUI arrest during a traffic stop is also a reality.

If you are even a light or social drinker, most adults who frequent bars must at least internally admit that they have driven while impaired at some point in their lives. Many people do it on the weekends and mistakenly believe that they are “ok” to drive, but how do you know? The legal limit is a .08 in South Carolina, but most drivers don’t know what constitutes a high or low BAC level or what goes into the calculation.  The purpose of this article is to give you some insight on how a blood alcohol concentration rating is calculated in simple terms and what it takes to be .08 or legally drunk in South Carolina. Also, another purpose of this article is let you know what happens when you get drunk and what happens inside your body before you are ever stopped by a police officer. To start, let’s answer some basic questions.

WHAT IS A BAC ANYWAY?

BAC refers to “Blood Alcohol Concentration” and it is a measurement used to determine impairment or to essentially figure out how drunk you are.  The amount of alcohol in a person’s body is calculated by determining the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. That weight is called BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration).

WHAT DETERMINES OR AFFECTS MY BAC?

How high or how low your BAC is may be determined by a combination of contributing factors. The more you drink, the higher your BAC level. The faster you drink, the higher your BAC level. Generally, women get drunk faster than men who consume the same amount of alcohol because women generally have less water and more body fat than men. However, in terms of weight, the more you weigh, man or woman, the more water is present in your body. The water in your body dilutes the alcohol which lowers your BAC, so it takes more time for people who weigh more to get drunk than people who are skinny or weigh less. Also, if you have had something to eat, the food in your stomach will slow the rate of alcohol absorption and it will take longer for you to get drunk.

DOES ONE TYPE OF DRINK OR SHOT I TAKE GIVE ME A HIGHER BAC LEVEL THAN ANOTHER TYPE?

Actually no. Alcohol is Alcohol and the type of drink does not matter. The amount of alcohol consumed matters. A normal drink (from a bartender that does not have a heavy hand) is roughly half of an ounce of alcohol or .54 ounces. This is the same amount of alcohol found in one shot of liquor, one 12 ounce beer or one 5 ounce glass of wine. You may not have a good tolerance for tequila vs vodka but to the body, the alcohol is the same.

DO PERSCRIPTION DRUGS AFFECT MY BAC LEVEL?

Yes. The alcohol content for the BAC will not change but how you feel while on your medication will affect you driving and impair your ability to drive.  Therefore, people who are under certain medications may feel drowsy or sleepy and their driving may be adversely affected. Medications may also affect your clarity and impair your judgment which can lead to driving mistakes and alcohol-like symptoms which can lead an arresting officer to feel like you were drunk driving. Often times, while medications may be present in the bloodstream, the BAC level may be 0.00 and not show the presence of the medication unless a blood test is administered. The DUI legal statute says that impairment is based upon drugs and/or alcohol so you can still be charged with a DUI.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM TOO DRUNK TO DRIVE?

There are many things which interact to affect your BAC level. The easiest answer is anytime you are drinking you do not need to drive because you potentially represent a danger to yourself and others on the road. So the easy answer is, don’t drink and drive. It is important to know that even a little bit of alcohol may cause you to drive impaired and even though you may feel fine and ok, your ability to know if you are okay is substantially diminished. The only thing a person may know is that they feel a buzz, but driving buzzed is driving drunk so don’t drink and drive.

SO HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS THERE IN A PARTICULAR TYPE OF DRINK?

There are many reports that are done by universities and hospitals which can tell you in exhaustive detail what should happen at a certain BAC level. In South Carolina, the most detailed report I can find currently was done by Clemson University and published through their Redfern Health Center. There are differences between women and men and the effect that alcohol has on them. There are also differences in how a person responds to alcohol, some people become violent or uncontrollable, while others become subdued or sleepy. This chart, prepared by Clemson University, shows what the average BAC levels are for men and women based upon their body weight after a certain number of drinks over a period of hours:

According to Clemson University and other published reports, certain ounces of a particular beer or spirit equal certain amounts of alcohol. The alcohol is the agent that gets you drunk. Here is their guide below:

Factors that determine BAC
    • Number of standard drinks (see below)
    • Amount of time in which drinks are consumed
    • Body weight
    • Gender
    • Food (to a much lesser extent)
One standard drink = 1/2 ounce of ethyl alcohol
    • One 12 oz. regular beer (4.5 percent alcohol) = .54 oz.
    • One 7 oz. malt liquor (7 percent alcohol) = .49 oz.
    • One 4.5 oz. glass of wine (12 percent alcohol) = .54 oz.
    • One jigger (1.25 oz.) of 80-proof liquor (40 percent alcohol) = .50 oz.
    • One-third jigger (.5 oz.) of Everclear (95 percent alcohol) = .48 oz.
More than one standard drink > 1/2 ounce
    • One 16 oz. cup of beer = .72 oz. = 1.4 drinks
    • One 40 oz. beer = 1.8 oz. = 3.6 drinks
    • One 22 oz. malt liquor = 1.5 oz. = 3 drinks
    • One 12 oz. glass of wine = 1.4 oz. = 2.9 drinks
    • One 12 oz. margarita = 2-4 drinks, depending on ingredients
  • One 12 oz. cup of trashcan punch = 4-10 drinks, depending on ingredients

(Credit: Clemson University)

HOW DRUNK DO I GET OVER TIME?

The human body is like a sponge when it comes to alcohol. The longer you leave a sponge in liquid, the more liquid is soaked up.  The same is true for alcohol in your body. Also, over time, a smaller portion of the alcohol evaporates or in the case of the body is diluted causing a small drop in the BAC level as the hours go by.  Remember that the general rule is that the heavier you are, the more water that you have in your body so the longer it takes for you to get drunk. Also, men and women process alcohol differently in their bodies.  

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF GETTING DRUNK

It really doesn’t take a lot for your body to be affected by alcohol and cause you to make a bad decision and drive impaired. There is actually a science to what happens when you get drunk. Again, there is an exhausting amount of information on the subject and science of intoxication.

In layman’s terms, when you drink a drink it passes your lips and goes down into the esophagus, through the stomach and into the small intestine.  The bloodstream then distributes the alcohol throughout the body where it is partially absorbed. The part that is not absorbed, aka “metabolized” is disseminated throughout the body causing you to feel buzzed and eventually drunk. The liver then kickstarts the process to remove the toxic alcohol and what it cannot remove starts being present in your sweat,  breath and urine. The kidneys then start to work moving liquids to your bladder which causes it to fill up and give you the urge to urinate quickly, causing dehydration in the process by taking water from the brain and vital organs, which also gives you a pounding headache and an awful hangover. When you finally wake up after going to sleep or passing out you feel as if you have been sucking on cotton balls in the desert, promising yourself that you will never do that again, unless of course the weekend comes before never arrives.

In conclusion, we have learned some very important things today, like don’t drink and drive, you can get drunk really quickly and its never worth it the next morning.   The costs far outweigh the benefits of that nice drink if you plan to drive afterward. If you have had anything to drink, before you drive, call UBER, a taxicab or have a friend on speed dial under the heading “ I’m Drunk.”  If you ignore this sage advice and dangerously try to go it alone and those proverbial “only two beers” that you have cause you to see blue lights and America’s best officer in your rearview mirror, pull over and relax, for at least now you know what is happening inside your body. Be personable, use your right to respectfully refuse all tests, including the breath test and roadside field sobriety tests and exercise your constitutional right to remain silent. When you get to make a phone call from jail, call us, we will take it from here.

(Part 2 in this series is “What to do when you are stopped by an officer and suspected of drunk driving). We have other articles published on our website at www.thewoodsfirm.com or at www.dui-trafficlawyer.com Thanks for reading and call us at 864-8100-DUI if you have any questions or need help with a case, we are happy to help.

(Attorney Freddy Woods is an accomplished criminal defense and personal injury attorney with over 20 years experience based in South Carolina. He has appeared on TV and radio and writes for a number of publications. Mr. Woods regularly speaks and lectures on the subjects of DUI, the criminal justice system, auto accidents and personal injury litigation. Visit his website at www.thewoodsfirm.com or call his office at 864-298-8111 or 864-8100-DUI if you need assistance with a legal matter in the State of South Carolina.)