Breath Alcohol Test – Detection Period, Devices, Limitations

After drinking alcohol, it quickly gets absorbed into the blood from the stomach and small intestine. Blood carries the alcohol through your body to the liver, brain, and lungs. You exhale it when you breathe.

Alcohol breath-testing devices can easily measure the amount of alcohol in exhaled breath. It helps to analyze the amount of alcohol present in your blood, also known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?

Within a few minutes of consuming an alcoholic drink, BAC can be measured in a person’s breath.

It takes about an hour for the BAC level to reach its peak after drinking alcohol.

Note that about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by a person is broken down by the liver. Most of the alcohol is eliminated from the body via urine and breath.

Different types of breath-testing devices measure alcohol in breath corresponding to BAC.

Breath-testing for alcohol gives only a short period of the detection window. This is about 24 hours on average.

For how long alcohol stays in a person’s breath depends on several factors specific to the individual.

Breath-test makes use of a small machine called a breathalyzer to measure BAC.

What is a breath alcohol test?

It is easy to measure the blood alcohol concentration in a person by measuring the alcohol present in the breath. For this purpose, breath-testing devices are used to calculate BAC.

In short, a breath alcohol test measures how much alcohol is in the air you breathe out. The amount of alcohol in the breath is calculated in ratio to discover the BAC.

The average blood-to-breath ratio is about 2100:1. This implies that 1 milliliter of blood has 2100 times more ethanol than 1 milliliter of air from the lungs.

The blood concentration of alcohol reaches its peak between 15 minutes to 1 hour after drinking the alcohol. It is the same for the alcohol in the breath as well.

The Breathalyzer, the most famous portable device to test breath alcohol content, was invented in 1954.

Uses of BAC Test

A breath alcohol test is popular with government agencies monitoring motor vehicle driving rules violations.

A driver under the influence of alcohol gets clumsy and takes a longer time to react. It is difficult for such a driver to take the right decisions at the right time. Such driving is dangerous and fatal.

Police personnel uses a breathalyzer to check illegal driving under the influence.

In most states, it is illegal to drive when you have BAC above 0.08%.

If you are in an accident, weaving on the road, or speeding, the traffic police on petrol may verify for drunken driving or DUI.

A breathalyzer test for alcohol will be performed by legal authorities, employers, or hospitals for purposes such as:

  • Consent – To approve, permit, or agree (usually used by employer)
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court for crime or offenses
  • Intoxicated – when an individual is inhibited by drugs or alcohol
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make the judgment; enforcement of justice

Types Of Breath Alcohol Tests

Both electronic and manual tests are available.

Police usually use an electronic device the size of a walkie-talkie with a mouthpiece attachment. When you blow into the mouthpiece it gives an immediate reading of BAC. Police may make you blow repeatedly for a couple of times to get an average of the reading. The entire procedure may take a minute which causes no physical discomfort to you.

The manual breath test device includes a balloon and a glass tube filled with yellow crystals. The breath you blow into the balloon will be released into the glass tube. Depending on how much alcohol is in your system, the bands of crystals change color from yellow to green.

Testing Devices

The legal limit of driving is BAC under 0.05%. Generally, one green band on the crystal tube means your BAC is under 0.05%.  Two green bands point that your BAC is between 0.05% and 0.10%. But if three green bands appear, the BAC is over 0.10%.

Reliability of Alcohol Breath Test and Implications

The breath test is not always reliable for a few reasons.

Having a breath test within 15 minutes after the drink may lead to inaccurate results. The trace amounts of alcohol left in the mouth can give a false indication of higher BAC.

In addition, smoking influences the result. Nicotine in the smoke may suppress the alcohol in the breath.

Using a product like breath fresheners or mouth wash reduces the alcohol content in the mouth for some time.

Electronic machines used as breathalyzers need to be recalibrated from time to time to get accurate results. Those machines that use software need a regular update to avoid glitches.

Some of the advanced breathalyzers with fuel cell technology give the most accurate results. However, none of the alcohol breath tests are as accurate as the urine or blood test.

Things That Affect BAC

How long your BAC stay or reach the peak depend on several factors such as:

  • Heavier people with more water in the body accelerate the metabolization of alcohol in the blood.
  • BAC levels are not the same for men and women. Men’s body processes the alcohol faster because of the higher levels of stomach enzyme they have. Women have more fat and less water in the body. The fluctuation of various hormones levels in women also affects the BAC.
  • People who eat a lot of food before and after drinks will have slow processing of alcohol. This is especially true with high-protein foods.
  • The quality and quantity of alcohol ingested influence BAC. More alcohol consumed at a faster pace shoots up the BAC level.

Implications of tests

In most states, BAC reading is taken as basic proof for charging a person with driving under the influence or DUI. If your BAC reading is over the legal limit of 0.08%, you are liable to be penalized for dangerous driving.

In case of accidental driving, you may be asked to provide urine and blood samples to find a more accurate BAC.

Repeated incidence of driving under the influence of alcohol is serious offense. It may call for the suspension of your driving license and you may be sent to compulsory rehabilitation programs.

A breath alcohol test determines how much alcohol is in your blood. The test measures the amount of alcohol in the air you breathe out.

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