Breath Alcohol Test: Detection Period, Devices, Limitations

After drinking alcohol, it quickly gets absorbed into the blood from the stomach and small intestine. The blood carries 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 you to analyze the amount of alcohol in your blood, also known as blood alcohol concentration.

How long does alcohol stay on your breath?

Within a few minutes of consuming an alcoholic drink, blood alcohol content can be measured on a person’s breath.

The BAC level takes about an hour to peak after drinking alcohol.

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

There are different types of breath testing procedures and devices to measure the concentration of alcohol in a person’s breath, corresponding to BAC.

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

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

Evidential breath testers use 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 a ratio to discover the BAC.

The average blood-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.

Between 15 minutes and 1 hour after drinking alcohol, blood alcohol concentration peaks. It is the same for alcohol on the breath as well.

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

Use of the BAC test

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

An authorized breath alcohol technician does the screening test with a standard alcohol screening device.

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

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

In most states, the legally-defined level of alcohol intoxication is a BAC of 0.08%, but Utah has a lower legal limit for driving which is a BAC of 0.05%.

in general, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT)  considers a person with an alcohol level of 0.08% and above as legally drunk.

If you are in an accident, weaving on the road, or speeding, the traffic police may verify that you are guilty of 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 an employer),
  • Defendant: a party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court for crimes or offenses,
  • Intoxicated: when an individual is impaired by drug or alcohol use,
  • Jurisdiction: the legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; enforcement of justice.

Related article: Drug And Alcohol Tests For Job

Types of breath alcohol tests

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 immediately reads BAC. The police may make you repeatedly blow a couple of times to get an average reading. The entire procedure may take a minute and causes no physical discomfort to you.

The manual breath test device includes a balloon and a glass tube filled with yellow crystals. The air 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.

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

Reliability of the alcohol breath test and its implications

The breath test is sometimes unreliable for a few reasons.

A breath test within 15 minutes of drinking may lead to inaccurate results. The trace amounts of alcohol left in the mouth can falsely indicate a higher BAC.

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

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

Electronic breathalyzer machines need to be recalibrated occasionally to get accurate results. Those machines that use software need regular updates to avoid glitches.

Some advanced breathalyzers with fuel cell technology give the most accurate results. However, alcohol breath tests are less accurate than blood or urine tests.

Things that affect BAC test results 

How long your BAC stays at or reaches its peak depends 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 bodies process alcohol faster because of their higher stomach enzyme levels. Women have more fat and less water in their bodies. The fluctuation of various hormone levels in women also affects BAC.

People who eat much food before and after drinking will have slow alcohol processing. This is especially true of high-protein foods.

The quality and quantity of alcohol ingested influence BAC. More alcohol consumed at a faster pace raises the BAC level.

Implications of the breathalyzer test

In most states, a BAC reading is considered basic proof of charging a person with drinking and driving (DUI). You will be penalized for dangerous driving if your BAC reading exceeds the legal limit of 0.08%.

Accidentally driving, you may be asked to provide urine and blood samples to find a more accurate BAC. The person under DUI charges has to produce evidential breath testing administered by law enforcement officers.

The repeated incidence of driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense. It may call for suspending your license and sending you to mandatory rehabilitation programs.

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