Drinking is a common social activity in many cultures, but alcohol consumption carries a significant risk of injury or death. The likelihood of death increases with the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level; however, most people don’t know what BAC is fatal. In this article, we will discuss the surprising and dangerous truth behind the BAC level that causes fatalities, how it affects your body, and more.
The Average BAC and Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol affects everyone differently, and the BAC level is the measure of the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream. This percentage can vary depending on the number of drinks consumed, weight, and other factors.
As a general rule, the average person will reach a BAC level of 0.08% after consuming four drinks in two hours. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a drink consists of:
- 12 ounces of beer or hard seltzer (5% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% alcohol, or 80 proof)
For instance, a 180-pound male may reach a BAC of 0.08% after consuming four drinks in a span of two hours.
The Three Stages of BAC
As the BAC level increases, the effect on the body can vary depending on how much alcohol has been consumed. There are three primary stages of BAC. They are:
In stage 1, BAC ranges from 0.01% to 0.05%, and the person may experience:
- Mild euphoria
- Decreased inhibitions
- Faster learning and recall
In stage 2, BAC ranges from 0.06% to 0.15%, and the person may experience:
- Slurred speech
- Memory impairment and lack of coordination
- Poor reflexes and balance
- Blurred vision
- Decreased judgment
In stage 3, BAC ranges from 0.16% to 0.30%, and the person may experience:
- Lapses in consciousness
- Confusion and disorientation
- Decreased body temperature, pulse, and breathing rate
What BAC Is Fatal?
Now, the most critical question is, what BAC is fatal? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a BAC of 0.30% or higher is potentially lethal, and 0.40% or higher is extremely dangerous.
At this level, the person may experience:
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory arrest or death
Clearly, impaired driving is not the only risk associated with consuming too much alcohol. In such situations, the risks are not only to the person drinking but also to the people around them.
Factors That Influence BAC
Many factors influence how quickly alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and the BAC level, including:
- Weight and body composition
- Gender and age
- The amount of food in the stomach
- The type and strength of alcohol consumed
- The rate of alcohol consumption
Understanding these factors can help people make more informed decisions about their alcohol consumption and reduce their risk of experiencing harmful effects.
Weight and Body Composition
Body weight and composition affect how quickly alcohol is absorbed and the rate at which it is metabolized. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a person who weighs less than 120 pounds may reach a BAC of 0.08% after only two drinks.
Gender and Age
Women tend to have lower water content in their bodies than men, making them more susceptible to higher BAC levels. Older adults also tend to have leaner bodies and decreased liver function, which can lead to a higher BAC level than predicted for their weight.
The Amount of Food in the Stomach
When alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach, it is absorbed quicker into the bloodstream. Eating a meal beforehand can slow the absorption rate and reduce the BAC level.
The Type and Strength of Alcohol Consumed
Alcoholic beverages range in strength from beer, which typically is 4.5% alcohol, to liquor, which can be up to 95% alcohol. The stronger the alcohol, the quicker the BAC level may rise.
The Rate of Alcohol Consumption
The faster someone drinks, the quicker the BAC level will rise. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, men who consume five drinks within two hours and women who consume four drinks within two hours may reach a BAC of 0.08%.
What can you Do to Reduce Your BAC Level?
If you have consumed alcohol and are concerned about your BAC level, there are a few things you can do to reduce it. These include:
- Wait it out – The liver eliminates about one standard drink per hour.
- Consume plenty of water – Alcohol can dehydrate the body, so drinking water can help you feel better and eliminate the alcohol out of your body.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach – Eating a meal or consuming snacks before consuming alcohol can prevent rapid absorption into the bloodstream.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages – Beverages like coffee or energy drinks can make you feel less intoxicated than you are and keep you awake longer than the effects of alcohol.
- Use a designated driver – Don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking alcohol
Consuming alcohol can be dangerous and even fatal, especially when consumed in excess. Knowing what BAC is fatal and the effects of alcohol on the body can help people in making more informed decisions about their alcohol consumption.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is BAC? – BAC stands for blood alcohol concentration, which is the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream.
- What BAC is illegal? – In the United States, a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered illegal for drivers over 21 years old.
- How long does it take for BAC to reach zero? – The liver removes about one standard drink of alcohol per hour, and depending on how much alcohol was consumed, it can take several hours for BAC to reach zero.
- Can a BAC of 0.30% be fatal? – A BAC of 0.30% or higher is potentially lethal and can result in loss of consciousness, coma, respiratory arrest, or death.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: What Is A Standard Drink?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol and Public Health
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Alcohol-Impaired Driving