What are Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Levels?

Although there is no one universally accepted standard for what is considered a “safe” level of drinking, the metric used to measure the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream is called blood alcohol concentration, or BAC.1

A person’s liver can process about one standard drink an hour.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels in standard drinks include:2

BAC levels for standard drinks

  • 12 ounces of beer, or one bottle at 5% alcohol.
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7% alcohol.
  • 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol.
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, or one shot, at 40% alcohol.

However, a person’s BAC level is not only affected by how much alcohol is consumed but by other factors such as an individual’s weight, gender, pattern of drinking, and genetics.

Side effects and impairments resulting from increasing blood alcohol levels include:1,3,4

  • Slowed reflexes and reaction time.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Memory trouble, blackouts, and memory loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Loss of physical coordination.
  • Passing out.
  • Heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure changes.

Across the U.S., in all states except for Utah, it is illegal for any persons 21 years or older to operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08%.5 In 2018, Utah changed their laws to reflect a BAC of 0.05% as the illegal limit for persons 21 years or older operating a vehicle.

If you or someone you know frequently suffers from side-effects or exceeds the BAC limits documented above, it may be to seek professional help. No matter how serious the problem seems, recovery is possible.

Research shows that about 1/3 of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later.8 Our Admissions Navigators are available 24/7 to discuss treatment options with you today at 888-685-5770 or fill out the free and confidential form at the bottom of this page to verify whether your insurance might cover alcoholism treatment.

Free and low-cost alcoholism treatment is available.

Understanding BAC Levels & Effects

Common symptoms, levels of impairment, and risks for various blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels include:1,6 

  • 0.02%: This is the lowest level of intoxication with some measurable impact on the brain and body. You will feel relaxed, experience altered mood, feel a little warmer, and may make poor judgments.
  • 0.05%: At this level of BAC, your behavior will become exaggerated. You may speak louder and gesture more. You may also begin to lose control of small muscles, like the ability to focus your eyes, so vision will become blurry. Your judgment is impaired, and coordination is reduced. Tracking objects visually becomes more difficult, and your ability to respond to emergencies, like an object in your path, will be reduced. Your inhibitions will be lowered causing you to potentially engage in risky behaviors like drunk driving.
  • 0.08%: This is the current legal limit in the U.S., other than Utah, and at this level it is considered illegal and unsafe to drive. You will lose more coordination, so your balance, speech, reaction times, and even hearing will get worse. Standing still, focusing on objects, and evading obstacles are all much harder. Reasoning, judgment, self-control, concentration, and memory will be impaired. Short-term memory loss may start.
  • 0.10%: At this BAC, reaction time and control will be reduced, speech will be slurred, thinking and reasoning are slower, and the ability to coordinate your arms and legs is poor.
  • 0.15%: This BAC is very high. You will have much less control over your balance and voluntary muscles, so walking and talking are difficult. You may fall and hurt yourself. Vomiting may begin.
  • 0.20-0.29%: Stupor, confusion, feeling dazed, and disorientation are common. Standing and walking may require help, as balance and muscle control will have deteriorated significantly. Sensations of pain will change, so if you fall and seriously hurt yourself, you may not notice, and you are less likely to do anything about it. Nausea and vomiting are likely to occur, and the gag reflex will be impaired, which could cause choking or aspirating on vomit. Blackouts begin at this BAC, so you may participate in events that you don’t remember.
  • 0.30-0.39%: At this point, you may be unconscious and your potential for death increases. Along with a loss of understanding, at this BAC you’ll also experience severe increases in your heart rate, irregular breathing and may have a loss of bladder control.
  • 0.40% and over: This level may put you in a coma or cause sudden death because your heart or breathing will suddenly stop.

What is a Moderate Level of Alcohol Consumption?

BAC levels

When it comes to a “safe” level of drinking, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 defines moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.7

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), binge drinking is classified as 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females or 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males on the same occasion (within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.7

Per SAMHSA, binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month is considered heavy alcohol use which increases a person’ risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).7 Low-risk drinking for developing an AUD is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and up to 7 drinks per week for women.7 For men, it is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and up to 14 drinks per week.7

Seeking Help For Alcohol Addiction

All Fields Required
First Name
John
Last Name
Smith
Phone Number
555-555-5555
Email
jsmith@mail.com
Date of Birth
Insurance Carrier
1
Aetna
american addiction centers photo
Membership ID
WXY1030Z01
This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
By submitting this form you agree to the terms of use and privacy policy of the website.
We respect your privacy. We request this information to provide you with detailed coverage of benefits. By sharing your phone number, you agree to receive texts from us – including details about your benefits. Message and data rates may apply. Sharing this information is not a condition of treatment.
*reCAPTCHA has identified you as a robot
Verifying Insurance...
loading
1 Insurance Disclaimer: American Addiction Centers will attempt to verify your health insurance benefits and/or necessary authorizations on your behalf. Please note, this is only a quote of benefits and/or authorization. We cannot guarantee payment or verification eligibility as conveyed by your health insurance provider will be accurate and complete. Payment of benefits are subject to all terms, conditions, limitations, and exclusions of the member’s contract at time of service. Your health insurance company will only pay for services that it determines to be “reasonable and necessary.” American Addiction Centers will make every effort to have all services preauthorized by your health insurance company. If your health insurance company determines that a particular service is not reasonable and necessary, or that a particular service is not covered under your plan, your insurer will deny payment for that service and it will become your responsibility.

Sources:

[1]. MedlinePlus. (2018). Blood Alcohol Level.

[2]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health.

[3]. Dubowski, Kurt. ResearchGate. (2019). Stages of acute alcoholic influence/intoxication blood alcohol concentration grams/100 ml stage of alcoholic influence clinical signs/symptoms.

[4]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Blood Alcohol Concentration.

[5]. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Drunk Driving.

[6]. Loyola University Maryland. (n.d.). Calculate Your Blood Alcohol Level.

[7]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined.

[8]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.