Understanding Blood Alcohol

SQ Attorneys Understanding Blood Alcohol

Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration in Washington State DUI Cases

Blood Alcohol Concentration (“BAC“) is the amount of alcohol in a person’s body measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood.  The theory goes that alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and into the small intestine, thereafter it moves its way into the bloodstream, and travels throughout the entire body and ultimately into the brain.  Studies have shown that alcohol quickly absorbs into the body and can be measured within 30 to 70 minutes after a person has had an alcoholic beverage.

In theory the type of alcohol that one drinks does not affect BAC levels.  In other words, a drink is a drink, is a drink.  A “typical” drink equals about one half an ounce of alcohol (.54 ounces, to be exact). This is the approximate amount of alcohol found in one shot of distilled spirits or a five ounce glass of wine. How fast a person’s BAC rises and/or falls varies with a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the number of drinks consumed, how fast the drink is consumed, the gender of the person consuming the drink (for instance, women typically have less water and more body fat per pound of body weight than men. Alcohol does not go into fat cells as easily as other cells, so more alcohol remains in the blood of women.), the weight of the person consuming the beverage, and the food contained in the drinker’s stomach.

SQ Attorneys Understanding Blood AlcoholContrary to popular myth, medications or drugs will not directly change one’s BAC level. However, if someone drinks alcohol while taking certain medications, he may feel – and actually may be – more impaired, which obviously may affect his ability to perform driving-related tasks.  Because of the multitude of factors that affect BAC levels it is very difficult to assess one’s own BAC level or even his own level of “impairment”. Though small amounts of alcohol can affect one’s brain and the ability to drive, people often swear they are “fine” after several drinks; failure to recognize one’s alcohol impairment is often deemed a common symptom of impairment. While the lower stages of alcohol impairment may be undetectable to others, the drinker knows vaguely when the “buzz” begins. It is said that a person will likely be too impaired to drive before looking or even feeling “drunk.” It has been well established over the years that alcohol steadily decreases a person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle safely. The more one drinks, the greater the effect. As with a BAC level, the signs of impairment differ with each individual.  Because of this, every state in our country has made it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher; this is probably intended to limit, to a certain extent, the amount of “guessing” required to determine if someone is impaired by their consumption of alcohol.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, Washington State goes one step further.  In Washington State, drivers can be arrested with a BAC below .08 if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe an individual is driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs; the officer bases his opinion on the driver’s behavior, observed abilities and the “totality of the surrounding circumstances”.

The following chart contains just some of the more common symptoms people “may” exhibit at various BAC levels, and the probable effects on his driving abilities:


Typical Effects

Predictable Effects on Driving


  • Some loss of judgment
  • Relaxation
  • Slight body warmth
  • Altered mood
  • Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target)
  • Decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)


  • Exaggerated behavior
  • May have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes)
  • Impaired judgment
  • Usually good feeling
  • Lowered alertness
  • Release of inhibition
  • Reduced coordination
  • Reduced ability to track moving objects
  • Difficulty steering
  • Reduced response to emergency driving situations


  • Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing)
  • Harder to detect danger
  • Judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired
  • Concentration
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Speed control
  • Reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search)
  • Impaired perception


  • Clear deterioration of reaction time and control
  • Slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking
  • Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately


  • Far less muscle control than normal
  • Vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a
    person has developed a tolerance
    for alcohol)
  • Major loss of balance
  • Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing
  •  Blood Alcohol Concentration. Information in this table shows the BAC level at which the effect usually is first observed, and has been gathered from a variety of sources including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the American Medical Association, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, and www.webMD.com.

Because Washington State DUI laws are so strict, it is advisable that if you plan on drinking, plan on not driving.  You should always:

  • Choose a non-drinking friend as a designated driver, or
  • Ask ahead of time if you can stay over at your host’s house, or
  • Take a taxi (your community may have a Safe Rides program for a free ride home), and

Always wear your safety belt – it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.  With that said, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law.  Don’t despair, we ALL make mistakes; it is how we overcome the mistake that is the real judge of a person.  The best way to handle the issue is to get either a superbly qualified Seattle DUI attorney or a superbly qualified Bellevue DUI attorney to help you through the Western Washington DUI process.

The Seattle Criminal Defense Team of SQ Attorneys, located in Western Washington, is a very skilled and experienced team dedicated to providing effective, aggressive representation for those charged with DUI-related crimes.  The team creates success by not only working with their client to develop a relationship and encourage positive communication, but the team also works with law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney’s office to ensure that all facts and circumstances related to the allegations are considered in creating an the most equitable and fair resolution possible.

If you or a loved one is charged with a DUI in King County, Pierce County, Snohomish  County, Kitsap County, Thurston County or one of the following cities or towns: Algona, Bellevue, Black Diamond, Bonney Lake, Bothell, Burien, Des Moines, Duvall, Edmonds, Enumclaw, Everett, Federal Way, fife, Hunts Point, Issaquah, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, Lake Stevens, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Maple Valley, Marysville, Medina, Mercer Island, Milton, Monroe, Mountlake Terrace, New Castle, Normandy Park, North Bend, Olympia, Puyallup, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, Sea Tac, Seattle, Shoreline, Snohomish, Sumner, Tacoma, Tukwila, University Place, and/or Woodinville, or any other city or town in Western Washington, call The Criminal Defense Team of SQ Attorneys at (206) 441-0900.