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What Is the Lethal Blood Alcohol Level?

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Alcohol is a widely used substance, with approximately 219.2 million individuals, older than 11 years of age, reporting that they have engaged in alcohol use during some point of their lives. (1) Alcohol use disorder is a substance use disorder characterized by difficulties controlling alcohol use. During the year of 2019, approximately 14.1 million individuals met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder. (2) In 2021, the number of individuals diagnosed with alcohol use disorder increased to approximately 29.5 million individuals. (3) Chronic alcohol use is linked to various adverse effects. With such a high prevalence rate, many individuals may not be aware of the dangers associated with alcohol use. Depending on how much alcohol an individual consumes, they may exceed the lethal blood alcohol level, leading to an overdose.

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How Is Blood Alcohol Level Concentration (BAC) Determined?

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures the amount of alcohol in an individual’s blood stream. (4) It is measured as a percentage, and calculated in grams for every 100 mL of blood. (5) BAC can be measured with a breathalyzer.

Below are the effects experienced at different BAC levels: (6)

  • .02-.04%: Lightheadedness – Individuals may experience temporary relaxation, feelings of warmth, and minor impairments in judgment.
  • .05-.07%: Buzzed – Individuals may experience temporary euphoria, more extreme emotions, lower inhibitions, and a slight impairment in memory and reasoning.
  • .08-.10%: Legally impaired – Individuals may experience impairments in speech, vision, balance, hearing, reaction times, and self-control.
  • .11-.15%: Drunk – Individuals may experience depressive symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and uneasiness. Gross motor skills, judgment, and perception are extremely impaired at this point.
  • .16-.19%: Very drunk – Individuals may experience nausea, disorientation, dizziness, depression, and blurry vision. Motor skills and judgment are further impaired.
  • .20-.24%: Dazed and confused – Individuals may experience difficulties being oriented to time and place, and they may need assistance in order to stand or walk. Additionally, at this BAC level, individuals may be unaffected by pain, and they may experience a blackout.
  • .25-.30%: Stupor – Individuals may experience severe impairments mentally and physically, comprehension problems, and passing out is likely.
  • .31%: Coma – Individuals reaching this BAC may experience coma, alcohol poisoning, and premature death.

Those who engage in regular alcohol use may wonder, what is the lethal blood alcohol level? Research focusing on 175 fatalities due to acute alcohol intoxication found that the average BAC level was .35%. (7)

BAC Levels in Standard Alcoholic Drinks

In general, an individual is able to process approximately one standard drink per hour. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a standard drink as 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. (8)

Below includes BAC levels in standard alcoholic drinks: (9)

  • 12 fl ounces of regular beer – 5% alcohol
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor – 7% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine – 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor or one shot – 40% alcohol

What Factors Affect Blood Alcohol Concentration?

In addition to how much alcohol an individual consumes, there are other factors that can impact an individual’s BAC.

Factors that affect an individual’s BAC levels include: (10)

  • Genetics
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Drinking patterns
  • How much food is in their system

The Role of Tolerance in Determining Lethal BAC

Those who engage in daily or chronic alcohol use can develop tolerance. Tolerance can develop over time, leading to an individual feeling less drunk, and having fewer symptoms associated with intoxication. Once an individual develops tolerance, they may need to ingest greater amounts of alcohol in order to reach the desired effect.

Some individuals may have the misconception that having a “high tolerance” for alcohol can change an individual’s BAC levels. Interestingly, tolerance does not impact BAC levels. (11) An individual with a high tolerance may feel less drunk, however, their BAC levels would be just as high as an individual who has not yet developed a tolerance.

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Alcohol Poisoning & Its Relationship to BAC

Alcohol poisoning, also known as alcohol intoxication or an overdose, is a dangerous condition that can have serious consequences. Alcohol poisoning occurs when an individual consumes too much alcohol in a short period of time. Alcohol poisoning can also occur if an individual consumes a household product containing alcohol, which is more common in children.

If you suspect that you or someone you know are experiencing alcohol poisoning, it is important to seek immediate emergency medical care.

Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose

Being able to identify the symptoms associated with an alcohol overdose can help determine the necessary next steps.

Symptoms of an alcohol overdose include: (12)

  • Vomiting
  • Pale, blue, or ashy skin
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Irregular breathing, specifically fewer than 8 breaths per minute
  • Mental confusion
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness or trouble staying awake

Approximately 140,000 individuals die every year due to alcohol use and alcohol-related overdoses. (13)

Long-Term Health Consequences of Chronic High BAC

High alcohol levels can have long-term health consequences. Alcohol can cause damaging effects to the brain and other important organs in the body. Alcohol has been linked to over 200 diseases. (14)

Long-term health effects due to chronically high BAC levels include: (15)

  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Damage to the heart muscle
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Impairments in the immune system
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Mental health disorders
  • Certain cancers

Risks & Dangers of Exceeding the Lethal Blood Alcohol Level

Exceeding the lethal blood alcohol level can lead to adverse side effects. Those exceeding the lethal blood alcohol level risk experiencing blackouts and alcohol poisoning. The CDC recommends drinking in moderation and limiting alcohol intake to 2 drinks for men and 1 drink or less for women. (16)

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If you suspect that you, or someone you love, are finding it difficult to control alcohol use, alcohol use disorder may be at play. Offering addiction therapy and alcohol specific detoxification services, we are dedicated to helping each individual develop adaptive coping techniques that can be utilized throughout their recovery journey. Contact us today to speak with one of our Treatment Advisors who will guide you through our easy and simple admissions process. We can provide you with a free, and complimentary, initial assessment to help determine which of our treatment options is best for your treatment needs. Additionally, a free, no obligation insurance benefits check can be provided upon your request. Start your road to recovery today at Guardian Recovery.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/NIAAA_Alcohol_FactsandStats_102020_0.pdf
  3. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics
  4. https://www.utoledo.edu/studentaffairs/counseling/selfhelp/substanceuse/bac.html
  5. https://www.utoledo.edu/studentaffairs/counseling/selfhelp/substanceuse/bac.html
  6. https://www.utoledo.edu/studentaffairs/counseling/selfhelp/substanceuse/bac.html
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2348761/
  8. https://alcohol.org/health-effects/blood-alcohol-concentration/
  9. https://alcohol.org/health-effects/blood-alcohol-concentration/
  10. https://alcohol.org/health-effects/blood-alcohol-concentration/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2912088/
  12. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/how-much-alcohol-can-kill-you
  13. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305062
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305062
  15. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305062
  16. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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