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What a blood alcohol concentration really is and why it matters

When you're stopped by police, you might be asked to take a breath test. This test measures your blood alcohol concentration. Why do they want that test? To prove that you've been drinking and driving over the legal limit.

What is your blood alcohol concentration?

Your blood alcohol concentration is the amount of alcohol (or ethanol) in your blood. When you drink alcohol, it's quickly absorbed into the blood stream. It takes only minutes to measure the amount of alcohol in someone's blood after his or her first drink. The alcohol level reaches its peak approximately an hour after your last drink, and then it begins to break down. Around 90 percent of all alcohol is broken down in the liver, while the rest is exhaled or passed through the urine.

What effects do alcohol cause?

Alcohol itself depresses the central nervous system. That can calm you and feels similar to a sedative. Typically, it takes large amounts of alcohol for the sedative effect to be severe. When you drive, you may feel distracted or take risks you wouldn't normally take.

Why are blood alcohol tests performed?

Blood alcohol tests are performed to determine how much alcohol you have in your blood when driving, if you've been stopped for reckless driving. If the officer believes you may be driving drunk, he or she may request that you take a Breathalyzer test to determine your blood alcohol concentration. If you have been injured or head to the hospital, you may have a blood test to determine your blood alcohol concentration instead of a breath test.

If your test comes back positive, that doesn't mean you can't defend yourself. Even positive tests can be false, and you have a right to stand up for yourself.

Source: WebMD, "Blood Alcohol," accessed Feb. 19, 2017

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