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How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System? – Breathalyzer Test Risks

In general, alcohol can be detected for 12 to 24 hours on your breath, depending on the type of test conducted.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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How Does a Breathalyzer Work?

Most breathalyzers use one of the following technologies to detect Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in a person's blood:

  • Semiconductor oxide-based testers - Utilize an ethanol-specific sensor to measure the subject's BAC. Semiconductor sensor technology involves a tin-oxide material for personal, home, and low-volume professional testing.
  • Fuel cell testers - Measure alcohol content by creating a chemical reaction that oxidizes the alcohol in the breath sample and produces an electrical current. The more alcohol that is oxidized, the greater the current.
  • Infrared spectrometry - Used in large, table-top breathalyzers typically found in police stations. These devices work by identifying molecules based on the way they absorb infrared light. The level of ethanol in a sample is singled out and measured, and a subject's alcohol level can then be determined.

Related Article: What is Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)?

How Do You Sober Up to Pass a Breathalyzer?

Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to sober up once alcohol is in the bloodstream. The only way to sober up is to wait for the alcohol to metabolize. However, the body can only process a limited amount of alcohol per hour. Meaning if someone takes four shots of liquor in a row, those drinks enter their bloodstream one at a time.

What Can Throw Off a Breathalyzer?

The following medications and substances have been found to cause false positives for BAC in breath testing:

  • Asthma medications
  • Nyquil and OTC medications with alcohol
  • Anbesol in Oral Gels
  • Mouthwash and Breath Spray
  • Fumes
  • Gastroesophageal Acid Reflux
  • Ketones

Will I Pass a Breathalyzer After 10 Hours?

Breathalyzers can generally test positive for alcohol up to 12 hours after a person consumes one alcoholic beverage. If your BAC is 0.08, it will take about 5 hours to metabolize the alcohol completely before you are sober again.

Related Article: BAC After One Beer?

Does Eating Help Lower BAC?

Eating food, either before or while drinking, slows the absorption rate of alcohol. Slower rates mean that less alcohol enters a person's bloodstream (compared to someone who does not eat while drinking). This reduction of alcohol in the blood translates into reduced levels of blood alcohol concentration.

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