BAC Tests: What Are The Three Types?
09 November, 2023
Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC, is the percentage or amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. BAC tests are a common way to determine if someone has been drinking and, if so, how much. There are three main types in use today: breathalyser, urine test, and blood test. These methods suit various circumstances. For example, a breath test can be performed quickly almost anywhere, while urine and blood tests require more equipment and resources.
Alcohol testers are becoming more common as the need for safety arises. The excessive consumption of alcohol often leads to severe impairment, affecting judgment, perception, reaction time, and motor skills. Thus, a person under the influence of alcohol poses hazards when driving or operating machinery. Determining the blood alcohol level is an efficient way to ensure safety. In this article, we will present the three types of alcohol testing and how they work.
BAC Tests Using a Breathalyser
The first type of testing is the breath test, which is the most common. BAC tests using a breathalyser are convenient, non-invasive, and quick to administer. Primarily, it is a handheld device that measures the BAC through a breath sample. The device uses sensors that react when it comes in contact with alcohol in the breath.
Breathalysers work by generating small currents based on the concentration of alcohol in proportion to the amount in the blood. The output is then converted into a numerical BAC value, which is displayed on the screen. Therefore, alcohol breath tests can easily measure the BAC since alcohol evaporates from the lungs quickly.
Law enforcement uses breathalysers for roadside screening. Similarly, it is common in workplaces to monitor impairment among employees. One advantage of the device is it does not need a licensed professional to use it. There are affordable models that individuals can buy to help manage their alcohol consumption. Thus, it helps prevent drink driving instances.
How to Operate a Breathalyser
- Wait 15 to 20 minutes after eating, drinking, or smoking before using a breathalyser.
- Attach a new mouthpiece to the device.
- Turn the breathalyser on and wait for the sensors to warm up, which takes a few seconds.
- Once ready, take a deep breath and blow steadily into the mouthpiece for at least five seconds. Do not huff or hyperventilate.
- The breathalyser processes the breath sample and displays the BAC results on the screen. The turnaround time of alcohol breath testers is typically 10 to 15 seconds.
- For smartphone breathalysers, the device transmits the BAC results to a mobile app via Bluetooth
BAC Tests Using a Urine Sample
BAC tests using a urine sample are another method of testing for alcohol. A urine test can detect alcohol up to 48 hours from the last intake. The process involves collecting urine specimens and analysing them through a laboratory. Therefore, it requires the assistance of a trained professional or technician to analyse the sample.
Alcohol urine testing in a laboratory can take a longer time to deliver the results. It also necessitates sample collection in a medical facility where there are no chances of contamination. However, it is important to note that there are several factors to consider when using this method. One is the timing of the test. Alcohol usually shows up in urine within an hour of consumption and remains detectable for up to 12 to 24 hours.
To perform a urine test, the individual provides a urine sample in a clean container. Seal the container and hand the specimen to the laboratory technician or collector. The technician will analyse the sample using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to determine the concentration of alcohol.
Advantages of a Urine Analysis
Urine analysis can provide reliable results regarding alcohol consumption. It also has a longer window of detection compared to breath tests. Moreover, it can detect alcohol metabolites, which stay longer in the system. Thus, it is suitable in situations where health professionals need to determine if a person has an alcohol use disorder.
Furthermore, it can be practical for companies who need to test for illegal drugs as well. This method is also relatively inexpensive, and the sample collection is less invasive compared to blood tests. It can be an alternative if a breathalyser is not available.
BAC Tests Using a Blood Sample
Blood alcohol tests provide the most accurate method of measuring BAC. This is because it measures the level of alcohol in the bloodstream, and it does not rely on direct or indirect biomarkers. However, BAC tests using blood samples are intrusive. The process requires a blood draw from the arm using a needle.
It is vital to understand how alcohol works in the body concerning alcohol blood tests. Alcohol enters the blood from the stomach within 15 minutes after ingestion. Then, it peaks in the blood after 45 to 90 minutes after drinking. In addition, blood samples can detect alcohol after a few minutes and up to 6 to 12 hours.
However, the results of alcohol blood tests take longer to obtain due to the complex nature of testing and analysis. Also, blood tests are more expensive compared to other methods. Nevertheless, they can provide comprehensive information about the amounts of alcohol in the blood. It is suitable after an accident, alcohol poisoning, or where a precise result is necessary.
Accuracy of Results of a Blood Testing
Alcohol blood testing has the highest degree of accuracy compared to other methods. It uses GC/MS, which is the gold standard in alcohol and drug testing. It measures the blood alcohol level by the weight or volume of alcohol per unit volume of blood. Furthermore, it can detect low concentrations of alcohol.
It is essential to remember that blood alcohol concentration varies from person to person. The rate of BAC increase depends on the doses of alcohol or the number of standard drinks. Additionally, body weight and individual metabolism play a role in the rate of absorption, digestion, and elimination of alcohol.
BAC tests are a vital tool to determine the level of alcohol in the system. It indicates the level of intoxication or impairment of a person. The most common type is breath testing using a breathalyser. It is a device that measures the breath alcohol concentration, which directly correlates to BAC. The second type is urine testing, which can detect alcohol up to 24 hours after consumption. The last type is alcohol blood testing, which is the most accurate method.
Knowing the BAC is important to help avoid heavy drinking or severe intoxication. This can help individuals prevent exceeding the legal alcohol limits. Thus, they can avoid the legal consequences of drink driving, such as hefty fines or driving license suspension. Moreover, each method has advantages and limitations. It includes their accuracy level and convenience. Therefore, identifying these factors can help utilise the right testing option.