Understanding your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is important for safe alcohol consumption, especially when it comes to driving. In Canada and many other places, the legal alcohol limit for drivers is set at a BAC of 0.08 percent and alcohol impaired driving is strictly enforced.


Why the “How Many Drinks is 0.08” Question Is Not Straightforward

There is no precise answer for determining “how many drinks does it take to get to 0.08 BAC” because every individual and situation is different. The amount of how much alcohol ingested and its effect on a BAC level or reading can vary greatly. Factors like body weight, food eaten, type of alcohol (malt liquor, wine, beer) and the rate of consumption can all affect blood alcohol concentration and impairment.


How Many Drinks to Reach 0.08 BAC?

Considering what can affect BAC, it is impossible to give a universal number of drinks that would equal 0.08 BAC. As a general guideline, it’s estimated that:

  • For men of average size and weight, consuming 4 to 5 standard drinks over two hours can result in a 0.08 limit.
  • For women of average size and weight, consuming 3 to 4 standard drinks over two hours can also result in a 0.08 limit.
  • For men and women who are  below average size and weight, it would take fewer drinks to reach the .08 limit.  Conversely, the heavier a person is, the more drinks it would take to reach the legal limit. 

These are approximations and can vary widely based on the factors described throughout this article.  However, the most important factor is how much a person weighs. 


Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Explained

BAC measures the amount of ethyl alcohol (pure alcohol) present in your bloodstream as a percentage. A BAC of 0.08 means the alcohol percentage calculated is 0.08% of your bloodstream.  Another way of expressing this as stated in the Criminal Code, is that a BAC of .08 means that a person has 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. 


The Standard Drink

One “standard drink” in Canada contains around 13.45 grams of pure alcohol. This is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of beer (approx. 5% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (approx. 12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits / liquor (approx. 40% alcohol content)


Factors Influencing BAC

Body Weight

Individuals with higher body weight or generally a larger body, have a higher volume of blood, which means alcohol is more diluted, leading to a lower BAC compared to individuals with less body weight.


Women often experience higher BAC levels than men after consuming the same number of drinks even if they are the same size and weight. This difference is due to variations in body composition, water content, and alcohol metabolism between genders.

Rate of Alcohol Consumption

Drinking alcohol rapidly will spike your BAC level more quickly than consuming drinks slowly over an extended period.

Food Intake

Having food in your stomach can slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. Eating before or while drinking can influence your BAC, often leading to a slower rise in alcohol levels.


Age and Metabolism

The rate at which a person metabolizes alcohol is determined by genetics and  drinking habits.   For example, experienced social drinkers will usually metabolize alcohol at a faster pace compared  to  non-drinkers.   Most alcoholics process alcohol at an extremely rapid rate compared to social or non-drinkers due to the fact that their liver has become  very efficient over time in terms of metabolizing alcohol.  A person with a more efficient liver will typically process alcohol more quickly, affecting how long alcohol stays in their system, resulting in a lower BAC level.


Physical Effects of a 0.08 BAC

Reaching a BAC of 0.08 is where the body can begin to exhibit clear signs of alcohol impairment. Some effects may include:

Muscle Coordination: This may only be small movement issues, but can progress making it hard to walk or stand straight.

Slurred Speech: Alcohol makes it hard to control speech, causing slurring.

Blurred Vision: Drinking can blur your vision and/or cause “tunnel vision.” This makes it tough to see clearly, judge distances, and limits peripheral vision.

Reaction Time: Alcohol can slow your reaction time making it more difficult to drive safely.

Decision Making: A BAC of 0.08 often leads to lowered inhibitions and impaired judgement.

These impairments significantly increase the risk of accidents and injuries, hence the strict tolerance laws and penalties for exceeding the legal limit. It’s also important to mention that a person with a 0.08 BAC may show signs of severe impairment or minor impairment based on  individual and specific circumstances. For example, someone with a low tolerance for alcohol or who has never consumed alcohol before, might be severely impaired at a BAC of .08.  On the other hand, a social drinker or alcoholic may not show any outward symptoms of impairment at a BAC of .08.


FAQs About Alcohol Consumption and BAC

How can I estimate my BAC?

While online BAC calculators can provide a rough estimate, remember they cannot account for all personal and physiological factors.


Can I still be impaired below 0.08 BAC?

Yes. Even a BAC lower than 0.08 can lead to impaired driving abilities. It’s always best to avoid driving if you have consumed alcohol, no matter the amount of drinks consumed.


What is the ‘warn level’?

The ‘warn level’ refers to a BAC range that falls below the legal limit but still signals potential impairment, typically between 0.05% and 0.079%. Depending on specific circumstances, you may still face legal issues in this range, such as temporary license suspension.  

For example, roadside screening Alcotest devices in Canada are calibrated  to show a “fail” at a BAC of .10 percent.  If a person provides a roadside  screening device breath sample  between .05% and .10  percent, the police will not charge them with blowing over the .08 BAC legal limit, but  they will provide them with a warning and a 3-day administrative licence suspension for a first time offender. 

On the other hand, if they fail the roadside screening  test, the police will arrest them and bring them to the police station for the “real” Intoxilyzer breath tests.  If the results of their Intoxilyzer breath tests are .08 or over, the police  will charge them with blowing over the legal limit under the Criminal Code. However, if the Intoxilyzer breath test results are under .08, , they will not charge them criminally, but suspend their licence for 3 days. 


Additional Resources


What should I do if I’m facing charges for impaired driving?

Contact Kruse Law immediately for a free consultation. Our team can provide the legal assistance and representation you need to face your charges and get you the best possible outcome.


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