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How many drinks will put me over the legal limit?

There is no real way to answer the question of how many drinks will put you over the limit because there are too many variables when it comes to alcohol's impact on the body. Different people can absorb alcohol at different rates and different drinks can have a wide range of alcohol.

In general, one average drink will not put a driver over the limit of .08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Two regular drinks can be enough to put someone over the limit if the person weighs less than 120 pounds. Larger servings, higher rates of alcohol, and other factors can increase the driver's BAC even if the individual is counting their drinks.   

If you were stopped by the police and accused of drunk driving after having only a couple of drinks, you may be able to challenge the chemical breath or blood tests in your case. Contact the experienced California DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

Estimating Blood Alcohol Levels

The following charts are based on the California DMV BAC charts and provide an estimate for the driver's BAC based on the number of drinks, weight, and sex. For example, a 220-pound male may be over the limit after 3 drinks. A 160-pound female may be over the limit after 2 drinks. However, this is only an estimate and the actual BAC can vary widely based on a number of factors.

Male Blood Alcohol Chart

Female Blood Alcohol Chart

Factors Affecting BAC

Factors that can affect an individual's BAC include:

  • Sex
  • Weight
  • Drink's alcohol level
  • Drink size
  • Food intake
  • Water/liquid intake
  • Weather
  • Medical conditions
  • Medication 
  • Time

Some of the reasons why men and women generally have different BAC rates is based on proportions of fat, stomach enzymes, and hormone levels.

Alcoholic Drinks are Different

When counting drinks to estimate BAC, it is important to understand how different the amount of alcohol can be based on the drink. According to the charts, one drink is equal to .06 ounces of 100% alcohol. This includes:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor;
  • 12 ounces of a 5% beer; or
  • 5 ounces of a 12% wine.

When people are out with friends or having drinks with dinner, it can be difficult to estimate drinks. Sharing a bottle of wine makes it hard to know how many drinks each person had, especially when the drinks keep getting topped off. Going to a brewery and sampling a number of beers may be deceptive as the small tasting glasses could be 4 to 6 ounces and some craft beers or barley wines can be 10% or higher.

Counting Beer

A bottle of domestic beer would be around .06 ounces of 100% alcohol. However, a pint of craft beer at 7% alcohol would be about 1.12 ounces of alcohol, as much as almost 2 drinks according to the chart.

Counting Wine

The chart considers a glass of wine as 12% alcohol and 5 ounces. However, some restaurants pour 6-ounce glasses and some wines can have an alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage of 14.5% or more, which would count as almost 1 ½ drinks.

Counting Liquor

Liquor drinks can vary a lot based on the type of drink, bartender, and specific alcohol used. Liquor strength generally ranges from 35% to 50%. One shot of 40% liquor is one drink. However, cocktails can have much higher amounts of alcohol compared to a standard “drink,” especially if the bartender makes the drink stiff.

A Long Island Iced Tea may have 4 times the amount of alcohol as a regular drink. That means one “drink” could be enough to put most people over the legal limit.

Blood Alcohol Level and Feeling Sober

Under California law, you can be convicted of a DUI for having a BAC of 0.08% or higher. This is known as a per se DUI. It is not based on how drunk the driver feels or if the driver feels impaired in any way. It is against the law to drive with a BAC over the limit regardless of how sober the driver acts or feels. Time is a major factor in how alcohol affects a person's ability to drive. As time passes, the effects of the alcohol will diminish.  However, how you feel is not always a good test for determining whether you are over .08% or not. If you have any doubts, don't drive.  

Challenging Chemical Tests in a DUI

Drivers may not feel like they had too much to drink but the chemical tests show they are over the limit. These tests are not always accurate. If the police did not follow protocol, the machine is not calibrated, or the sample was mishandled, the inaccurate chemical test can be challenged in court.

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 35 years of DUI experience and understands how inaccurate field sobriety tests can be. Contact California DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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