The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The World of Iniquus - Action Adventure Romance

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blood Alcohol Levels - Info for Your Inner Writerly Geek



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Just how drunk is your character?

Because it's fun to play with numbers.

Widmark Formula -

(alcohol consumed in ounces X percentage of alcohol) x 5.14   =   BAC (blood alcohol)
                            (lbs the person weighs x .73 for men OR .66 for women)

The difference between the male and female numbers is because males and females have different amounts of water in their systems.

Beer .06
Wine .12
Liquor % alcohol is 1/2 the proof ex 80 proof is 40% or .40

* This assumes that your character did all of the drinking at once.
* If your character was drinking over time - here's the formula:

1. Estimate the hours that the character was drinking.
2. Multiply the number of hours by .015
3. Subtract this number from your BAC that you calculated using the above formula.  

So let's try this out. 
Your heroine, 110lbs of spit fire, drank 5 shots of 80 proof over 4 hours. Can she reasonably aim her 9mm at the bad guy?

Let's say the shots are 1.5 oz

1.5 (ounces of vodka) X 5(shots) = 7.5 ounces

7.5 (ounces of alcohol) X .4 (percentage of alcohol) X 5.14 =  15.42 =  .21  
110 (how much she weighs) x.66 (she's a woman)                    72.6

Your heroine is in bad shape. An illegal level of alcohol is typically .08
Did you really write 5 shots into your plot???

But remember, she's spaced this out over 4 hours. Let's see if that helps.
1. estimated hours = 4
2. multiply by .015  4 x .015 = .06
3. subtract this from your BAC from the above calculation   .21 - .06 = .15

Okay she's still almost twice the legal drinking number. Hopefully you wrote a good Samaritan into your plot to grab that chick's keys.

She is stumbling, incoherent, maybe puking and wetting herself - she's not a pretty picture. 

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This formula can also help you figure out how long it would take for your character to sober up and get their blood alcohol level down.

Do you need to get your character drunk faster?

* Alcohol absorption is greater on an empty stomach and these
   calculations assume that your character wasn't eating. 
* Carbonation will increase speed of absorption - but also, often 
   slows down the drinking process.

Other factors not compensated for with the Widmark Calculation:

* Sleep deprivation

* Dehydration

* Low muscle mass ratio

* Medications 

* Individual physiology and psychology 

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Here's how your character might feel:
The following was listed on Yale College Site LINK

Today: slight buzz. a bit more relaxed, warmer, less inhibited.

Tomorrow: hangover free. 

Today: buzzed/tipsy some stimulant effects (euphoria and increased energy); slight decrease in inhibitions, judgment, and coordination; possible mood changes.

Tomorrow: no hangover 

Today: Drunk. noticeably losing coordination, inhibitions, and judgment; starting to feel some depressant effects like drowsiness and lowered alertness.

Tomorrow: hangover possible. Some chance of a hangover; hydrating between drinks will help. Likely a little slow getting things done in the a.m.

Today: very drunk. Loss of coordination, inhibitions, judgment; some depressant effects: drowsiness, lowered alertness, loss of coordination. Slurred speech and chance of nausea.

Tomorrow: hangover likely. Decreased REM sleep overnight = a bit tired and less productive. Hydration between drinks (not right before bed) will help.

Today: very drunk. Depressant effects in full force: drowsiness, lowered alertness, loss of coordination and judgment. Nausea and vomiting somewhat likely.

Tomorrow: serious hangover. Probably sick and headachy. No REM sleep at all = not very sharp; studying will be a struggle. Hydration between drinks (not right before bed) will help

Today: extremely drunk. Difficult to walk or even stay awake. Significant nausea/vomiting; sleeping on back could lead to choking on vomit and suffocating. Speech is a struggle; blackout likely.

Tomorrow: hangover agony. Debilitating headache/nausea and fervent regret almost certain. Productivity of any sort unlikely until mid-afternoon.

Today: critical state. Probably unconscious; well past vomiting and blacking out. A chance of death if medical attention does not arrive.

Tomorrow: bigger problems. A debilitating hangover is only the start. Details will depend on time of hospital release.

Today: comatose. Already thrown up, blacked out, passed out. Significant chance of death if medical help doesn’t arrive promptly.

Tomorrow: hopefully. In the event of survival, hangover or not will depend on the amount and type of anesthesia administered in the hospital.

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  1. Great post! One thing I never thought of, until I mentioned to my sister after reading about a person arrested with a .2 (some high number). The field tests weren't bad. It seemed odd that the person didn't seem worse. My sister explained they were probably a functioning alcoholic. What would normally plaster us, doesn't phase them anymore. I would love to know more about this. And apparently there is a medication that medics can give someone who is high (maybe drunk - I can't remember) to, I guess, sober them up. If I understand right, it's not a pretty thing.

    You may have already covered this, I didn't look before typing. This post just triggered ideas galore.


  2. Hi Diane. I'm Jay, a paramedic that Fiona interviewed a while back. The second part of your comment is easier to address first.

    There is a drug called Narcan (Naloxone Hydrochloride) that can be used to reverse opiates - prescription or otherwise. It's in a class of drugs called Opiod Antagonists - this means it competes for the same receptor sites that drugs like heroin, morphine and oxycontin want to use. The Narcan forces the narcotics out of the receptor sites and immediately reverses their effects.

    Opiates will generally depress the respiratory system first so when a patient overdoses on heroin, they go into respiratory failure which the narcan will reverse. It also causes instantaneous detox for the patient which can cause projectile vomiting if the narcan is pushed too fast (it's an IV-Push drug). Paramedics will generally push the drug slowly and give just enough to reverse the respiratory depression in their patient. Forcing all of the opiates out of their patient's system can be dangerous for the patient and usually creates a very angry person that is now mad at the medic for ruining their high. And no medic wants projectile vomiting to be occurring in their truck while en route to the hospital.

    There is no reversal agent for alcohol at all. Alcohol must be broken down and eliminated by the body.

    "Functioning Alcoholics" are just as drunk as you or I are at a 0.20 BAC. The difference is, they are used to the effects and can counter them or adjust for them more easily. The best analogy I can give is if you have a person who lost one leg ten years ago, and ask them to perform balance skill tests, they would perform much better than someone who lost their leg six months ago and was asked to perform the same tests. Both people have the same number of legs, but one is more adept at adjusting for the loss.

    If you're no stranger to getting tipsy or drunk, you might also think of it like this: You're sitting down for a while and decide to get up to go to the bathroom. You stand up and the first few steps cause you to wobble and almost fall over. By the time you get back from the bathroom, you are walking much better than when you left. You haven't sobered up at all in the last five minutes, your body has figured out how to adapt your drunkenness to the task you are trying to perform.

    The main thing to remember with functioning alcoholics is that they are just impaired at a 0.08 BAC as you are at the same level. They won't act like it and most people wouldn't even think they were drunk at a 0.15 BAC, but they are. Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) don't test reflexes or complex cognitive abilities. They test divided attention abilities and gross motor skills. They may be able to stay within the lines when they are driving whereas you wouldn't be able to under the same circumstances, but throw any scenario at them where they need to make a split-second decision and react to a dangerous situation, and they won't be able to do it.

    If I haven't answered your questions well enough, let me know and I'll see what I can do to explain things better.

    Happy Reading,
    Jay Korza

    1. Just a bit of clarification on Narcan. The effects of narcan are short lived. They last less than an hour and the opiates are allowed to rebond to the receptor sites. Opiates basically outlive the narcan. That is why in overdose cases where large doses are taken, we use narcan infusions. Just so you know, I have worked in critical care for over 25 years.

  3. Jay,
    Thank you so much!

    Jay has helped write several articles for ThrillWriting. His blog at has some marvelous stuff. If you lose the addy, you can find it in "Blogs I follow" on the right hand side of my articles. You can also find his books listed there.
    Here are the links to his articles:


  4. Thank you, Jay! That's great information! Your explanations made perfect sense. A "functioning alcoholic" would always have a BAC reading since (I'm going off of distant relatives here) because they drink from the time they get up until they go to bed. I visited an aunt I rarely see many years ago. Meeting them at their house, they seemed fine. They had some drinks in the evening. The next morning, they were offering alcohol when I first woke. (Personally, I'm a wimpy drinker, two beers and my teeth are numb). But they drank all day (unfortunately, all that drinking has caused horrible health issues). Yet, no slurring, no stumbling. How do they avoid hangovers?

    I assumed it would be like someone who takes too many painkillers. The drug is still in the system, they need more to feel it than someone who doesn't abuse the drug.

    Okay, I'm not sure I'm making sense :) sorry. I was excited and just thought of a subplot involving someone who says they don't drink anymore but who winds up getting arrested with an unusually high BAC level, even though the person would be moving around "fine" in the eyes of other characters.

    If someone drinks all day, what would be a typical BAC level if they are pulled over around 2 in the afternoon? (I'm not sure how to do the math on someone who drinks all day) I would like the level to be quite high, so it's obvious he never stopped drinking. And I want the number to be staggering enough to really draw small town talk.

    Thank you Jay! I appreciate you taking the time to fill me in.

    1. Hey there,

      I'm glad to help you plug the numbers in. Here's what I need to know:
      male or female
      type of alcohol
      what is drinking all day look like? How many hours? How many drinks per hour?

      Glad you're finding this helpful.


    2. Hey Diane - this is from Jay (who had some technical difficulties)

      For an alcoholic, there really isn't a formula for what their BAC will be. They don't drink in the same way or for the same reason that say your average college partier drinks.

      In medicine, we have a term - titrate to effect. This means that with some medications we have a dosage range that we can use on a patient but we aren't sure of exactly what dosage is going to give us the desired effect for what's going on. So we hang a certain amount of the drug and start out at a low drip rate on their IV. We then slowly increase the drip rate thereby increasing the amount of the infusing drug. We do this until the patient exhibits the desired effect.

      This is what an alcoholic does to themselves on a daily basis throughout the entire day. They titrate the amount of alcohol they drink until their body "feels right" to them. This could be a 0.20 or a 0.30 BAC. Their daily BAC is going to be personal to them. An alcoholic isn't drinking to get drunk, at least not in the sense of how you and I would use the term. I'm sure there is a scientific paper somewhere that says what the average BAC of alcoholics is, but I'm unaware of what it is.

      When an alcoholic wants to get "drunk", their BACs can easily reach 0.40 or above and they can remain conscious at that level.

      An appalling level for a non-alcoholic would be 0.20 or above. This is probably the average range at which normal people begin to pass out. Though I'm sure most partying college kids are hitting this level on a weekly basis.

      Jay Korza

  5. Love your posts! So much good info. Thanks!!!

  6. Sometimes, I enjoy figuring out this kind of stuff on my own. You know, instead of writing. But right now I'm looking at all the math and going, this is a page I should bookmark.

  7. Yep... Some of my characters should have switched to water...

  8. This is really, really interesting. I have a character who has been a functioning alcoholic for several years but who recently managed to get herself on the wagon. However, through the course of the novel she'll be dealing with some difficult stuff and will, unfortunately, have to have a drink.

    I wonder how quickly the body/person adjusts to their new sobriety so that what would have once been an easy level of alcohol to adjust to is now leading them to have difficulty walking/talking etc. Does anybody know? (Am I making any sense? haha). Anyway, this post is great! Definitely shall be bookmarking it for future use. :)

  9. Great question. Lots of variables in there. How long has she been an alcoholic? How is her body (liver) doing? But let me do some asking around...