How Long Does Alcohol Stay on Your Breath?

Earlier this year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that refusing a breathalyzer test can no longer be used against you in court if you’re suspected of driving under the influence.

The ruling means police officers and prosecutors will have to rely on other evidence (dashboard video, blood tests, field sobriety tests, etc.) to prosecute cases for driving under the influence (DUI).

So if a police officer asks you to take a breathalyzer test, should you agree?

The tests themselves are unreliable for a host of reasons. These include operator error and the fact that each person is different when it comes to how long alcohol stays on the breath. So there is really nothing to gain by taking a breathalyzer test.

The penalties for a DUI in Georgia are among the toughest in the nation, so it’s in your best interest to make the right decision after being pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay on Your Breath?

The somewhat “sweet” smell of alcohol on your breath occurs when you drink more than your liver is ready to process. Once alcohol enters your body, it’s in your bloodstream in just 30 seconds.

The bloodstream moves the alcohol throughout your body, and the smell of it on your breath originates from your lungs. As the blood circulates, some of the alcohol will actually be trapped by small air sacs in the lungs.

As for how long alcohol stays in your system, keep in mind that the burn-off rate for alcohol is about 0.015 grams per hour. Using that rate, if someone had a 0.16 breath alcohol content (BAC), it would take roughly 10 hours for the alcohol to metabolize out of the body.

How Long Does One Beer Stay on Your Breath?

On average, there are about 14 grams of alcohol in a standard drink, including one beer. This increases the BAC of an average person to 0.02.

Assuming you drink no other alcoholic beverages, your BAC should be nearly zero about one hour later.

The problem comes when you have more than one drink within that hour. For example, three or four drinks will cause the average person’s BAC to read 0.08, which could take about five hours to reach zero.

Drinking that much just before you go to bed could mean that you’d still have a high BAC when you wake up in the morning – a real problem if you need to drive to work.

How Long Can a Breathalyzer Detect Alcohol?

As soon as 15 minutes from your first drink, a breathalyzer device should be able to detect alcohol. Assuming the police officer is using the device correctly, the detection of alcohol should be possible as long as alcohol remains in your system.

It’s important to note that about 10 percent of the alcohol will leave your body through your sweat, urine, and breath. The other 90 percent will be metabolized into the body.

With our burn rate formula of 0.015 in mind, every hour you wait means your BAC will go down by 0.015. So, if your BAC is 0.030, a breathalyzer device should no longer detect alcohol in your system after two hours.

Keep in mind, though, that things like body temperature, acid reflux, medications, and other variables can prevent a breathalyzer device from getting an accurate reading.

How Do I Get Rid of Alcohol Breath for a Breathalyzer?

Hydration with non-alcoholic drinks is your best option for reducing the strength of alcohol on your breath. Drinking water weakens the amount of alcohol and buys a bit more time for it to be metabolized in your body.

Other suggestions include:

  • Sipping your drinks rather than gulping them down
  • Having no more than one drink per hour
  • Avoid taking part in drinking games
  • Stay active
  • Stick with standard drink sizes, so that you’re better able to keep track of your alcohol consumption (12 ounces for beer, five ounces for wine, and 1.5 ounces for spirits).

It also helps to eat while you’re consuming alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea. Consuming food while drinking will slow the process of alcohol absorption into your bloodstream.

The Bottom Line

Because refusing to take a breathalyzer test in Georgia cannot be used against you in court, there’s really no good reason to take one.

Instead, if you’re pulled over for suspicion of DUI in Georgia, remain calm and be polite to the police officer. In addition to refusing a breathalyzer test, you should also say “no” to field sobriety testing.

If you are charged, say as little as possible, and call a DUI attorney, who can begin work on your defense.