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Blood Alcohol

How It Feels

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.


There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be used several times a day to treat this.
  • Ongoing bleeding can be a problem for people with bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your doctor before your blood sample is taken.


A blood alcohol test measures the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in your body. Some states have no set limit for legal intoxication. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that all states set the legal definition of intoxication as the point when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds 0.08 (which is equivalent to 80 mg/dL or 17 mmol/L).

Blood alcohol

No alcohol is found in the blood.


Any alcohol is found in the blood.

Legal intoxication is defined as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or greater. But the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for people under age 18 may be lower, such as 0.02.

Effects of drinking alcohol

Having any amount of alcohol in the blood can cause poor judgment and slowed reflexes. BAC and the effects of drinking alcohol vary from person to person and depend upon body weight, the amount of food eaten while drinking, and each person's ability to tolerate alcohol.

Effects of drinking alcohol
Estimated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) Observable effects


Relaxation, slight body warmth


Sedation, slowed reaction time


Slurred speech, poor coordination, slowed thinking


Trouble walking, double vision, nausea, vomiting


May pass out, tremors, memory loss, cool body temperature


Trouble breathing, coma, possible death

0.50 and greater


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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