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How many drinks will put me over the legal limit?

Posted by John Campanella | Jun 13, 2023 | 0 Comments

When it comes to consuming alcohol and driving, it's important to understand the legal limits to ensure road safety and avoid severe consequences. In California, as in most jurisdictions, there are specific laws that define the maximum allowable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for drivers. This article will delve into the factors affecting BAC, the legal limit in California, and provide useful information on the number of drinks that may put you over the legal limit.

Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol present in a person's bloodstream. It is measured as a percentage, indicating the proportion of alcohol to blood volume. BAC levels rise as alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and fall as it is metabolized by the liver. The higher the BAC, the more impaired a person's cognitive and physical abilities become.

Legal Limit for Alcohol Consumption in California

In California, the legal limit for most drivers is set at 0.08% BAC. This means that operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered illegal. However, for drivers under 21 years of age, commercial drivers, and individuals on probation for DUI offenses, the legal limit is lower.

Factors Affecting BAC

Several factors influence how quickly alcohol affects an individual's BAC. These include:

  • Body Weight and Metabolism: A person's weight and metabolic rate can influence how quickly alcohol is processed and eliminated from the body. Generally, individuals with a higher body weight may be able to handle alcohol better than those with a lower body weight.

  • Gender: Women tend to have a lower water content and higher body fat percentage than men, leading to a slower alcohol metabolism. Consequently, women may reach higher BAC levels after consuming the same amount of alcohol as men.

  • Rate of Consumption: The speed at which alcoholic beverages are consumed plays a significant role in BAC. Rapid consumption can cause BAC to rise quickly, while spacing out drinks over a more extended period allows the body to metabolize alcohol more effectively.

  • Type and Strength of Alcoholic Beverages: Different types of alcoholic beverages contain varying amounts of alcohol. Spirits such as vodka or whiskey have a higher alcohol content compared to beer or wine. Drinking stronger alcoholic beverages can elevate BAC more rapidly.

  • Food Intake: Consuming food while drinking alcohol can slow down the absorption process, reducing the rate at which BAC rises. A person who drinks on an empty stomach is more likely to experience higher BAC levels.

Here's a blood alcohol chart for females:

Number of Drinks Consumed Approximate Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
1 0.02%
2 0.04%
3 0.05%
4 0.07%
5 0.09%
6 0.10%
7 0.12%
8 0.14%
9 0.16%
10 0.18%

Here's a blood alcohol chart for males:

Number of Drinks Consumed Approximate Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
1 0.02%
2 0.04%
3 0.06%
4 0.08%
5 0.10%
6 0.12%
7 0.14%
8 0.16%
9 0.18%
10 0.20%

Please note that these values are approximate and can vary based on individual factors such as body weight, metabolism, and rate of alcohol consumption. It is crucial to remember that exceeding the legal limit (typically 0.08% BAC) can result in legal consequences and impaired driving abilities. Always prioritize responsible alcohol consumption and never drink and drive.

Graph illustrates

graph LR
A[Factors Affecting BAC]
A -->|Body Weight and Metabolism| B
A -->|Rate of Alcohol Consumption| C
A -->|Alcohol Content and Drink Size| D
A -->|Gender| E

This graph illustrates the various factors that can affect blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The factors include body weight and metabolism, the rate of alcohol consumption, the alcohol content and drink size, and gender. Each factor plays a role in determining an individual's BAC after consuming alcohol.

Standard Drink Measurements

To understand how many drinks can put you over the legal limit, it's crucial to be aware of standard drink measurements. Here are some common examples:

  • Beer: A standard drink of beer is typically considered to be 12 ounces (approximately 355 milliliters), containing around 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). However, craft beers or stronger beers may have a higher ABV. 

    • Regular beer: Approximately 4-6% alcohol by volume (ABV)
    • Light beer: Approximately 3-4% ABV
  • Wine: A standard drink of wine is usually 5 ounces (approximately 148 milliliters), with an average ABV of 12%. However, certain wines, such as dessert wines, can have a higher ABV.

    • Table wine: Approximately 9-14% ABV
    • Fortified wines (e.g., sherry, port): Approximately 17-20% ABV
  • Distilled Spirits: A standard drink of distilled spirits, such as vodka, whiskey, or rum, is 1.5 ounces (approximately 44 milliliters). The ABV can range from 35% to 50% or higher, depending on the specific spirit.

    • Vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, etc.: Approximately 40-50% ABV (varies by brand)

Calculating BAC

Determining your BAC precisely requires complex scientific measurements, but there are estimation methods available. One commonly used method is the Widmark Formula, which takes into account factors like body weight, gender, number of drinks consumed, and the time over which they were consumed. Additionally, there are online BAC calculators that can provide an estimate based on your inputs.

Widmark Formula

The Widmark formula is a mathematical equation used to estimate an individual's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) based on factors such as body weight, gender, the number of drinks consumed, and the timeframe over which the drinks were consumed. It provides a rough estimation and is commonly used in forensic toxicology and legal contexts.

The formula is as follows:

BAC = (grams of alcohol / (body weight in grams × distribution factor)) - (elimination rate × time)

  • The grams of alcohol represent the amount of pure alcohol consumed.
  • The body weight is measured in grams.
  • The distribution factor is a constant that takes into account the average alcohol distribution in the body. It is typically estimated as 0.68 for men and 0.55 for women.
  • The elimination rate refers to the rate at which alcohol is metabolized by the body, usually estimated as 0.015 per hour.
  • Time represents the time elapsed since the first drink was consumed.

It's important to note that while the Widmark formula can provide a general estimation of BAC, individual variations in metabolism, tolerance, and other factors can affect alcohol absorption and elimination rates. Therefore, it should be used as a rough guideline rather than an exact measure of BAC.

To ensure accuracy and reliable information regarding your BAC, it is always best to use professional breathalyzer devices or rely on the testing conducted by law enforcement officials. Additionally, it is crucial to prioritize responsible drinking practices and never drink and drive.

Consequences of Driving Over the Legal Limit

Driving over the legal limit can have severe consequences, both legally and personally. Some of the potential consequences include:

  • DUI Charges and Penalties: If caught driving with a BAC above the legal limit, you may face DUI charges. Penalties can include fines, license suspension, mandatory alcohol education programs, probation, and even imprisonment for repeat offenses.

  • License Suspension: A DUI conviction can lead to the suspension or revocation of your driver's license. This can significantly impact your ability to commute and may result in the requirement of an ignition interlock device upon license reinstatement.

  • Insurance Consequences: A DUI conviction can result in increased insurance premiums or the cancellation of your existing policy. Finding affordable insurance coverage may become more challenging.

  • Legal and Financial Costs: Dealing with a DUI case can be financially burdensome. Legal fees, court costs, and other related expenses can quickly accumulate, causing significant financial strain.

Tips for Responsible Drinking

To avoid surpassing the legal limit and ensure the safety of yourself and others, consider the following tips:

  • Consume alcoholic beverages in moderation.
  • Pace your drinking, allowing your body time to metabolize alcohol.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Plan ahead for a designated driver or use alternative transportation methods like taxis or ride-sharing services.
  • Be aware of the alcohol content in the beverages you consume.
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.


Understanding how many drinks can put you over the legal limit is crucial for responsible alcohol consumption. California's legal limit for most drivers is 0.08% BAC. However, individual factors, such as body weight, metabolism, and the rate of consumption, can affect how alcohol impacts your BAC. It's essential to be aware of your own limits and make informed decisions to ensure road safety.


1. Can I estimate my BAC using smartphone apps?

Some smartphone apps provide BAC estimation based on the number of drinks consumed and individual factors. However, these apps may not be as accurate as scientific measurements, so it's advisable to use them as rough guidelines.

2. Are there any exceptions to the 0.08% legal limit in California?

Yes, there are lower legal limits for drivers under 21 years of age, commercial drivers, and individuals on probation for DUI offenses. It's essential to be aware of the specific limits that apply to your situation.

3. How long does it take for alcohol to leave the body?

On average, the body metabolizes alcohol at a rate of about 0.015% to 0.02% BAC per hour. However, this can vary depending on factors like body weight, metabolism, and the amount and type of alcohol consumed.

4. Can I refuse a BAC test if I'm pulled over for suspicion of DUI?

Refusing a BAC test when lawfully requested can lead to immediate license suspension and other legal consequences, as implied consent laws typically apply.

5. Are there any non-alcoholic alternatives that mimic the taste of alcoholic beverages?

Yes, there are various non-alcoholic alternatives available, such as non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits, that aim to replicate the flavors of their alcoholic counterparts without the intoxicating effects.

6. How many drinks in a bottle of wine?

The number of drinks in a bottle of wine can vary depending on factors such as the size of the bottle, the size of the serving, and personal preferences. In general, a standard bottle of wine contains about 750 milliliters (ml) of liquid, which is roughly equivalent to five 5-ounce (148 ml) servings. Therefore, you can typically expect to get approximately five glasses or drinks from a standard bottle of wine. However, keep in mind that individual pouring sizes may differ, and some people may pour larger or smaller servings.

7. How much can you drink and still drive?

To drive safely and legally, it is recommended that you avoid consuming any alcohol before driving. It is safest to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.00% when operating a vehicle. Even small amounts of alcohol can impair your judgment, reaction time, and overall driving abilities, increasing the risk of accidents. It is always better to designate a sober driver or use alternative means of transportation if you plan to consume alcohol.

8: How many drinks is a BAC of 0.08?

The number of drinks required to reach a BAC of 0.08 can vary based on factors such as body weight, metabolism, and alcohol content. As a rough estimate, consuming approximately four to five standard drinks within a span of two hours can result in a BAC of around 0.08% for an average-sized adult.

9. How many drinks is a BAC of 0.08 for a man?

The number of drinks required to reach a BAC of 0.08 for a man can vary based on individual factors. As a general guideline, consuming approximately four to five standard drinks within a span of two hours can result in a BAC of around 0.08% for an average-sized adult man.

10: How many drinks is a BAC of 0.08 for a woman?

The number of drinks required to reach a BAC of 0.08 for a woman can vary based on individual factors. Generally, women tend to have a lower tolerance to alcohol compared to men due to physiological differences. As a rough estimate, consuming approximately three to four standard drinks within a span of two hours can result in a BAC of around 0.08% for an average-sized adult woman.

About the Author

John Campanella

I have been representing people accused of drunk driving since I began practicing in 1995. I am active member of the National College of DUI Defense, a member of California DUI Lawyers Association, I am certified by the National Highway and Traffic Association for the administration of Field Sobriety Tests. I regularly attend DUI continuing education of the Bar, have tried over 35 Jury Trials, hundreds of pretrial motions and over 1000 DMV hearings all relating to DUI cases. I practice in Northern California from Placer and El Dorado Counties throught the Interstate 80 corridor including the following counties: Amador County: Amador City, Ione, Jackson, Plymouth, Sutter Creek. Butte County: Chico, Gridley, Oroville, Paradise. Colusa County: Colusa, Williams. El Dorado County: Placerville, South Lake Tahoe. Placer County: Auburn, Lincoln, Rocklin, Roseville. San Joaquin County: Lodi, Manteca, Stockton, Tracy. Solano County: Fairfield, Rio Vista, Suisun City, Vacaville, Vallejo. Yolo County: Davis, West Sacramento, Woodland. Sacramento County: Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt, Rancho Cordova, Sacramento. Yuba County: Marysville, Wheatland, Yuba City.


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