Can I Overload a Breathalyzer?

Most of us, if we are concerned at all about alcohol blood levels, are concerned about how much we can drink and still drive. But there are levels of drunkenness that go far beyond legal impairment. Thankfully, most of us don’t venture into those regions, but they do exist.

BAC-Danger-ChartThere is a point at which alcohol is a lethal poison. Apparently one can consume more alcohol than even a breathalyzer manufacturer imagined was possible.

Recently police in Longmont, Colorado picked up a woman for DUI. She admitted to drinking a liter of rum and some vodka. If that admission could not be considered enough of a fail, she proceeded to flunk two tests. First, when asked to recite the alphabet backwards (an optional part of a field sobriety test) she said “W, Q, X, O.”

Then she was given a breathalyzer test. Her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was so high that the device flashed an error message. She actually overloaded the device.

As it turns out, her level was 4.4, more than five times the legal limit for drunkenness. And a pretty astonishing amount.

In fact, 4.4 is solidly within the “life threatening” range. The symptoms at this level are (or should have been, for the woman) difficulty remaining conscious, vomiting, seizures, and a slow heart rate. Her body temperature would have fallen, and her skin would have been cold and clammy. She should have likely gone into a coma, and died from respiratory arrest.

She didn’t, however. For whatever reason, she survived, was checked and cleared by medical personnel, and taken to jail. Many people with less alcohol in their systems have not been so lucky.

You are probably too sensible to drink a liter of rum at one go, much less with a vodka chaser. Most people are. But it pays to know what the danger levels are. If you encounter someone else who has drunk that much, get him or her to a hospital right away.

So yes, you can overload a breathalyzer. And you can overload your system too. Both are incredibly bad ideas.