A breath alcohol test determines how much alcohol is in your blood by measuring the amount of alcohol in the air you breathe out (exhale).
Alcohol test - breath
How the test is performed
There are various brands of breath alcohol tests. Each one uses a different method to test the level of alcohol in the breath. The machine may be electronic or manual.
One common manual tester requires you to blow up a balloon in one continuous breath until it is full, then release the air into a glass tube. The tube is filled with bands of yellow crystals. The bands in the tube change colors (from yellow to green), depending on the alcohol content. Carefully read the instructions before using the test to make sure you get an accurate result.
If an electronic alcohol meter is used, follow the instructions that come with the meter.
How to prepare for the test
Wait 15 minutes after drinking an alcoholic beverage and 1 minute after smoking before starting the test.
How the test will feel
There is no discomfort.
Why the test is performed
When you drink alcohol, the amount of alcohol in your blood goes up. This is called your blood-alcohol level.
When the amount of alcohol in the blood reaches 0.02 - 0.03%, you may feel a relaxing "high."
When that percentage reaches 0.05 - 0.10%, you have reduced muscular coordination, a longer reaction time, and impaired judgment.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. A person with an alcohol level of 0.08% and above is considered legally intoxicated (drunk) in most states. (Some states have lower levels than others.)
The alcohol content of exhaled air accurately reflects the alcohol content of the blood.
Review Date: 06/28/2010
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.