I didn’t know that yesterday… BAC

April 14, 2007

While I’m on a alcohol binge [oh, what a HORRIBLE pun], let me do a let Dave-McClung-ing and solve a real world problem:

Is 1 mL of pure alcohol [eg pure ethanol] enough to get someone drunk?

The preliminary answer: no. It just wouldn’t make any sense. 1 mL of blood is such a small amount, and there’s so much blood in a person.

Process to finding answer: Okay, first I had to look some things up.

I knew a little bit about proof, but I just wanted to make sure. The proof system, in the US, is based on twice the percent ethanol in a drink. Vodka, one of the highest proof drinks, is only 80 proof [ie 40% alcohol]. So that’s not even close to the ideal 100% ethanol blend that I’m looking for.

Next, I want to know a little about what the highest proof drink is: do they make 200 proof drinks? In fact, they do! Neutral grain spirits come in proofs ranging from 190 to 200. So, that’s the drink I’m looking for [if I were an experimentalist, but fortunately, I’m much more of a theorist!]

Okay, so all that preliminary stuff isn’t really necessary. But it’s pretty interesting to know, nonetheless. Like the name “proof” came from an old way of testing the water content of an alcohol: if you put it on gunpowder and the gunpowder didn’t burn, you had some crappy alcohol!

Now to the real science [okay, it’s just dimensional analysis, but I haven’t done any of that since last semester! I miss it!]

Some important numbers: the average person has 5 liters of blood in their body; the density of ethanol is 0.789 g / mL; Blood alcohol content [BAC] in the US is calculated as grams of ethanol per deciliter of blood. That’s all we need! Let the math begin:

.789 g / mL * 1 mL ethanol = .789 g ethanol

5 L blood * 100 dL / L = 500 dL blood

BAC = 0.789 g / 500 dL = 0.001578

Well, that’s not even impressive! The effects of alcohol don’t really become apparent until a BAC of 0.02.

So, there you have it. 1 mL of pure ethanol will NOT make you drunk.

But it would probably burn the SHIT out of your throat. So I wouldn’t advise it anyway.

And on an alcohol related topic: hang overs result from acetaldehyde, the first product of ethanol metabolism. Acetaldehyde is toxic. So, in other words, alcohol poisoning is a misnomer: acetaldehyde isn’t an alcohol, it’s an aldehyde!

Phew. That was too much fun. I should do this more often!


4 Responses to “I didn’t know that yesterday… BAC”

  1. Dave in the West said

    Appreciate the props, and the chance to see some quantitative analysis.

    While 1mL may not affect you that much, seems like 10mL would fuck you up a little, lol.

  2. Ed A. said


    10 mL isn’t that much, really.

    And if you think about it, by DaveD’s numbers that’d only be a BAC of .15… which isn’t much.

    And when you think about it… a shot is 1 to 1.5 oz. 1.5 oz is roughtly 44 mL.

    So 10 mL is a fourth of a shot. Not very much, even if it was some 200 proof stuff.

    But that’s only from a “getting drunk” standpoint. I imagine that there’s other bad things to drinking pure ethanol.

  3. Dave in the West said

    Well, let’s just put it this way… its more than I would like to drink.

  4. Brett said

    Hey, you forgot the part where you say “Thanks to Brett for bringing up the question of whether 1 ml of pure ethanol can get you drunk or not”. Just kidding.

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