Maybe the National Institutes of Health consider a beer, a glass of wine and a shot to be equal, but anyone who has ever done their fair share of dabbling with the three knows that the results aren’t always the same. Timing and how much food you’ve consumed can have just as much of an impact on your buzz as the volume and ABV of the beverage itself, and how all those variables combined will make you feel can be impossible to predict. Yet, how we “feel” is basically the only measure most of us use to determine how drunk we are.
But what if we all took the guessing out of it?
That’s basically what comedian Loryn Powell is doing on her Instagram video series, loosely titled “How Many Drinks to .08.” In her videos, Powell picks one type of beverage, ranging from White Claws to shots of fireball to rosé. She then proceeds to drink them to see how long and how much she needs to consume before she reaches a blood alcohol content of .08, using a BACTrack personal breathalyzer every 15 minutes. Her methods sometimes vary, but her usual method is to consume one serving every 15 minutes, as well. Despite this, her results are largely unpredictable.
“I’ve had a personal breathalyzer for years, and I’ve never used it to see if I can drive –– that’s just, a fine line for me,” Powell says. “I really use it to be like, ‘Okay, I’ve had two glasses of wine, I wonder what this buzz is on paper. What’s the number associated with this buzz?’”
“White Claw is what I started doing it with. People say, ‘I can’t get drunk off hard seltzer,’ or, ‘There’s nothing in White Claw.’ I feel like I can get drunk off White Claw, but let’s really see what that number is.”
For her, it took five White Claws, consumed in 15-minute increments, to hit .08. While her rate of consumption might have been a bit faster than she normally would drink them, it was still proof that getting drunk on hard seltzer is indeed a possibility. “.08 is kind of arbitrary; I just chose .08 because it’s the legal limit,” she explains. “It’s not because I was trying to say that this is how many White Claws I can drink and still drive.”
For a lot of people, though, this is indeed how they measure their alcohol consumption: How many drinks can I have and still drive home? For obvious reasons, this is dangerous. Not only is it possible to harm yourself or others while drunk driving with a lower BAC, but most people have no way of knowing their own BAC in the first place. And as the variety of results in Powell’s videos indicate, most of us wouldn’t even be able to hazard a guess.
In one video, Powell consumes an entire bottle of rosé, and is only at .06 by the time she’s done with it. She then has another two glasses of white wine, and finally, two hours after beginning her experiment, reaches a BAC above .08. She measures her BAC one more time another hour after that, and it’s continued to climb up to .12. In another video, she takes four shots of Fireball in a row, and then watches her BAC increase every 15 minutes: After the first 15, she’s at .02, but an hour after that, she’s at .089. Yet, in another video, she takes five shots of tequila and never reaches .08 at all.
The varying results demonstrate a few different things. First, the body continues to process alcohol for quite some time after you’ve had your last drink — you might think you’re good to drive after waiting an hour when actually, you’re at the height of your drunkenness. Second, how quickly and how well your body handles alcohol can vary on any given day. Your tolerance, your diet and even how much sleep you got the night before can play a role, but there’s no perfect way of assessing your own drunkenness without your own breathalyzer. “It’s so personalized –– my body size, my tolerance, how much I ate, how hydrated I am, all of these things impact how my body only handles alcohol; everyone else is different,” Powell says.
It’s for that latter reason in particular that she recommends everyone get a breathalyzer and try it out themselves. “When someone uses a breathalyzer for the first time, they’re usually shocked,” she says. “They’re like, ‘I’ve had this much to drink, and I feel perfectly fine right now.’ Then they blow, and they realize they’re a .08. Most people just don’t even know what that feels like, and it’s really dangerous. How do you monitor yourself when you’re just going off a feeling?”
A personal breathalyzer is pretty affordable, though you want to be sure to get a reputable one. BACTrack, the brand Powell uses (and, full disclosure, the brand her husband works for), is rated “most reliable” on Amazon, and has keychain versions for $70 or police-grade versions approved by the Department of Transportation for $130. It’s an investment, but it’s way cheaper than the cost of a DUI. It’s ultimately unsafe to drive if you’ve been drinking at all, but being able to monitor your alcohol consumption this way is worthwhile in itself.
Powell has found that tracking her BAC has helped her prevent overdrinking and hangovers, something she wishes she’d been able to do in college. Plus, it just fits in with our current cultural tendency to measure each aspect of our health in a way that’s less about control and more about safety.
“You track your steps, you track your calories, you track your heart rate,” Powell says. “Why wouldn’t you want to track your BAC when you’re drinking?”