Alcohol Blood Tests vs Breathalyzers
When considering the procurement of various testing methodologies for testing a person's blood alcohol level
(BAC), a number of Human Resource directors in different companies and organizations want information about alcohol
blood tests vs breathalyzers.
Alcohol blood tests directly measure BAC and are the most accurate method for testing a person's blood
Breath alcohol tests such as breathalyzer tests, on the other hand, estimate blood alcohol concentration or
content indirectly by measuring the amount of alcohol in one's breath.
The Use of Breathalyzers to Estimate a Person's BAC
A breathalyzer is a breath alcohol test device that is used for estimating a person's blood alcohol content
(BAC) from a breath sample.
In the United States, the Alcosensor, Datamaster, Alcotest Intoxilyzer, and the Intoximeter are most common
breathalyzer brand names currently in use.
Breathalyzers can detect and measure current alcohol levels.
The person blows into a breathalyzer and the results are given as a number, known as the Blood Alcohol
Concentration (BAC) which shows the level of alcohol in the blood at the time the test was taken.
Since 2002, it has been illegal in all 50 U.S. states to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is
.08% or higher.
Breathalyzers do not directly measure blood alcohol concentration or content. Measuring blood alcohol content
(BAC) requires the analysis of a blood sample.
Breathalyzers, rather, estimate blood alcohol concentration or content indirectly by measuring the amount of
alcohol in one's breath.
Some Disconcerting Issues With Breathalyzers
A major issue with some breath alcohol tests such as breathalyzers is that they not only detect the ethyl
alcohol found in alcohol beverages, but also in other substances that have a similar molecular structure.
Stated differently, the "problem" breathalyzers identify any compound containing the methyl group molecular
And the issue with this is that more than one hundred compounds can be found in a human's breath at any one time
and 70% to 80% of these compounds contain the methyl group molecular structure.
The consequence of this is that these methyl group molecular structures will be incorrectly identified and
labeled as ethyl alcohol.
Interestingly, the more ethyl group substances the breathalyzer detects, the higher the false blood alcohol
content estimate will be.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that people who are diabetics or dieters
can have acetone levels that are hundreds, if not a thousand of times higher than people who are not diabetics or
The key issue here is that acetone is one of the many substances that can be falsely detected as ethyl alcohol
by some breathalyzers.
There's also numerous products found in the environment that can lead to erroneous BAC results with
breathalyzers. Some these products include substances or compounds found in gasoline, paint removers, cleaning
fluids, celluloid, and lacquers.
Other common substances that can result in false BAC levels are blood, vomit, or alcohol in the person's mouth.
False BAC readings can also be caused from cell phones, police radios, electrical interference, moisture, dirt, and
Breathalyzers and False Readings
Breath alcohol tests like breathalyzers can be quite sensitive to temperature and will result in false readings
if they are not recalibrated or adjusted to compensate for ambient or surrounding air temperatures.
In addition, the temperature of the person being tested is also significant.
That is, each degree (in Fahrenheit) in the subject's body temperature above 98.6 can result in a relatively
large elevation (about 8%) in apparent BAC.
A person's breathing rate can also significantly affect breathalyzer results. For instance, one study discovered
that the BAC readings of people who ran up a flight of stairs decreased 11% to 14%.
And when these people ran up the stairs a second time, their BAC readings decreased 22% to 25%.
Another study found similar results (a decrease in BAC of 15%) in people who exercised vigorously or who
Moreover, hyperventilation for just 20 seconds has been shown to lower the breathalyzer BAC readings by about
Conversely, people who hold their breath for 30 seconds can increase the breathalyzer BAC results by
The failure of law enforcement officers to use the breathalyzers properly and to properly maintain and
re-calibrate the units when necessary also lead to testing errors.
Research indicates that breath tests can vary at least 15% from actual blood alcohol concentration.
An estimated 23% of individuals tested will have a BAC reading higher than their true BAC.
Can Breathalyzers be Fooled by Odors?
A common myth is that breathalyzers can be "fooled" by odors that mask the smell of alcohol.
Mints, onions, and mouth wash may indeed disguise the smell of alcohol, but they do not fool the breathalyzer
because they do not change the actual alcohol content on a person's breath.
What can "fool" breathalyzers, however, are products such as breath spray or mouth wash that can raise the BAC
readings due to the alcohol content in these products.
Listerine, for instance contains 27% alcohol, and can significantly raise the BAC test results. Why?
Due to the increased alcohol (from the Listerine) detected on the person's breath, the breathalyzer produces a
false high reading.
That is, instead of the reading being based on alcohol in the blood that has been diffused into the lungs, the
breathalyzer will result in a false reading due to the combined alcohol in the person's mouth (from the Listerine)
and from the person's lungs.
Blood tests for alcohol are the most accurate method for testing a person's blood alcohol content (BAC).
Also called blood alcohol tests and alcohol blood tests, blood tests for alcohol, moreover, are the most
expensive and the most intrusive methods for testing BAC.
Due mainly to their high cost and to their intrusiveness, however, blood tests comprise the least common method
for testing a person's BAC.
Conclusion: Alcohol Blood Tests vs Breathalyzers
According to current demographic studies, alcohol abuse accounts for roughly 67% of total number of substance
abuse complaints in US workplaces.
Not only this, but the use or abuse of alcohol is associated with almost half of all industrial accidents.
As a result, there is a growing demand for more effective alcohol detection and testing methods.
Indeed, more and more companies are employing alcoholism screening tests and random alcohol testing as part of
their workplace drug and alcohol testing programs.
In short, an increasing number of HR directors in various companies and organizations are seeking more detailed
information about alcohol blood tests vs breathalyzers so that they can procure and implement a cost-effective and
accurate method of employee alcohol testing.