Alcohol Testing: Blood vs. Breath

Alcohol Testing: Blood vs Breath

Drug Testing

Everyone knows that the police use breathalyzers and blood tests when it comes to determining DUI charges. But they can also sometimes come in handy for employers. Some employers use alcohol tests to screen potential candidates and make sure employees are simply not intoxicated on the job. Others use alcohol tests to determine fault in cases of worker accident and determining liability. Whatever your reason may be, in this article we will be going over specific tests for determining alcohol blood levels, and the differences between them. The main reason to use alcohol tests is to determine if an employee is drinking on the job. One difference between drug and alcohol tests is that while drug tests determine drug usage within the last week or month (or in the case of hair tests, a year), alcohol tests determine if a person is currently intoxicated.

How Blood Tests Work

Blood alcohol content (also known as BAC), refers to the measurement of the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood. Alcohol testing takes two primary forms, with a blood test, and a breath test. Both tests determine BAC, but they do so in different ways. Blood tests directly calculate the amount of alcohol in that person’s bloodstream. Generally, blood tests involve filling a vial (or two, if there may be a need to retest it later), and testing that vial in a lab. Blood tests can be a slow process, so when the administrator needs immediate answers, they’ll usually go with breath tests.

How Breath Tests Work

Breath tests also measure blood alcohol content, but they do so by determining the amount of alcohol in someone’s system and in their blood, by looking at the breath. Of course, breath tests don’t always produce the most accurate result, which is why when it comes to legal situations, people can ask for a blood test and refuse a breathalyzer. This does not apply to private entities, but it’s still an important consideration when choosing which test to conduct. Breathalyzers generally cost less than blood testing equipment, so sometimes they are useful as a stop gap measure. If there are issues with the breathalyzer results, then proceed with the blood testing.

The Problems with Breath Tests

One issue with breath tests is that a number of factors can affect the testing equipment and distort its results. Drinking and eating can sometimes cause the test to show lower results than what a blood test would display. If you have recently used mouth wash, a breath test can show very high levels of alcohol in your blood. Similarly, having a drink and seconds later taking a breath test can once again cause your test numbers to rise.

Another problem is that test administrators cannot “store” breath tests for retesting later the same way they can store blood tests. The fact that amateurs can administer breath tests is also a potential cause for concern, as overuse and improper use can result in inaccurate test results. Technique can also have an effect, where once again a professional administering a breath test or a blood test is far less likely to have issues with the results.

In our next article we will be going over drug testing, and the different methods and the differences between the methods.

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