Drunk driving laws are becoming stricter all the time, and all 50 states now set the legal limit at .08 percent blood alcohol content, or BAC. But how much can a person drink without exceeding the legal limit? The answer depends on many factors, including body weight, gender, stomach contents, and even genetics.

Bodyweight is a primary factor in determining how much a driver can drink without exceeding the legal limit. For example, a person who weighs 120 pounds can consume only two or three drinks before exceeding the legal limit. But a driver who weighs 250 pounds can drink much more.

Gender also plays a role in alcohol metabolism. An individual’s fat vs. muscle ratio affects how the body processes alcohol because muscle contains more water than fat, and individuals with higher water content in their bodies metabolize alcohol more quickly. Because of this, men, who generally have a higher muscle ratio and more water in their bodies, can typically consume more alcohol than women without exceeding the legal limit.

Genetics can even affect how a person processes alcohol because individuals have varying amounts of a liver enzyme called dehydrogenase that is essential in alcohol metabolism. Men tend to produce greater amounts of dehydrogenase than women, which is another reason that men can generally process larger quantities of alcohol. Also, some ethnic groups tend to produce less dehydrogenase than others.

Whether a person eats before or while drinking, and how much food is consumed, is another factor that affects alcohol metabolism. Alcohol is absorbed directly by the body, not digested, and the majority is absorbed through the lining of the small intestine. Consuming food before or while drinking causes a valve at the bottom of the stomach to close, preventing some alcohol from passing into the small intestine.

Everyone metabolizes alcohol differently, and these factors are essential to an effective DUI / DWI defense. A driver may exceed the legal limit when a chemical test is given several hours after arrest, yet have been under the legal limit when driving. A skilled drunk driving defense attorney has a thorough working knowledge of how the body absorbs alcohol and will use that information to craft a defense strategy designed to protect the driver’s rights and keep negative consequences to a minimum.