Attorney at Law


James Parker
February 16, 2022
Last reviewed by
August 17, 2023

What Is Burnoff?

Burnoff is a loose term for the rate at which an alcoholic beverage is metabolized. Alcohol burnoff is a process that takes place across the body. Some alcohol evaporates in the lungs, some alcohol is directly purged by the kidneys, but most alcohol in the body is metabolized into water and carbon dioxide by the liver. 

The rate at which alcohol burnoff can occur can vary largely based on physical characteristics. These characteristics can include factors like biological sex, body mass, fat content, and age. More temporary factors like medications taken or food consumed can also impact the rate at which alcohol is absorbed and metabolized.

If a person has a higher burnoff rate, they will metabolize alcohol very quickly and may be said to “hold their liquor” well. By contrast, someone with a slower alcohol burnoff rate may get drunk more quickly without consuming as many drinks, typically derided as being a “lightweight.”

Understanding the rate at which an individual person retains and metabolizes alcohol can be an important part of drinking responsibly and ensuring that they stay safe. Understanding the basics of alcohol burnoff can be a great help for fostering that understanding. In the broadest possible terms, an individual weighing 150 pounds can increase their blood alcohol content (BAC) by 0.02 per hour and decrease it by 0.01 per hour.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol burnoff refers to the rate at which a person can metabolize alcohol in their system.
  • The speed of alcohol absorption into the body can impact how quickly a person is able to metabolize alcohol.
  • A person with a low burnoff rate may still have a high BAC hours after they consumed an alcoholic beverage.
  • If you were found to have a BAC above the legal limit despite not drinking recently, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by leveraging experience and expert testimony.

Burnoff and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Charges

When someone is pulled over for an alleged DUI, they will most likely be subjected to a breathalyzer test. While the results of a breathalyzer test cannot be the basis for a conviction, a high reading from a breathalyzer can lead to the individual’s arrest and detainment. 

Someone with a low burnoff rate may test high on a breathalyzer even if they have not recently consumed alcohol. This is because the body cannot quickly break down the alcohol in their system and must recover over a longer period of time. Additionally, if the individual is still absorbing alcohol into their system, their BAC can remain steady despite not consuming more alcohol as the body balances absorbing old alcohol into the body and metabolising it out of the bloodstream. 

This can affect more than just people with low burnoff rates. Certain medications, whether over the counter or prescribed, can have an effect on the rate at which the body metabolises ethanol: the main ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Additionally, even just eating food before drinking can impact the rate alcohol is absorbed, lengthening the time before all the alcohol someone has consumed can be brought into the body for metabolism. 

These varying individual factors can make the results of a roadside breathalyzer test inaccurate and, if a follow-up blood test is not taken, these inaccurate results could form the basis of an inaccurate prosecution case that someone who was drinking responsibly was in fact driving under the influence. Without the proper experts to corroborate the varying effects of alcohol burnoff from person to person, a defendant may be convicted on the merits of an inaccurate theory.

Bottom Line

If you have been accused of driving over the legal limit despite not having consumed alcohol for a significant period before getting behind the wheel, you will need an experienced DUI attorney to advocate on your behalf. A DUI attorney can improve the outcome of your case by utilizing expert witnesses and experienced courtroom tactics to advocate on your behalf.

An experienced DUI attorney will be able to challenge your BAC results by demonstrating how medication, food, or other intervening factors prevented your body from properly processing the alcohol in your system and led to an incorrect reading or an unusual BAC. Most importantly, an experienced DUI attorney can cross-examine the arresting officer to determine whether they did an appropriate amount of investigation before arresting you under DUI charges.

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