The Most Important Thing You Can Buy Before New Year's

Photo: BACtrack.
You've undoubtedly graced numerous holiday parties over the past month, imbibing in a variety of festive cocktails and masterful martinis. Hopefully you've had the option of taking public transit or grabbing an Uber back home, but too often, all that holiday cheer is followed by a trip behind the wheel. We wondered: Could using a breathalyzer help you, and others, make smarter choices by bringing some extra accountability into the picture?

In the past, breathalyzers were a clunky, costly affair. And truth be told, if you want to grab the best, most accurate breathalyzer on the market, it'll still cost you over $100, and better fits in a purse than a pocket. But, there are other options today too: Small, almost cute breathalyzers that connect to your smartphone. They can cost half the price, and fit comfortably on a keychain.

Consumer breathalyzer makers caution that you shouldn't be using these products to decide whether you're okay to drive or not, and of course, we agree. However, they can be useful for several other reasons. By monitoring your blood alcohol content (BAC) over the course of the evening, you can make yourself more aware of your drinking, and refrain from overindulging. As a host or hostess, you can use it as a last resort to help convince guests to leave the car and grab a Lyft, rather than driving home. And then, it's also an entertaining party trick or conversation point ("We drank the same thing, and my BAC is .04 but yours is only .02!") — as long as it doesn't become a contest.

I'm personally fond of bottomless mimosa brunches, but it can be tricky balancing your money's worth, and grossly overindulging on a Sunday afternoon. During a recent brunch, I found that using a breathalyzer helped me maintain a healthy buzz, get my money's worth on the bottomless front, and not end up passed out on the couch two hours later.

For the most accurate results, you're supposed to refrain from eating or drinking for roughly 20 minutes before blowing into the breathalyzer device, so you don't damage its delicate sensors. I usually waited five to 10 minutes, max. But still, instead of downing each flute like I was at some sort of orange juice-flavored rager, I actually drank water between refills (and before tests), which helped me maintain a pleasantly light buzz.

I breathalyzed myself right there at the bar — I wanted to invite conversation around it — but I feel like normally, it'd be more polite to head to the restroom to give your breathalyzer a blow. Even so, no one seemed to notice my occasional five-second long breath testing (or at least no one mentioned anything).

If you want to use a breathalyzer to make your personal drinking habits more healthy, you're better off with a discreet mobile breathalyzer such as the BACtrack Vio ($50) or the Alcohoot Smartphone Breathalyzer ($100). It'll be much easier to use it at a bar or party without anyone noticing, and thanks to smartphone integration, you can also track your BAC throughout the night. You can even set a BAC level in the app that you aim to stay at or below for the evening, like a game of BAC limbo.

If you're thinking it's something you want to pass around with friends at a party, a larger option like the BACtrack S80 ($105) or the AlcoHAWK Ultra Slim Digital Breathalyzer ($70) are good (the latter you can pick up at your neighborhood pharmacy). These models are easier to keep track of, straightforward to use, and have a large LED display that clearly shows the BAC reading — no fussing with mobile apps. And you can buy additional mouth pieces so no one has to swap spit.

A breathalyzer isn't a last resort you use to tell you whether you're okay to drive or not, but it can be an extremely useful tool in helping yourself, and your friends, to make better decisions — both before and after the party's over.