01 Mar How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Table of Content
The body immediately absorbs alcohol with every drink ingested and when not metabolized fast enough, alcohol is “held” in the blood and tissues rather than passing through the body. The actual length of time it stays in your system is dependent on a variety of factors.
A person’s height, weight, and gender are all contributing factors. For example, since women produce less enzymes that help metabolize alcohol, it takes longer for a female to break down alcohol versus a male of equal size and weight. Whether a person has eaten anything, is well hydrated, or has consumed hard alcohol versus beer are also taken into account when measuring how long alcohol can stay in the system. The reason is that all of these factors dictate how fast alcohol can be absorbed by the body.
There are a number of tests, which can detect alcohol in the system over different periods of time. How long does alcohol stay in your blood? Breathalyzers can detect alcohol in the blood within 24 hours of drinking. How long does alcohol stay in your urine? Urine tests can detect alcohol in the system for days after moderate drinking; and a saliva test is able to detect alcohol in the body for nearly two weeks after alcohol consumption.
For alcohol to be present in your system for longer lengths of time, consider the amount that was consumed, the time in which it was consumed, and how fast the body was able to process it. Everyone’s body is different, making it difficult to universally answer the question how long does alcohol stay in urine or blood?
How Is Alcohol Processed Through the Body?
Approximately 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach before moving directly to the bloodstream, while the remaining 80 percent is absorbed through the small intestine. When a person’s blood alcohol concentration exceeds .055, the blood and tissue begins to take on excess amounts. At this rate of consumption, the negative effects of alcohol begin to increase. The initial feelings of happiness or relaxation can quickly change to anxiousness or disorientation.
Generally speaking, the liver can break down one drink per hour. This translates to a 12-oz. beer, 5-oz. pour of wine, or 1.5 oz. of hard liquor. Again, absorption into the body is affected by varying factors, such as eating. When people refer to “drinking on an empty stomach,” it means a person is likely to become intoxicated at a much faster rate. Absorption can be slowed if alcohol is ingested with food.
As a depressant, alcohol slows down all processes of the central nervous system. If there is repetition of excessive drinking that leads to alcohol being unable to be processed, it can cause serious damage to the body including the brain.
There are different stages of alcohol abuse. One common example is binge drinking, which occurs when men drink four or more drinks or women drink five or more drinks in the span of two hours. Binge drinking is especially prevalent among college campuses and according to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of adult alcohol consumption in the U.S. is the result of binge drinking.
Those who binge drink aren’t necessarily classified as alcohol-dependent, but are still susceptible to harmful effects such as alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and/or neurological damage. Consuming alcohol at such a high rate can also cause a person to act out of character. It can affect a person’s decision-making skills and may lead to actions they might regret when not intoxicated, such as drunk driving, falls, and physical or sexual assault.
Understanding the severity of alcohol abuse is important because even if someone doesn’t “crave” the need to drink, it doesn’t mean that the person is not on a slippery slope to alcoholism.
Extended Dangers of Alcohol Abuse
People who become dependent on alcohol start needing to drink more and more to reach an intoxicated level. They might begin to drink in the morning to “cure” a hangover or drink throughout the day to satisfy cravings. Those who have a history of alcohol abuse may also experience blackouts and suffer from shaking, insomnia, or nervousness when not consuming it.
It can be tough for a person to point to reasons for their alcohol abuse or see that their level of alcohol consumption is a problem at all. However, there are other health concerns alcohol abusers should be aware of including:
Cancer risk. Many people don’t realize that excessive alcohol use can lead to the increased risk of certain cancers.
Organ damage. Heavy drinking can be attributed to liver failure as well as damage to the brain and other organs.
Pregnancy complications. Drinking while pregnant can cause various health problems for both the mother and child including fetal alcohol syndrome or premature birth.
Drunk driving. Drinking and driving is a top factor of death in the United States. In 2013, over 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related car crashes. This number accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths.
Detecting a Drinking Problem
Alcohol screenings and counseling are recommended by health professionals, but the majority of adults who drink have never discussed their drinking habits with their doctor. A screening involves a series of simple questions involving a person’s history with alcohol such as:
- How much do they drink on average?
- Do they drink daily, weekly, or only on special occasions?
- Is there history of alcohol abuse in the family?
Why is this information important and how does talking about alcohol consumption aid in a person’s overall health?
CDC statistics have found that people who have experienced a brief alcohol screening and counseling may reduce their alcohol consumption by 25 percent per occasion. Though alcohol is largely associated with social gatherings, it’s important to remember the seriousness of the health implications it has on a person no matter how frequent the occurrences. You may have a drinking problem if you:
- Hide your drinking from others;
- Feel ashamed about your drinking habits;
- Have had family or friends express concern about your drinking;
- Require a drink to relax; or
- Frequently blackout when drinking.
Detecting a drinking problem in its early stages and creating a treatment plan can help a person have a higher likelihood of reaching success.
Common Myths about Drinking
There are many familiar reasonings and statements alcohol abusers use when discussing their harmful relationship with alcohol. Drinking is so readily accepted by society that it’s tough to tell where the line has been crossed into having a legitimate drinking problem.
A person might rely on the following myths because they are in denial about their disease, are scared to admit that they need help, or simply are unaware how much their dependence on alcohol really affects them.
Myth #1: My drinking only affects me.
It’s true; your liver, organs, and brain are what are being directly harmed when you drink excessively. However, the resulting actions of alcohol abuse affect others. Problems with alcohol can affect your employer or your teachers when you don’t show up for work or class. It can isolate your friends and family when you disengage socially or act inappropriately when drunk. And, it can put others in harm’s way when you are intoxicated.
Myth #2: I can stop drinking whenever I want.
This may be seemingly true, but it translates to be more of an excuse as to why you won’t stop drinking. Alcoholism is a craving to drink, a need for it. This addiction leaves a person dealing with the disease without full control of their body, even if he or she firmly believes otherwise.
Myth #3: Everyone drinks. Alcoholism isn’t a “real” addiction like drug abuse.
Although each case is different, the effects that alcohol has on a person suffering from alcoholism are similar to that of drug abuse. Alcohol abuse damages the brain and body and can be a detriment to your health just as much as any recreational drug. The withdrawal symptoms may also be the same when the system is “detoxed.” Cold sweats, nausea, and shaking are symptomatic of both drug and alcohol withdrawal.
What Is Alcoholism?
The majority of adults are able to moderately drink alcohol without experiencing long-term harmful effects. But for millions of Americans who suffer from alcohol abuse, their drinking negatively effect their daily lives. Signs pointing to alcohol abuse may include problems at the workplace or at home due to drinking. It may lead to problems with the law or other dangerous situations.
People who are drunk may:
- Laugh and talk loudly;
- Experience dizziness;
- Have blurry vision or become disoriented;
- Sway when they walk or fall down;
- Slur their words;
- Pass out;
- Vomit; and/or
- Become violent.
These are all typically short-term effects of alcohol on a person, but dangerous nonetheless. Alcoholism or dependence on alcohol is a disease and can cause:
- Cravings – the strong need to drink;
- Physical dependence – strong withdrawal symptoms when not consuming alcohol;
- Loss of control – the inability to stop drinking once started; and
- Effects on tolerance – the need to drink more to feel drunk.
There are nearly 40 million adults in the U.S. who reportedly drink too much, but most are not alcoholics. Alcoholism involves a person’s strong need to drink. It is often hereditary, but not exclusively so. It is a chronic illness and should be regarded as such with a proper diagnosis, treatment, and recovery plan. The majority of people who are alcohol-dependent do not realize or will not admit that they are.
Alcoholism deteriorates both the physical and mental health of the people it affects. It damages the internal organs and can lead to strained relationships among friends, family, and co-workers. Alcoholics typically spend a lot of time recovering from hangovers and experience withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
Remember that alcohol is a depressant and affects each person in a different way. In many cases, it can amplify feelings of anxiety or depression a person is already experiencing. Alcohol abuse on any level can quickly lead to alcoholism if not addressed right away.
Where to Seek Treatment
When the symptoms mentioned above start to become more noticeable and occur more frequently, seeking medical help is important. A doctor can determine whether a person is an alcoholic through both medical and behavioral evaluations and recommend courses of treatment.
A medical professional will review a patient’s history of alcohol use, stress levels, and other environmental factors that may be contributing factors to alcohol abuse. A medical exam can reveal any damage to the liver and other organs and can address if alcoholism is part of the family’s health history.
Once the disease has been diagnosed, a recovery program will help alcoholics detox and enter a long-term plan for treatment. Treatment options may include counseling, entry into an alcohol and drug rehabilitation, and joining a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. A strong, personal support system is also essential for a healthy recovery.
An alcohol treatment program at Georgia Drug Detox lends the professionalism and caring necessary to keep you strong and help you get your life back on track. Recovery can have many unexpected twists and turns, including relapses and other setbacks, which can progress challenging. It’s important to have a team that is experienced with helping people detox in a healthy way, supported in an environment to make the process as comfortable as possible.
That’s not to say that recovery from alcoholism is an easy path. Sobriety is an ongoing choice and requires dedication from the person wishing to recover. We’re here to guide you and lend a helping hand when you need it most. Our staff wants you to be able to start your road to being alcohol-free as soon as possible and we are ready to take action whenever you are.
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Wagener, Dan. “How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?” 28 Feb. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/how-long-in-system
T, Buddy. “How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System” Verywell Mind. 12 June 2018. 28 Feb. 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-system-80218