How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

Alcohol remains a significant problem in many communities today. As a legal drug, many people think that it has no adverse effects on the human body. This assumption could not be further from the truth. Alcohol can be a dangerous intoxicant that can lead to risk-taking behaviors that may endanger the drinker and others in their vicinity. With this in mind, we’ve broken down all the factors involved in answering the key question, ‘How long does alcohol stay in your system?’

Like other drugs, the effects dissipate over time. It’s uncommon to see someone remain intoxicated after a few hours of not drinking alcohol. The side effects of coming down from intoxication vary. Some people report severe symptoms like dehydration, nausea, and headaches commonly referred to as a hangover. But how long does alcohol remain in your system, and why should you even bother to know?

Consumption and Detection of Alcohol in Your System

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System
Alcohol is consumed by drinking it, usually mixed with something else to make the taste more palatable. Once you drink alcohol, it’s possible to detect it in your bloodstream for quite a while afterward. The effects of euphoria that a person feels from alcohol consumption typically start kicking in between fifteen and forty-five minutes after their first drink. When you drink alcohol, the body sees it as a poison and seeks to break it down into something less harmful to the body’s tissues. However, while the body deals with the problem, the alcohol is still hanging around in your bloodstream.

Modern methods of detecting alcoholic consumption rely on a measurement known as Blood Alcohol Level or BAC. Police officers engaged in traffic stops have a meter that they can use to measure the BAC of a motorist to see if they are too drunk to be operating a vehicle. If the driver’s BAC is above a certain level, they are considered driving while intoxicated and can be charged with an offense.

What is BAC?

Blood Alcohol Level is a metric used to measure how intoxicated a person is. The blood alcohol test is the original method used to determine a person’s BAC was. Modern technology has advanced to the point that we now have handheld machines called breathalyzers that can perform the same test with just a breath sample. The breathalyzer will usually give a reading based on alcohol concentration within the person’s body.

For example, a BAC of 0.20 translates to 0.20g of alcohol for every 100 ml of blood. Within the United States, a BAC of 0.08 is regarded as being intoxicated. A BAC that goes over 0.40 is capable of being fatal.

The BAC will vary depending on how long since the person last drank alcohol, the size and weight of the person, how tolerant they are of the substance, and how fast their metabolism is. A person might consume a lot of alcohol, but if they stop significantly long enough before they have to drive, they shouldn’t be worried about getting caught with a DUI charge. If, however, a person decides to drive right after drinking a lot, they may well be over the legal limit of 0.08.

Your BAC will determine how much alcohol is in you system, and how long alcohol will stay in your system.

Alcohol Rate of Metabolism in The Body

The body metabolizes alcohol relatively quickly. The liver is primarily responsible for breaking it down using an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase. In an average male with an intermediate metabolism, the liver can metabolize up to 0.015g per 100 ml per hour or a reduction of 0.015 BAC per hour. Alcohol isn’t digested the same way that you’d digest food. When you drink alcohol, most of it goes to your small intestine, but a small amount (about 1/5th) enters your bloodstream immediately. That’s typically why people feel the effects of alcohol very soon after taking their first drink.

The remaining alcohol that goes to the small intestine slowly enters the bloodstream, ensuring intoxication continues over a short period. Consuming more alcohol increases the feelings of euphoria common in these cases. When alcohol is in the bloodstream, the liver slowly extracts and neutralizes it. Problems with a person’s liver will lead to slower responses to alcohol consumption. Over time, the liver also takes damage from this process, leading to liver diseases like cirrhosis.

Factors Affecting Alcohol Impact

Alcohol affects different people depending on their anatomy, physiology, and tolerance to the substance. Some of the key identifiers that may outline whether a person will be negatively affected by alcohol include:

  • Age:  Younger people tend to be more affected by alcohol than older people. This metric might change depending on if the older person has consumed alcohol recently.
  • Weight:  Since people who weigh more have more body tissues, they tend to take longer to be affected by alcohol’s effects.
  • Sex:  Men tend to be less affected by alcohol than women. Women are also more susceptible to organ damage and impaired function from alcohol consumption.
  • Type and Amount of Alcohol Consumed:  Alcohol content in a drink refers to the concentration of alcohol inside it. Higher alcohol content drinks will have a more significant impact.
  • Liver Health: As mentioned before, the liver ensures that alcohol doesn’t poison the body completely. If a person’s liver is damaged, they may remain intoxicated for longer.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Alcohol stays in a person’s system for a while, but not a massive amount of time. A breathalyzer test mentioned above can detect lingering traces of alcohol on your breath for up to twenty-four hours after you drank it. However, your body works to get rid of most of the alcohol from your body. Alternatives to the breathalyzer test include urine or blood alcohol tests. The urine test can detect alcohol traces in a person’s blood up to 48 hours after their last drink. Advanced examinations may be able to pick up alcohol traces up to eighty hours after the last sip.

Alcohol also gets incorporated into a person’s body tissues over time. The substance can be detected in a hair for up to ninety days after the person’s last alcohol consumption. Sweat and saliva may also be used for testing, but blood alcohol tests are the most well-known ones. However, these tests can give erroneous values since they assume that the person being tested falls into the average body type and metabolism. Since these may be different in the person being tested, the final result may skew one way or another.

Urine vs. Breath Testing for Alcohol

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System
Just because urine tests can detect alcohol in a person’s body long after breath tests, does that make them more effective in spotting alcohol consumption? Urine tests can be invasive, and many law enforcement locations don’t rely on them. While the test from urine can detect a person’s alcohol consumption, it can’t give an idea of the level of intoxication when the person was brought in. Law enforcement may attempt to extrapolate based on the current alcohol level, but this is not a concrete method of determining intoxication. The results will vary depending on a person’s age, weight, metabolism, and other factors.

The breath test is a more efficient method of determining whether a person is intoxicated. The test happens in mere seconds, and while it may return a negative value, it’s more right than wrong. Additionally, it’s far less invasive since it doesn’t require a sample. An individual may refuse a breathalyzer test is held in a DUI checkpoint, but if they do, an officer may assume that the person is intoxicated. They may be inclined to perform other tests to verify that the driver is sober before letting them go. In some jurisdictions, failing to submit to a breathalyzer has its own penalties.

Dangers of Alcohol Toxicity

Most people have heard about alcohol poisoning. When a person consumes too much alcohol in a short space of time, their body reacts negatively to the presence of the alcohol. This condition typically arises when a person’s alcohol consumption outpaces their body’s ability to break it down. It may be more prevalent in people who already have liver disease or cirrhosis. Another danger of alcohol toxicity over time can be the potential for brain damage and even dementia.

The most common cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. A binge drinker may consume massive amounts of alcohol, ordering drink after drink without concern for their own safety. The alcohol buildup leads to symptoms which may include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Reduced blood temperature
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Passing out

In many cases, when a person with alcohol poisoning passes out, they lose track of their surroundings and who they’re with. Alcohol is a poison and can damage or destroy body tissues. If a person suffers from alcohol poisoning, someone should call emergency medical services as soon as possible. In the interim, it’s best to turn them on their side to avoid suffocation. One of the side effects is vomiting, and on their backs, there’s a good chance of them suffocating on it.

Can You Overdose from Alcohol?

Alcohol overdose is a severe problem, especially with how toxic the substance is at specific concentrations. Drinking is a social activity, and many people partake of a few drinks now and again with their friends. Casual drinking doesn’t devolve into a state of alcohol overdose. It’s binge drinking that usually ends in an overdose, and the resulting toxicity can destroy the body’s tissues.

As mentioned before, alcohol metabolism starts in the small intestine and continues in the stomach. If the individual consumes a lot of alcohol at any point in time, these gateways into the bloodstream may become inundated.

When this happens, the person’s body gets hit with a massive influx of alcohol that leads to body systems beginning to shut down. It’s estimated that for a 60kg person, as little as 300g of alcohol in the bloodstream can lead to death. That’s the equivalent of thirty standard drinks or four bottles of wine. It’s important to note that this alcohol has to be consumed in a short space of time. The liver is constantly working to break down alcohol in the body, so drinking so much over a long period won’t lead to poisoning. However, if someone tries to consume all this alcohol in about an hour, it could kill them.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System – Breastfeeding

Some breastfeeding mothers believe that if they track their body’s alcohol management, they can predict when their blood alcohol level is low enough to feed their baby. However, because alcohol lingers in the body, it might not work out the way they plan. There’s no “safe period” that can pass before breastfeeding a baby; breastfeeding mothers should seek to avoid alcohol consumption. Some sources claim it takes the body a few hours to clear breast milk after drinking alcohol. However, this will differ by person, just like how long the alcohol remains in a person’s system.

Alcohol is dangerous for an adult, but it can be devastating for a child. A breastfeeding child may suffer from severe deficiencies and developmental disorders because of alcohol. If you do intend to drink, there are ways that you can protect your baby from these adverse effects. Some of these are:

  • Breastfeeding right before you drink
  • Pump extra milk so that you can have some on hand that isn’t affected by the alcohol
  • Wait 2-3 hours (ideally as much as 4) after drinking a shot or a 12-ounce glass of beer before breastfeeding again

These suggestions don’t condone drinking while breastfeeding, but they may mitigate the impact of the situation on the baby.

Cirrhosis and Alcohol

Cirrhosis is the late-stage scarring of the liver tissue. Usually, the liver tissue is soft and pliable, but it attempts to repair itself each time it is injured, either through physical or chemical damage (like alcohol consumption). The scar tissue comes from this repair. Over time, more and more scar tissue forms on the liver, making it difficult for the remaining cells to perform their function. If cirrhosis advances to a point where the liver is entirely unable to function, it can be life-threatening. The worst part about cirrhosis is that damage done to the liver in this way can’t be fixed. The scar tissue remains with us forever.

Alcohol consumption is one of the leading factors in the development of cirrhosis. Many alcoholics fall victim to cirrhosis, but the condition is silent. Symptoms only manifest after it’s too late. At that point, it’s impossible to stop or slow the liver’s corruption, and a transplant may be needed. Some of the symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Redness in the palms of the hands
  • Yellow discoloration in the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • Weight Loss
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Easily bleeding or bruising
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid accumulation in the stomach
  • Swelling in the legs and feet
  • Confusion, slurred speech, and drowsiness

Individuals who have one or more of these symptoms should immediately seek a doctor’s advice.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System – Gut Health

Alcohol is a poisonous substance, and it can harm the gut bacteria that we need to have a healthy digestion and excretion system. Human beings have over fifty trillion bacteria making up the microbiome of the gut. They each have their own function in keeping us healthy.

Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to massive destruction of the diversity of this gut flora—an increase in gastrointestinal diseases and chronic conditions like gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). The change in gut flora is known as dysbiosis. If a person continues to consume alcohol in large amounts, they will suffer from this condition.

Is Caffeine Effective for Lowering Intoxication?

It’s a common wives’ tale that caffeine from coffee or tea can lower a person’s intoxication. Many people who use this remedy feel alert and awake after drinking the caffeine, leading them to think that they are no longer intoxicated. Unfortunately, this feeling is misleading. The body’s BAC is still at the same point, and coffee can’t reduce that. It can’t force the body to extract alcohol from the bloodstream faster to reduce the BAC level. However, it does an excellent job at reversing the depressive effects of alcohol on the senses. As a result, the person drinking the caffeine feels awake and alert – far more so than they would be on alcohol.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t change the body’s reaction time and how the alcohol impacts their perception. Because caffeine is so good at masking the ill effects of alcohol, many drinkers see it as a “cure-all” and use it to clear their heads temporarily. They then resume drinking again, increasing their BAC concentration with the false sense of security that the caffeine presents. If a person is held in a DUI stop after drinking caffeine, their BAC levels will still show up as abnormally high. They will also be charged for DUI as a result, and no amount of coffee could stop that.

Treatment for Ongoing Alcohol Abuse

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System
Alcohol abuse is a topic most people don’t want to raise with their loved ones. Even so, it’s necessary to get help for a condition like this. The longer a person leaves their alcohol dependence, the harder it is to leave it behind. Because of the life-threatening nature of alcohol abuse and its impacts on an individual’s life, it’s necessary to locate an inpatient rehab facility to help them come to terms with their illness.

Many individuals going through alcohol use disorder don’t think they have a problem. It’s easier for them to pretend that they don’t need help. Getting them to see that they require that assistance is the first step in helping them overcome their dependence and addiction.

Medically Supervised Detox for Alcohol

Alcohol detox is a method of supervised withdrawal. As with most other addictive substances, alcohol deprivation in an addicted person can lead to significant side effects. Detoxing in a facility is recommended since it allows a person to avoid any temptation to sue the substance. Because alcohol is so easy to get, this benefit of detoxing in a facility is crucial to the success of a person’s rehab.

A medically supervised detox center will also ensure that the person going through detox is monitored throughout their stay. In some cases, the feelings of guilt and depression compound on each other, creating a dangerous situation. Keeping an eye on the person is essential but not something that most people can ensure during their busy workdays. The facility has trained staff to observe and intervene if things become dangerous.

Medically supervised detox for alcohol happens within an inpatient facility. Here, a patient will be under constant observation by medical staff. The medical staff will be able to see changes in the person’s behavior and recognize whether they need medical care for their side effects. Our medically supervised detox centers don’t usually have patients with severe withdrawal symptoms, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Long Term Treatment and Long Term Recovery

Detox is only the first step in rehabilitation from alcohol use disorder. It sets the stage for long-term treatment and recovery. Inpatient facilities offer treatment plans that range between thirty and ninety days. During a patient’s stay, they will interact with mental health professionals and other recovering individuals in group therapy. Therapy sessions will focus on a wide variety of behavioral treatments, which will help a person come to terms with their alcohol dependence.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) sees a lot of success in helping alcohol use disorder patients overcome their urges. CBT teaches a person to recognize when their thoughts lead them to a situation where they will be forced to fall back into destructive behaviors. Knowing these thought patterns can help a person avoid those behaviors in the future.

Long-term recovery will also rely on community relationships and support groups. Our alcohol rehab center has close ties to many of the region’s support groups, and we can introduce you to some of them. These support groups are integral in continuing the recovery started at inpatient treatment. You shouldn’t be afraid to begin treatment for alcohol use disorder. It’s a problem that can be overcome with the right tools and mindset. Contact us today to set up an appointment to experience our treatment facility for yourself.

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