An occasional glass of wine or your favorite liquor is a great way to celebrate a special occasion, unwind from a stressful day, or welcome the weekend. However, consuming too much alcohol can quickly lead to addiction, which will not only affect your personal and professional lives but your health.
Unfortunately, alcoholism is a widespread problem in the U.S., with almost 14 million adults having a drinking problem. Additionally, according to a 2019 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25.8 percent of people aged 18 and older have said that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month. It’s essential to understand the effects of alcohol, how long it stays in your system, and what happens when you stop drinking it. Here’s what you need to know:
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol, and it can metabolize around one standard drink per hour for men. Your age, weight, sex, and how much food you’ve eaten can also impact how quickly your body processes alcohol. Sleeping or drinking water cannot increase the rate of alcohol absorption.
Urine tests can identify alcohol for a long time after you’ve last drunk alcohol. They detect traces of alcohol metabolites for up to 48 hours after your last drink. Some urine tests, which use more advanced technology, can detect alcohol in urine 80 hours later.
Alternatively, breath tests can measure alcohol within a much shorter window, usually up to 24 hours after your last drink. A breathalyzer is used to calculate your BAC, with a figure of 0.02 considered unsafe for operating machinery, driving, or conducting any safety-related tasks.
Alcohol is detectable in hair for up to 90 days, like other substances. It can also be detected in saliva for 12 to 24 hours and blood for up to six hours.
How Long Does it Take to Metabolize?
Alcohol metabolizes quickly in your body at a rate of 20 milligrams per deciliter per hour. If your blood alcohol level were 40 mg/dL, your body would need only two hours to metabolize it. The body metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate, although some people may feel alcohol’s effects longer. This is attributed to the varying blood alcohol concentrations or BAC, which refers to the amount of alcohol in your blood compared to water.
Many factors affect BAC, like age, weight, how much you have eaten before consuming alcohol, medications, the presence of liver disease, and binge drinking. How much alcohol there is in your drink also determines how long your body takes to metabolize it.
In general, your body takes an hour to metabolize a small shot of liquor, two hours for a pint of beer, three hours for a large glass of wine, and several hours for a few drinks. To reduce the effects of alcohol, eat a lot of food and drink a lot of water, which will reduce your BAC. It’s also best to avoid caffeine.
What are Withdrawal Symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms occur when you abruptly stop drinking alcohol after excessively consuming it regularly. They can range from severe to mild, depending on your drinking habits. Severe symptoms can result in serious, potentially fatal situations, especially when left to worsen over time.
It is crucial to know when your alcohol withdrawal symptoms are getting more severe so you can seek help right away. The most severe symptoms typically occur two to five days after you stop drinking, which means you may not experience any discomfort within the first two days.
The common withdrawal symptoms are the following:
- Trouble sleeping
- Appetite loss
- Pale skin
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Mood swings
- Feelings of anxiety or nervousness
- Feeling depressed
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Having nightmares
- Faster heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dilated pupils
However, severe withdrawal symptoms have different consequences. One of the most debilitating ones is delirium tremens or the DTs, affecting 3 to 5 percent of people who stop bingeing alcohol. It can progress to a fatal condition if left untreated, so it’s crucial to seek treatment before symptoms worsen. These include fear, seizures, extreme confusion, extreme agitation, hallucinations, and high blood pressure.
How Do You Get Diagnosed For Alcohol Withdrawal?
It is best to get yourself professionally diagnosed for alcohol withdrawal at a medical facility, as you’ll get the most suitable course of treatment instead of managing it without guidance. Doctors often conduct physical exams and ask about your medical history to eliminate medical issues as the cause of your symptoms. They will look for signs such as a fever, fast breathing, fast heartbeat, tremors in your hands, and dilated pupils before diagnosing you with alcohol withdrawal.
Some doctors also use the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol scale to determine the severity of your symptoms. It measures the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Visual, auditory, and tactile disturbances
Recovering From Alcohol Withdrawal
Most people recover from alcohol withdrawal once they seek professional help instead of controlling their symptoms by themselves. However, it’s important to note that some continue struggling with disruptive symptoms for months after, known as post-acute withdrawal. These symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. This can worsen with pre-existing medical conditions, so it’s essential to work with a medical professional to address the root cause.
However, things will look different if your organs have been heavily damaged by alcohol, you continue drinking heavily, and you have underlying medical conditions. With these three factors, it can be significantly more challenging to make a complete recovery. Heavy drinking inflicts immense damage on your organs, which will complicate your chances of a full recovery. It can also lead to illnesses like heart disease, liver disease, and nervous system problems, which is why it is vital to get professional help if you have difficulty discontinuing your use of alcohol.
Understanding how long alcohol stays in your system will help you watch how much you drink and monitor your blood alcohol levels. It will also prevent accidental over-intoxication or even death from alcohol poisoning. Learning about alcohol’s effects on your system and how your body metabolizes it also warns you about the dangers of increasing your alcohol tolerance, becoming dependent on it, and eventually developing a pattern of problematic alcohol use. With this knowledge, you can drink more responsibly and take care of yourself without needing to abstain from alcohol altogether.