The body processes alcohol at a fixed rate of about one standard drink per hour. But the BACs (blood alcohol concentration) can be very different. Many factors can affect BAC and how long you feel the effects of alcohol including:
- Liver disease
- Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach
- Drinking several drinks in a short period of time (binge drinking)
It’s also important to know how much alcohol is in your drink. That will determine how long it takes to metabolize the drink. There are some general estimates for how long it takes to metabolize different alcoholic drinks. However, these times will vary depending on the amount of alcohol in each drink.
Type of alcoholic beverage
- Small shot of liquor
- Pint of beer
- Large glass of wine
- A few drinks
Average time to metabolize
- 1 hour
- 2 hours
- 3 hours
- Several hours
Despite the amount of time it takes to metabolize (process) the alcohol, alcohol may remain in your system from 10 hours to 90 days. People who misuse alcohol can do as much harm to themselves as many illegal drugs. They also run the risk of developing physical and psychological dependence and alcohol use disorder (AUD).
How Does the Body Metabolize Alcohol?
When you drink an alcoholic beverage, first it enters your digestive system. But the body doesn’t digest alcohol the same way it digests other food and drinks. About 20% of the alcohol from a single drink goes directly to your blood vessels.
From your blood vessels, the alcohol moves to your brain. The 80% that’s left goes to your small intestine, then directly to your bloodstream. The last step in the alcohol life cycle is the removal from the body through your liver. If you have issues with your liver, it can slow down the process.
How Long is Alcohol Detectable?
A urine test can detect alcohol long after your last drink. These tests look for traces of alcohol metabolites. An average urine test can detect alcohol 12 to 48 hours after drinking. There are more advanced tests that can measure alcohol in the urine, 80 hours after your last drink. Alcohol can be detected in urine for up to 3 to 5 days using the ethyl glucuronide test. Ethyl glucuronide is the breakdown product of alcohol.
Breath tests can detect alcohol within a shorter time span. It is about 24 hours on average. A machine called a breathalyzer measures your blood alcohol content. Typically, any number above 0.02 is considered unsafe for driving.
Alcohol can be detected in a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days, the same as other drugs. It can also be detected in saliva and sweat.
Alcohol can leave your bloodstream at about 0.015 per hour. This means that alcohol can also be found in a blood test for up to 12 hours, like other drugs.
Factors that Affect Detection Times
The schedule for detecting alcohol in the body depends on variables such as:
Similar to the way family history plays a part in the development of an AUD, how the body processes and eliminates alcohol also has a genetic link.
Women tend to have more body fat and less body water than men. Because of this, alcohol tends to linger in their systems longer than men.
Once more, the more fat you have, the longer the alcohol will stay in your body.
Studies have shown that people of East Asian heritage are more likely to have a problem metabolizing alcohol. Individuals of this ethnicity don’t produce enough of an important enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol in the liver.
As people get older, the liver works slower. So it takes longer to excrete alcohol. Also, many aging adults take medication that can affect liver function, which further slows the process.
About 20% of the ethanol in liquor is absorbed into your blood from the stomach and the rest from the small intestine. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer it takes to be absorbed. This slows the rate of intoxication. Eating before drinking alcohol and continuing to snack will slow the absorption can reduce alcohol’s impact and lengthen the detection time.
Some medications can affect the way alcohol is absorbed in the body. Some may increase the effects and increase intoxication.
How fast and how often you drink, as well as the amount of alcohol in your drink, can all affect how long ethanol stays in your system. For example, if you engage in binge drinking, it can take many hours for the alcohol to leave your body. In fact, it’s possible for you to still have enough alcohol in your system to fail a urine or blood test for DUI. (Binge drinking: 5 or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women in a single drinking session)
Why Do Blackouts Happen?
A blackout is a temporary condition that affects your memory and you have a feeling of lost time. Blackouts happen when the alcohol levels in your blood are high. Alcohol harms your ability to form new memories when under its influence. It doesn’t erase memories formed before you experience intoxication.
Naturally, as you drink more alcohol and your BAC increases, the rate and length of memory loss will increase. The amount can vary from person to person. According to a study, the odds of experiencing a blackout is about 50% when BAC reaches 0.22%. You may lose all memory of what happened when your content is above that level. You may experience:
- Impaired vision
- Difficulty talking
- Difficulty walking
- Trouble standing
- Impaired judgment
There isn’t a specific number of drinks that can trigger a blackout. It is caused by the amount of alcohol in each drink you had and the way that alcohol affects you. During a blackout, some intoxicated people can still function as normal because most parts of the brain can tolerate alcohol. They can still eat, walk, talk (although with difficulty), they just can’t record any memories. Sometimes it makes it hard for other people to recognize if you’re in a blackout.
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning is actually an alcohol overdose and it’s an emergency medical situation. It happens when a large amount of alcohol is consumed and your body can’t metabolize it quickly enough. Binge drinking is the most common cause of alcohol poisoning. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Passing out
- Slowed breathing
- Reduced blood temperature
Often, a person with alcohol poisoning passes out before they realize what happened. If you think one of your friends or a loved one has alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. It is a life-threatening condition. To prevent choking on vomit, turn the person on his side. Never leave a person with alcohol poisoning by themselves.
3 Things You Can Do To Reduce the Effects of Alcohol
There are some things you can do to help reduce the effects of alcohol:
- Food helps your body absorb alcohol, so eat before or while you drink.
- Water can help reduce your BAC, though it will still take one hour to metabolize a standard drink.
- Avoid caffeine. It’s a popular fiction that coffee, energy drinks, or any similar beverages will relieve intoxication any quicker.
What Alcohol Does to Your Body
If you drink too much on occasions or over time, it can cause serious damage to your health. These are ways it can affect your body:
Brain: Alcohol intrudes in the brain’s communication passages. It can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disturbances can change mood and behavior, and make it more difficult to think clearly and move with coordination.
Heart: Drinking can damage the heart an cause problems that include:
- Cardiomyopathy—stretching, and drooping of the heart muscle
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Liver: Heavy drinking can lead to a host of problems and liver inflammations including:
- Fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis-liver inflammation
- Fibrosis-severe amount of scar tissue in the liver
- Cirrhosis-chronic liver damage caused by scar tissue replacing healthy tissue
Pancreas: Alcohol makes the pancreas produce toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a dangerous inflammation and swelling in the blood vessels of the pancreas and it prevents normal digestion.
Cancer: Research studies show that there is a strong relationship between drinking alcohol and several types of cancer
Immune system: Your immune system can weaken due to drinking too much. This makes your body an easier target for diseases. Habitual drinkers are more likely to develop diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who don’t drink too much.
How Long Does It Take to Sober Up?
It is an endless quest to find a way to sober up quickly. There are a lot of secret recipes that claim to be the solution to this problem. Unfortunately, none of them are backed by science and evidence. If you ask any doctor how to sober up fast, they’ll tell you, “It’s impossible”. The only thing that lowers the alcohol content in your bloodstream is time.
12 Reasons to Sober Up for Life
Getting clean and sober is a scary thing to think about. A lot of our social life involves the use of substances of some type. Even if you don’t have Alcohol Use Disorder yet, a sober lifestyle can seem like a difficult process. Still, once you give up drinking, your life will become better in many ways. Here are 12 reasons to sober up:
- You will be able to sleep better. Alcohol does not promote good sleeping habits.
- Your diet will improve. When you are under the influence of alcohol, it’s easy to give in to unhealthy greasy, sweet, or salty food.
- Your weight will stabilize. You consume a lot of empty calories in every drink.
- You will be avoiding alcohol-related health problems. Liver diseases, cancer, and heart problems are all linked to drinking alcohol.
- More free time. You won’t be spending hours in bars or passing out at home.
- More money. Having an AUD isn’t free. Drinking every day is expensive.
- Less illness. Alcohol affects your immune system.
- Better relationships. When you’re sober, you have more time to spend on important relationships in your life.
- Improved memory. No more blackouts.
- You’ll have more energy. You’ll be sleeping better, eating better, and won’t be hungover.
- You’ll be more productive. More time, more energy, less illness. This allows for more productivity.
- More fun. When you enjoy yourself, you can have fun in ways that aren’t possible when drunk.
What Happens When You Quit Drinking Alcohol?
When you quit drinking, your body will go into withdrawal as it rids itself of the alcohol. Symptoms can go from mild to serious. Mild symptoms usually start as soon as 6 hours after you quit. You may have both mental and physical problems depending on how much you drank and for how long. Some symptoms are:
- Heavy sweating
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
What Causes Withdrawal?
Doctors explain that alcohol has a depressive effect on your system and it slows down brain function and changes the way your nerves communicate. After a while, your central nervous system becomes used to having alcohol around all the time. Your body keeps working to keep your brain awake so the nerves can communicate. When the alcohol level is suddenly lowered, your brain stays in the agitated state. And that is what causes withdrawal.
Detox is the first step to getting you well. Because the symptoms can become serious, you may need medical supervision while you go through withdrawal. In a detox facility, medical professionals will monitor your symptoms 24 hours a day. You will be prescribed medications to help ease the symptoms as needed. Detox typically lasts 3 to 5 days.
After you have completed detox, you begin the work of finding out why you developed an alcohol use disorder. Or you may attend an outpatient program. This will all be decided during your initial assessment. Your days in treatment will be entirely structured around different therapies designed to:
- Change the behaviors that make you want to drink
- Help you learn to deal with stress and other triggers
- Help you build a strong support system
- Set and achieve your goals
Where Can I Get Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder?
You may have recognized yourself several times here. And if you have read this far, you or someone you love has an alcohol use disorder. At Coastal Detox, we specialize in Detox programs. Our professional staff is experienced in all areas of substance use treatment. Contact us now. We have people around-the-clock waiting to hear from you.