When you drink, alcohol doesn’t just pass through your body right away. The liver breaks it down, and it also stays active in other parts of the body. Many people wonder, “How long does alcohol stay in your system?” We’ll take a look at how long it takes for alcohol to metabolize and when to know that you’re intoxicated.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulties with alcohol, it might be time for an intervention. Denial is a very strong force that affects people who have addiction disorders and sometimes the people who love them can fall victim to denial. Staging interventions and finding the right addiction rehabilitation clinic can be difficult. We at Addiction Intervention are here to help you or your loved one start their road to recovery safely.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
There are five main ways that people test for alcohol use. Evidence of alcohol consumption can stay in the body for hours and even days. The time it takes for evidence of alcohol use to leave a person’s body are:
- Blood: 12 hours
- Urine: 10-12 hours or 3-5 days depending on the type of test used
- Breath: 24 hours
- Saliva: 1-5 days
- Hair: up to 90 days
How Much Alcohol is in a Standard Drink?
A standard drink is:
- 12 oz. beer at around 5% alcohol content
- 8-9 oz. malt liquor drink at around 7% alcohol content
- 5 oz. of wine at around 12% alcohol content
- 1.5 oz. or a standard shot of 80 proof hard liquor at about 40% alcohol content
The alcohol content of mixed drinks can be harder to measure because different liquors in the drink might have different alcohol contents. That does not mean that you should assume that the liquors are on the lighter end of the alcohol content spectrum. Alcohol overdose becomes more and more likely if the alcohol is mixed with other substances whether they are illegal drugs or prescriptions written for you by your doctor. Many herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort can also be dangerous to mix with alcohol. The liver processes much of the alcohol that enters the body. However, the liver can only process one standard drink per hour.
Why Can Some People Drink More Without Getting as Drunk?
There are several risk factors for alcohol poisoning and general intoxication:
- Overall size and weight
- Overall health
- Having recently eaten
If you are taking drugs or medication that react negatively with alcohol, but you still find yourself having a hard time not drinking, you may have a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders are mental health disorders and a substance use disorder present in the same person.
Just because you’re taking medication for something doesn’t mean that medication is fully treating your health disorder. Only taking medication does not solve many disorders, especially mental health disorders. For example, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might need therapy for their condition as well as medication. If they do not get the help they need they might start to drink again after drug rehab. You need a specialized clinic to treat co-occurring disorders. They play off each other. You cannot address one and not the other or they will soon both be back.
A High Tolerance for Alcohol Does Not Mean That You Can Drive Drunk
Some people have a high tolerance for alcohol, whether it is from chronic drinking or biology. Tolerance for alcohol means that the person has to drink more and more to get the same feelings of getting or being drunk. People with a 50% raised tolerance over time have a high chance of having or forming a dangerous relationship with alcohol.
Signs of Intoxication
If someone shows the below signs while drinking or after drinking, they’re most likely drunk.
- Lowered inhibitions
- Impaired ability to walk
- Slow reaction time
- Slurred speech
- Losing coordination
- Poor judgment
Not all intoxicated people will show all of these signs all at the same time. If they are showing even a few of the signs, they need to curb their drinking. This is especially true if they are drinking quickly.
Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
It is still very possible to overdose on alcohol even if you have a very high tolerance.
The signs of alcohol poisoning are:
- Clammy skin
- Bluish skin color
- Slow breathing (around 8 breaths or less a minute. A healthy person usually has 12-16 breaths a minute)
- No gag reflex and other dulled responses or reflexes
- Difficulty remaining conscious or loss of consciousness
- Extremely low body temperature (the low normal temperature is 97.8 Fahrenheit or 36.5 Celsius)
- Slow heart rate (a healthy heart rate is generally 60-100 beats)
- Irregular breathing
You can overdose on alcohol even if you only drink beer. Beer still contains alcohol. While it does not contain as much per ounce as liquor, if you drink enough you will have consumed as much alcohol as you would if you took a shot of liquor.
Is There Any Sort of Help for Alcohol Poisoning Help Like Narcan?
Unfortunately, Narcan will not work on someone who is suffering from alcohol poisoning. There is no Narcan equivalent for alcohol overdose. You need to get the person to a hospital imminently.
- Put fluids directly into the patient’s veins
- Use oxygen therapy
- Specialized vitamins
People do not have the skills or tools to do any of this at home. There are several harmful myths about what someone needs to do to ‘sober up’ or get the alcohol out of their system quicker.
The Bacchus Maneuver
If someone has lost consciousness it is important that you call 911 immediately and perform the Bacchus Maneuver. It is very important to not leave the drunk or unconscious person alone.
If the person is on the ground:
- Raise the arm closest to you over their head and prepare to roll them towards you
- Gently roll the person towards you, taking care that they don’t hit their head. Their arm should still be above their head. Do not put their head on their arm.
- Tilt the head to maintain the airway. Put the person’s hand that is closest to you under their face to keep it tilted and off the ground.
Dangerous Myths About Sobering Up
Coffee might make you feel more alert, but it won’t get the alcohol out of your system any faster.
Sleeping it off is also dangerous. You can still lose consciousness while asleep. Just because someone went to sleep does not mean that their BAC might not rise. If the alcohol has not been fully processed by the body BAC will continue to rise. The person can go through the process of an overdose in their sleep.
Cold showers can shock the body and cause loss of consciousness.
Walking it off might lead to injury if the drunk person loses consciousness or balance and hits their head or any other sensitive spot.
Just Because You Don’t Look Drunk Does Not Mean You’re Sober
Tolerance does not mean a lower Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Even if you don’t feel drunk if your BAC is 0.08% or over, it still means you are not legally allowed to drive in the United States. Just because your friend isn’t acting drunk doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Driving sometimes requires quick reflexes and quick fine motor skills.
There is also the danger that if you don’t hit anyone, you might still witness a collision or other disaster. Do you stop and try to help the person? Do you just keep going? These are questions that you might not be able to rationally answer if you have a high BAC or are otherwise impaired from alcohol or mixing alcohol and other substances. If you are driving under the influence, you might not get pulled over or get a DUI. However, you might still make mistakes that you regret later. This can include unprotected sex, trying or using other addictive substances, or have other legal troubles.
Why Does Alcohol Make Me Feel Better If It’s Bad for Me?
Substances like alcohol will only make you feel better for a little while. Alcohol might seem to relieve your anxiety symptoms or other mental health-related pain in the short term. However, it will start to make your symptoms worse over time. This might also strengthen any denial you or your loved one might have. Due to cognitive bias, the person with the substance use disorder might focus on the times when they felt like alcohol helped them. They might ignore evidence of how alcohol is making them lose friends, family, their job, and maybe develop other addiction-related problems such as cirrhosis of the liver.
Can Co-Occurring Disorders Make People Drink?
People can develop alcohol addiction because of co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders are when another mental health condition, as well as an addiction, occurs in the same person. The other mental health disorder(s) might be part of the reason that the addiction developed. You would need a particular care facility that can help you treat co-occurring disorders, not facilities where addiction is the only focus.
Addiction Intervention Can Help
Substance abuse disorders are lifelong mental health conditions. That does not mean that life is over. When you are firm on your road to recovery, you can start to enjoy life again. Not everything will center around drugs and what you have to pay or do to get them. With therapy, such as family, individual, and group therapy, you can start to feel less alone. There is hope. Even if an intervention is needed for your loved one to go to a clinic and start their road to recovery, it will be worth it. Contact us today.