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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?


There is no hard and fast rule for how long alcohol stays in your system. It depends on a number of factors including your height, weight, and gender. Other things to consider are: how long you’ve been drinking, how much you’ve been drinking, and how fast your body metabolizes alcohol.

The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol for elimination. In general, a healthy liver can break down one alcoholic drink ever hour. However, “one drink” is measured differently depending on if you’re drinking beer, wine, or hard liquor. The one drink per hour ratio means one 12-oz. beer, 5-oz. Glass of wine, or 1.5 oz. of hard liquor. The rate at which your body absorbs alcohol can be slowed if you’re drinking on a full stomach, are well hydrated, and are otherwise, relatively healthy.

Each of these factors make a difference for how fast your body is able to get rid of alcohol after consumption. This can be tested in a number of ways. Breathalyzer tests are probably the most common. They’re able to detect the blood alcohol content within 24 hours of drinking. A urinary test can detect alcohol left in the system for days. And, saliva tests may detect alcohol for approximately two weeks after you’ve consumed alcohol.

Whether it’s hours, days, or weeks that alcohol stays in your system, it all comes down to how easily your body is able to break it down. If you drink more than the regulatory one drink per hour, the blood and organs begin to react to the excessive amount in the body because there is nowhere for it to go.


How Do You Know If You’re Drinking Too Much?

Your body will tell you. If you are a chronic drinker, you’ve most likely built up a tolerance to alcohol’s common effects. While some people may feel “buzzed” off one or two drinks, your body’s addiction might trick you into thinking it can handle four, five, or more. But that’s not the case.

Excessive drinking can lead to alcohol dependency and alcohol abuse. It will affect your body, behavior, and actions. Although you may not immediately identify your drinking habits as problematic, ask yourself how often you’re drinking and how much at a time. What you may feel are typical drinking habits may actually be dependency or addiction. Do you:

  • Drink past the time everyone else is through?
  • Hide how much you drink from others?
  • Feel ashamed or anxious about your drinking habits?
  • Have trouble remembering events and behaviors from blackouts caused by drinking?
  • Drive under the influence?
  • Have to convince your friends and family you do not have a drinking problem?
  • Wake up craving alcohol or the need to drink?

By identifying a drinking problem early on, you can help preserve and improve your health. Think about the ways alcohol affects you and consider the damage it is doing to your body. There are immediate symptoms that occur when you’ve had too much to drink and there are also long-term signs that occur over time in chronic drinkers.

If you’re wondering how long alcohol stays in your body, it’s enough time to cause immediate side effects and sometimes permanent damage. “Too much” is a relative term but can be categorized as anything that is more than the one drink per hour gauge that gives your body the time it needs to process the alcohol.


What Is Alcoholism?

Drinking alcohol on its own isn’t something people are normally concerned about. It’s often used as a way to celebrate or relax after a long day. Alcoholism doesn’t affect everyone who drinks. But for the millions of people it does, it can impact their daily lives on every level.

Alcoholism can be hereditary but it can also develop if you have a history of alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking or if you began drinking from an early age. Those two factors combined affect people in their late teens and early 20s. Binge drinking involves consuming a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time. It is a dangerous habit and one that can easily lead to alcohol dependency.

Alcoholism may make one person extremely happy-go-lucky, while it can make another person angry and violent. It can lead to legal trouble, problems in relationships, and negative situations at work. If you cannot control your alcohol intake, that’s alcoholism. If you start and end your days drinking, that’s alcoholism. As long as there is alcohol in your system, it is damaging your body in some way. The only way to regain control of your health is by seeking treatment for this disease.


Effects of Alcohol Dependency

Forget about the stereotypes you know about alcoholism and know that it can look different in everyone that suffers from it. Maybe you don’t identify with all the common characteristics associated with alcoholism, but alcohol abuse of any kind can lead to problems with dependency. When this level is reached, your body will require more to reach the intoxicated level. This can lead to a slew of side effects such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Severe headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Slowed motor skills
  • Blurry vision
  • Slurred speech

It can also put you at risk for organ damage, especially liver failure, complications with pregnancy, and situations involving drunk driving, either as the driver or the pedestrian. Alcohol also plays a part in your appearance and can lead to:

  • Greasy hair
  • Dry, sallow skin
  • Yellowed nails
  • Bloodshot eyes

However, keep in mind that while these are regularly found in people who are alcohol dependent, the effects of alcoholism don’t always look entirely the same for everyone. Some alcohol substance abuse sufferers are able to hide their alcohol intake.

They are referred to as “functioning alcoholics” and still run through their normal day-to-day activities without too much interruption. However, alcohol is still damaging their bodies and eventually, the effects of alcohol catch up with them in other ways. It’s a myth that alcoholism all looks the same. There are other myths about alcohol abuse that may surprise you.


Common Myths about Alcoholism

Drinking alcohol in moderation is not often a problem. Drinking in excess is. Although, if you show signs of alcohol dependency, moderation may quickly turn into excess. Alcohol addiction affects your body and mind but it also affects those around you. You may not even realize how much it is a constant in your life and be in denial when confronted with any questions about it. You may have heard some of these statements from others or even have heard them yourself. When facing alcoholism head-on, one of the first things that happens is the acceptance of the problems it has caused in your life.


Myth #1: When it comes to drinking, I know my limits.

If the general rule of thumb is to drink one alcoholic drink per hour to allow the liver time to metabolize it, how often do you go beyond this limit? Just because you’ve built up a higher tolerance to alcohol consumption, it doesn’t mean you have a new limit.

It means your body has adapted to how much alcohol you’ve been drinking and now is becoming dependent on that amount every time you drink. In turn, it is damaging your liver and other organs, and creating an addiction to alcohol that you will soon or already don’t have control over.


Myth #2: Alcoholism isn’t an addiction. I can quit whenever I want.

The truth is alcohol can have as severe of an effect on your body as any drug addiction. It depends on how much you’re drinking and how long you’ve been drinking as well. When you don’t drink, how does your body respond? Does it go through withdrawal symptoms like profuse sweating, nausea, tremors, or hallucinations? If your body has become addicted to alcohol, you will experience similar symptoms to that of withdrawal from drug addiction.


Myth #3: I don’t get blackout drunk.

Alcoholism doesn’t always mean you are passed out daily from drinking. But how often are you drinking? Is it before noon when you start? Do you steadily drink throughout the day? Has it affected your work performance, friendships, or relationships? Take a look at your drinking habits and know that each case is different. Not every situation of alcoholism will result in blackouts.


Myth #4: My friends don’t think I have a problem.

Your friends may not realize you do. They may be the ones drinking with you but may not understand the severity of how alcohol is affecting you. Again, every person breaks down alcohol differently and handles it differently as well.

For example, a woman who weighs 130 pounds and is 5’” is going to metabolize alcohol much differently than a man who is 200 pounds and is 6’1”. If they are both drinking the same amount, the female is most likely going to be intoxicated much quicker than the male.


Myth #5: I only drink beer, so it doesn’t affect as me as much.

Beer still makes people intoxicated. It still causes damage to the liver. It still can cause all the same side effects that occur from drinking hard alcohol or wine. One 12-oz. beer is the same as a shot of hard liquor or a 5-oz. pour of wine. Drinking only beer doesn’t change the amount the body can process or how it affects your mind and motor functions.


Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Alcoholism is a serious disease; it is also a treatable one. If you have made the decision to receive treatment for alcoholism, you’re taking the first step to a healthier future. Whether or not you can see the damaging effects alcohol have on you, a medical professional can examine how big of an impact it has had and suggest a treatment plan.

All recovery begins with detoxification. Detox is necessary to rid your body of alcohol and toxins, so you can begin rehabilitation. This withdrawal period usually lasts from 5-7 days but can vary depending on your specific condition. Following detox, you have different types of alcohol treatment options to choose from. Many people receive inpatient rehab care, which requires a temporary stay at a drug and alcohol treatment center.

When you dedicate your time to getting sober and healthy under the care and supervision of others, it can help you along the process. It gives you a comfortable, safe environment where you can receive the help you need. This may be especially beneficial for you, if you need to remove yourself from your current situation and start anew.

Temporarily living at a treatment facility also gives you the chance to focus on your recovery without outside distractions or temptations. Inpatient care includes group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational programs, and information to help you transition back into the world sober. You will learn about alcoholism and what the root cause of drinking is for you. Do you know what causes you to drink? There may be deeper areas to explore that you can slowly uncover as you go through the recovery process.

Outpatient care is another option. The setup and structure involves many of the same components of inpatient care, but you do not reside at the treatment center. This is an option for those who don’t wish to temporarily move away from their homes or have other responsibilities that require a more flexible type of schedule. Regardless of where you choose to receive treatment, the most important thing is to get the kind of care that will work best for you.

If you are a loved one researching places for your friend or family member, consider what will create the most comforting environment for them. The truth is the treatment process varies for everyone.


Receive the Care You Need for a Healthier Future

Alcohol abuse and addiction has long-term effects. The more you drink, the more damage it causes your body and mind. It negatively affects all aspects of your life. You deserve a more positive future. One where alcohol doesn’t control your decisions and change who you are. Luminance Recovery is here to help give you the treatment you need. There are challenging days but every step toward sobriety means taking back claim of your life. Armed with the tools and resources you need to achieve a sober lifestyle, we are here to help. Call us today to learn about our different treatment options.

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