How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System - Its Effects and Drug Tests

You’ve been drunk. Things got out of control. Your intoxication blocked your coordination, movement, and cognitive functions. You’ve done terrible and wild things. You’ve fought with the people around you. You drove your car even if you’ve consumed much alcohol. You were speeding and you hit someone along the way. Police comes. Along with other charges, you were charged with DUI or Driving Under Influence. You got behind bars.

These sequences of events happen to a lot of people who drink much alcohol. The way alcohol affects you depends on the dosage. The lower the amount, the lighter the effects may be. The higher the amount of alcohol ingested, the higher consequences you may have to face.

In this article, we will discuss how alcohol affects the body of the one who drinks it; what happens to the body if you drink uncontrollable levels of alcohol for a long period of time; how long alcohol stays in the body; how long can they be detectable; and ways to detect alcohol in the body.

 

Drink Moderately

  • Alcohol is not all negative. It can actually be beneficial to the body, particularly to the cardiovascular system, when it is taken in moderately [1]. That’s why “Drink Moderately” is seen in all alcohol commercials or advertisements.
  • The amount of alcohol in an alcoholic drink is referred to as proof. In a 100 proof drink, 50% of that contains alcohol. 20% alcohol is contained in a 40 proof drink. Generally, wines have 8-14 percent alcohol and beers have 4-6 percent alcohol. [1]
  • Studies show that one drink per day in women and two drinks per day in men can be beneficial to the body. 4-5 oz of wine, 12 oz of beer, 10 oz of wine cooler, and 1¼ oz of distilled liquor (80 proof whiskey, scotch, rum, or vodka) are considered as one drink. [1]
  • This is not applicable to people who are pregnant, alcoholics, under medication, mental patients, with certain diseases, children, among any other groups who might contraindicate the consumption of alcohol even in a small amount.

 

Effects of Alcohol in the Body

 

Mouth

The joy of the drunkard starts in the mouth. Alcohol doesn’t stay too long in here so digestion does not happen here. [2]

 

Stomach

Eating before or while drinking alcohol is a good thing. It allows the stomach to process the alcohol more slowly. A gastric enzyme converts ethanol into acetaldehyde. This is a toxic chemical so the next step happens in the liver. Alcohol initiates gastric (stomach) upset which calls for nausea and vomiting.

 

Liver

Acetaldehyde from the stomach is converted by hepatic (liver) enzymes into less harmful chemical called acetate. But the liver cannot metabolize alcohol all at once. It only processes what it can for a specific amount of time.

The processing rate varies among people. It depends on the age, sex, tolerance, amount of food eaten, and the capacity of hepatic enzymes to digest alcohol. If you drink too much that the liver cannot keep up with your pace, acetaldehyde accumulates. If this happens, you’ll have tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and palpitations, hot flushes, perspiration, and nausea and vomiting.

 

Heart

Too much alcohol causes irregular, rapid heartbeats.

 

Blood Vessels

Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it widens the diameter of your blood vessels. This occurs all throughout the body. That is why you feel warm and appear reddish when you consume much alcohol. It is your blood that surges all throughout your body that even the surface of your skin feels its effects.

 

Immune System

Alcohol suppresses your immune system. It makes the infection-fighting system less effective in protecting the body against illness and diseases.

 

Kidneys

Alcohol suppresses the release of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) or vasopressin, which allows the kidneys to reabsorb water. Since this hormone is decreased, there will be less water reabsorption, causing you to be diuretic (urinates frequently).

 

Bladder

In addition to ADH being suppressed, the cells squeeze out intracellular fluid, causing it to be dehydrated and to shrink. Thirst is felt if this happens. The more you feel thirsty, the more you drink alcohol (thinking that it would quench your thirst), and the more you go to the bathroom. The excess fluid that comes out of the cells is stored in the bladder and excreted as urine.

 

Libido or Sex Drive

After a few drinks, sex drive may be enhanced for some people. But much alcohol in the body makes this erotic sensation to be felt less likely. Alcohol dulls the cognition, coordination, and perception. Some may not want to have sex with this kind of feeling. Moreover, alcohol causes vasodilation, which makes it hard for males to maintain penile erection. In order for the penis to stay erected, vasoconstriction is needed, not vasodilation.

 

Joints

Among many other body process that alcohol impairs, the protein in your joints that maintains its health is one of the victims. Without the proper function of this protein, there will be a buildup of uric acid in the joints, causing arthritis called gout. This is a part of the hangover wherein you feel mild pain in your joints.

 

Brain

Alcohol affects the neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for sending and receiving neural messages. Alcohol increases the effects of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and decreases the effects of glutamate. GABA slows down brain functions while glutamate increases it. Since the former is increased and the latter is decreased during and after alcohol consumption, brain processes are slowed down.

 

Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is responsible for making decisions and controlling impulses. If the blood alcohol level reaches 0.05, frontal lobe begins to have a disrupted function. You make poor choices, take dares, reveal secrets, and do things that you may not do when you are sober.

 

Amygdala

Amygdala is a part of your brain that detects danger. In low doses of alcohol consumption, amygdala begins to have a disrupted function. As a result, a person may ignore the consequences that he might face if he did a certain action that a sober person will not do. In moderate or high amounts of alcohol, perception of danger is totally impaired. It’s like he doesn’t care what happens to him. If he wants to do something, he’ll do it without fear for his life. This is dangerous as it may lead to a person’s death if he chooses to do something that is totally reckless.

 

Cerebellum

Cerebellum is responsible for coordination and balance, learning, and memory. When these functions are disrupted by alcohol consumption, the person will not be able to walk and talk straight and respond quickly.

 

Hippocampus

Hippocampus is responsible for memory. At 0.15 blood alcohol level, one cannot recall a lot of things including what he just did or where he went. At 0.20, although this is not fully proven to be true, one experiences what they call blackout. This is the time when you can’t remember a thing. You wake up the next day without remembering what happened last night while you were drinking.

 

Brain Stem

This is the most dangerous effect of alcohol to your body as it can lead to impaired physiologic processes that may lead to death. Brain stem is responsible for the involuntary actions like breathing, gagging, sneezing, coughing, etc. When blood alcohol level reaches 0.35, the brain stem might shut down. If this happens, your own vomit might be drowning you (respiratory muscles may not be controlled during this time), or you might just stop breathing.



Long-Term Health Effects of Alcohol Consumption

Image Source: healthchecksystems.com

 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

  • How long alcohol stays in your system depends on how much you have drunk and eaten, how fast your metabolism is, your body size and gender [3].
  • When it comes to alcohol tolerance, males are greater than females, fat is greater than thin, tall is greater than short, middle age is greater than adolescents and elderly, Westerners are greater than Easterners, and drunkards are greater than social drinkers.

Here is a table on how long a body can metabolize a specific level of alcohol:


How long can alcohol be metabolized?

Image Source: potsdam.edu

 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Blood? 

10 ml of pure alcohol [3] or 0.015 blood alcohol content (BAC) [4] takes 1 hour to be broken down. To reveal a negative blood test for alcohol, you have to wait for 12 hours [5]. But of course, this time is not applicable for someone who just drunk a barrel of alcohol. It depends on how much you have drunk and eaten, how fast your metabolism is, your body size and gender [3].

 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Urine?

  • It takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes for an alcoholic drink to reach your kidneys [6, 7, 8]. 5-10% of the ingested alcohol goes to the kidneys [6, 7]. As previously discussed, antidiuretic hormone (ADH) or vasopressin is being suppressed, resulting to decreased reabsorption of fluid in the body, hence frequent urination happens. So for about 20 minutes, a fraction or all of that 5-10% is being excreted as urine [7, 8].
  • Having the alcohol excreted as a part of the urine doesn’t mean it ends there. It leaves trace elements in your body that is why it can be detected if you have been consuming alcohol, say for this week.
  • Presence of alcohol in the urine is detected mostly within two days of alcohol consumption. But we have this ethyl glucuronide (EtG) urine alcohol test which can detect the presence of alcohol within 3-4 days. [7]
  • Chronic alcoholism will mess up with job of kidneys to balance the fluids and electrolytes in your body, which will eventually lead to kidney diseases, renal failure, myocardial infarction (MI) or heart attack, and brain damage.

 

Alcohol Drug Tests: Ways to Detect Alcohol in your Body

Breath Alcohol Test



A picture of breathalyzer.

Image Source: about.com

Among the other tests in detecting alcohol presence and levels in the body, breathalyzer test is most commonly used because it is simple, fast, easy, and non-invasive [9].

The person would blow into the device, like that in the illustration. The device will then analyze the current alcohol concentration in your body and it will appear on the LED screen. [10]

 

Saliva or Mouth Swab Test

Saliva can also be used to determine if you have been drinking for a full day [11]. Saliva sample or oral fluid is obtained and it will be tested. Like the breath alcohol test, this procedure is simple, fast, easy, and non-invasive that is why it is also widely used. The result can be reliable as that in the blood test [11].

 

Urine Based Tests


Within 2 days after alcohol has been ingested [11], urine based tests may be used to determine if the result is “positive” or “negative”, that is, if alcohol is present or not in the body during the time of test. It does not show alcohol levels. [9]

 

Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG)


When drinking and processing alcohol in your body, remnants called metabolites are being produced. One of these remnants that can be identified through the urine is the ethyl glucuronide (EtG). This is a definitive indicator that alcohol has been consumed within 3-4 days or approximately 80 hours. [12]

 

Blood Based Tests


Blood based tests are done to patients who suffer from acute intoxication and chronic alcoholism. 4 ml of blood is placed in a fluoride oxalate container. Blood test is the most preferred and most reliable test in detecting presence in the body because it shows the alcohol levels. [9]

 

Control is the Key

No one can help yourself except you. Drinking is not that bad, as long as it is contained. Before you start drinking, set a limit of drinks. Do not exceed to that limit because once you do, it’ll be nonstop and it’ll be hard for you deal with the consequences. Discipline yourself.

References:
  1. http://www.healthchecksystems.com/alcohol.htm
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/28/alcohol-effects-body-infographic_n_2333328.html
  3. http://www.healthdoes.com/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-blood/
  4. http://answers.reference.com/wellness/compulsion/how_long_does_alcohol_stay_in_the_blood
  5. http://www.allhealthsite.com/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-blood-system-urine.html
  6. http://www.alcohol-stuff.co.uk/information/body/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-urine.html
  7. http://www.allhealthsite.com/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-blood-system-urine.html
  8. http://howto.dcrdetox.com/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-urine
  9. http://alcohol.addictionblog.org/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-system/
  10. http://jobsearch.about.com/od/drugtests/tp/drug-and-alcohol-tests.htm
  11. http://lapoliticaesotracosa.blogspot.com/2012/05/5-most-common-alcohol-test-methods.html

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