Classed as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, did you know that alcohol is actually a drug? As a depressant, alcohol reduces your brain function and neural activity.
In addition to the above, drinking alcohol affects your thinking and movement, impairing your judgment and reactions. This is why being under the influence of alcohol can have dangerous consequences.
Alcohol consumption can be harmful to your short and long-term health. When you use alcohol over a prolonged period, you will likely develop a tolerance to drinking, which will see you needing more alcohol to feel the same effects. This means that even if you don’t feel drunk, the alcohol in your blood will be raised.
But do you know how long alcohol stays in your system? Not knowing might put you and others at risk of harm in more than one way.
What are the Signs of Being Drunk?
If you have ever consumed alcohol, you might have an understanding of your body when under the influence.
Some signs and side effects of being drunk are:
- Feeling relaxed
- A sensation of warmth
- Slowed reaction times
- Slowed heart rate
- Reduced blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Loud or fast speech
- Lowered inhibitions (saying or doing things you usually would not)
- Reduced fine motor coordination
- Reduced cognitive processing ability
- Double vision
Other side effects can be risk-taking behavior such as drunk driving, injury, violence, or unprotected sex resulting in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Unbeknown to many, these side effects can occur upon drinking even small quantities of alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach can also make the effects of alcohol worse. Heavy drinking, also known as binge drinking, can cause extreme versions of these effects.
What Are the Dangers of Alcohol Abuse?
If you binge drink or consume a large volume of alcohol in a short period, you may well abuse alcohol. Unfortunately, one of the significant dangers of alcohol abuse is alcohol poisoning.
Signs and effects of alcohol poisoning include:
- Clammy skin
- Loss of coordination
- Being conscious but unresponsive
- Inability to walk
- Loss of consciousness
No level of alcohol consumption has guaranteed safety. If you choose to drink alcohol, it is recommended that you do so in moderation. The current guidelines state that men should consume no more than two drinks a day, while women should avoid drinking more than one drink each day. However, this is a vague guideline based on alcohol levels in a standard drink, and not all beverages contain the same levels of alcohol. Regular beer, for example, has different alcohol levels compared with malt liquor or distilled spirits. In addition, everyone’s alcohol metabolism is different.
If you are unsure about how much you should be drinking, talk to your doctor. If you are under the legal drinking age, pregnant, taking certain medications that interact with alcohol, or are recovering from a substance abuse disorder, you should avoid alcohol at all costs. Is it also not advised to consume alcohol when breastfeeding, as it can transfer into breast milk.
Alcohol abuse leads to addiction and overdose, which can be fatal. If you feel you have lost control of your alcohol intake, help is available. Likewise, if you suspect an alcohol overdose in yourself or someone else, call 911.
What Is the Legal Definition of Drunk?
Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the legal and medical measurement of alcohol intoxication. Having a BAC of 0.5%, for example, means there is 0.5g of alcohol for every 100 ml of blood. Having a BAC of 0.0% means you are sober, and there is no alcohol in your blood.
How easily you are affected by alcohol depends on how your body metabolizes it. People who drink regularly may have built a tolerance to alcohol, needing more to feel the effects. But whether you feel drunk or how much alcohol you have consumed has no bearing on your blood alcohol levels. In the United States, the legal limit of alcohol is 0.08% BAC.
There is no real way of knowing your BAC without conducting a test to detect alcohol. This is why you should stick to the recommended Government guidelines. Just one drink could put you over the legal limit.
How Is the Alcohol in My System Detected?
How long does alcohol stay in your system? Well, that depends on how quickly your body processes alcohol.
When you drink, alcohol immediately enters your blood. A small percentage of that does so via the small blood vessels in your tongue and mouth. Meanwhile, some alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine tissue lining. If you eat before drinking, food will slow down the process.
Alcohol is a toxin that your body eliminates. Roughly 10% of alcohol is eliminated through your sweat, urine, and breath, and your liver metabolizes the other 90%. This happens via an enzyme in the liver called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). Your liver can only break down the equivalent of about one drink an hour. Despite popular misconceptions, drinking water will not speed up the process.
Factors that affect your alcohol metabolism include:
- Body fat content
- Your liver function
- Any medications being taken
- Any food consumed beforehand
A blood alcohol test is used to determine your BAC. However, there are various other tests, such as a urine test, saliva test, and hair test, that can detect your blood alcohol level.
When alcohol enters your system, it can be detected in a breath test, also known as a breathalyzer test, twelve to twenty-four hours after consumption. This means in your breath, not on your breath, so chewing gum will not reduce this detection.
Meanwhile, a blood test can detect alcohol levels for up to six hours. In contrast, a urine test can expose alcohol in your blood for twelve to twenty-four hours. However, some new urine tests can detect alcohol for up to seventy-two hours, and saliva tests also work for up to twenty-four hours. Surprisingly, alcohol can be observed in your hair for up to ninety days.
BAC tests are performed for various reasons, but breath tests are most common. These are usually carried out to determine if you are driving under the influence.
What if Alcohol is Found in My Breath?
If you are in a traffic accident or caught driving dangerously, you may be stopped by the police and asked to take a roadside breathalyzer test. If you are caught over the legal limit of 0.08% BAC, you could be prosecuted and given a drinking under the influence (DUI) charge.
Depending on the circumstances, you could be cautioned or even prosecuted if you are caught with any alcohol levels in your blood. DUI charges can lead to fines, suspension, community service, and jail time.
Every day in the United States, twenty-eight people die in drink-driving crashes. DUI cases are taken very seriously and for a good reason. Drink driving always carries a risk of catastrophic consequences, including injury and death.
If you plan on drinking at all, you should make sure you have a safe way of getting home, such as by a designated driver, cab, or public transport. If you know you need to drive home, stick to non-alcohol drinks, such as soda.
How Do I Drink Responsibly?
It is important to drink responsibly and in moderation. Regardless of how long alcohol can be detected, the short-term risks of alcohol are impaired judgment leading to injury or a DUI, nausea, or losing consciousness. Prolonged drinking and alcohol abuse can lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pancreatitis, and cancer.
It is fine to avoid alcohol altogether. If not, try to stick to the Government guidelines of just a few drinks at maximum. If you feel you have a drinking problem, always seek help.
To ensure you drink responsibly, keep track of your drinking and its side effects. Ask your friends to hold you accountable, and always make sure you have a safe way to get home.