Updated: Oct 10
The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that only about a million out of 15 million adults with alcohol addiction sought alcohol rehab. The report also shows that half a million adolescents needed treatment but only about 20,000 received it. Approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year.
While alcohol is not considered an illegal substance, it is a highly addictive substance. When abused, it can lead to physical and psychological dependence, alcohol use disorder, social difficulties, and financial troubles.
So why is alcohol so addictive? Here are five things you need to know about alcohol.
1. What are the effects of alcohol?
Around the world, alcohol is taken in varied social occasions. In small amounts, alcohol relaxes you. But the more you drink, the more that alcohol affects you until it interferes with your speech, emotions, inhibition, physical coordination, reaction time, and sense of judgment.
People experience intoxication at different rates. If you drink too much, the effects are more serious. Alcohol starts to impair life-supporting functions such as breathing and heart rate.
On the other hand, prolonged drinking can cause high blood pressure, heart damage, and liver damage. It can also impair your brain, pancreas, digestion, immune system, and reproductive system. Over time, you develop a physical dependence on alcohol, which can strain your relationships and performance at work or school.
2. What factors affect alcohol absorption?
You start feeling the effects of alcohol within 15 to 45 minutes. For some, it is a pleasant buzz; in others, it is an unpleasant feeling. This is because people’s tolerance level varies. Several factors affect how quickly your body absorbs and eliminates alcohol.
The effect of that one drink on your body will vary depending on a complex group of factors:
Your Weight – The more fat you have, the more that alcohol will linger in your body.
Your sex – Alcohol tends to linger in women more than in men. This is because women tend to have more body fat, less water, and less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach.
Your age – As you get older, your liver becomes less efficient at excreting alcohol. Many senior citizens take medications that affect how the liver function.
Your metabolism – How long alcohol stays in your system also depends on how efficiently your body is able to break down what you eat and drink into energy.
Your food intake – You will feel the effects of alcohol more quickly if you have an empty stomach. High protein foods are able to slow the absorption of alcohol.
Type or strength of the alcohol you are consuming – Your body absorbs and retains more alcohol from stronger drinks.
Whether you’ve taken any medication – Certain medications do not mix well with alcohol. They interfere with how alcohol is absorbed in the body.
Ethnicity - Genetics play a role in how efficiently the liver can metabolize alcohol. Some people lack key enzymes that will allow them to break down alcohol efficiently. A toxic by-product builds up in the blood and tissues and you become flushed and nauseated.
3. How long does alcohol stay in your system?
Based on drug tests, alcohol stays in the body for between two and 24 hours. Other tests have detected alcohol metabolites in the body for longer than that. The more you drink, the longer it takes for alcohol to leave your body.
The following are the estimated range of times that alcohol can be detected in your body.
Blood - Blood tests can detect alcohol for up to six hours.
Breath - A breathalyzer can detect alcohol in your breath for up to 24 hours.
Urine - A urine test can detect an alcohol metabolite called ethyl glucuronide for between 12 and 24 hours.
Saliva - Saliva can be positive for alcohol for up to 8 hours.
Hair - A hair follicle drug test can detect alcohol for up to 90 days.
4. How is alcohol metabolized?
Alcohol is not digested in the same manner as food. About 30 seconds after consumption, the alcohol enters the bloodstream via the capillaries surrounding the stomach and small intestines. Once in the bloodstream, it circulates throughout the body and travels to the heart and brain.
About 20 minutes after consumption, 90 percent of the alcohol would have reached the small intestines, pancreas, and liver. Food slows the absorption of alcohol. Some of the alcohol leaves the body through sweat and breath.
The liver breaks down most of the alcohol into acetaldehyde, which then metabolizes into carbon dioxide.
A healthy liver is able to eliminate alcohol at a fixed rate. But if you have been drinking heavily, your liver might not be able to clear alcohol from the body fast enough. There is a risk of overdose if you binge drink, which is about four drinks in two hours for a woman or 5 drinks in two hours for a man. The risk is higher if you mix alcohol with medications such as painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs.
5. How long does it take to sober up?
In general, it takes an hour for your body to break down one standard drink, which is equal to 12 ounces of regular beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirit (gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey).
To sober up, you need to give your liver time to flush out the alcohol from your body. On average, the liver eliminates 0.015 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood per hour.
If your blood alcohol content is 0.04, it would take 2 hours and 30 minutes for your body to break down the alcohol. But If your blood alcohol content is 0.20, it would take between 12 hours and 14 hours for your body to metabolize the alcohol.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Knowing how you are able to handle alcohol is important in how well you can avoid drug intoxication, alcohol dependence, and alcohol use disorders. If you have been drinking heavily and you wish to quit, get help. Trying to do it alone is dangerous. Your body might already have become dependent on alcohol. If you stop abruptly, you may experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremens.
Get counseling and alcohol addiction treatment that includes medical detox. Visit Recovery Blvd Treatment Center in 1316 SE 12th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214. If you’re ready to move forward into recovery and need guidance, talk to us. We are Portland, OR premiere facility servicing the Portland, Hillsboro, and Gresham, OR areas.