One must first understand how alcohol works in the human body and how testing for alcohol intoxication is achieved before the alcohol detoxification process can be understood. Alcohol intoxication is the body’s change from normal functioning to a physiological state of impairment induced by the excessive consumption of alcohol. But how long does it take to detox from alcohol?
What Exactly Is Alcohol Intoxication?
This phenomenon occurs when the quantity of alcohol consumed in a given time period overexerts the ability of the liver to metabolize the alcohol faster than it is consumed. Intoxicating by-products of alcohol then pass into the bloodstream. As Blood Alcohol Levels increase and physiological changes occur, different areas of the brain’s receptors become depressed resulting in physical and mental impairment.
Signs of Alcohol Intoxication
Alcohol Intoxication, or being ‘drunk’, can be collectively characterized by:
- Slurred speech
- Speaking loudly
- Laughing inappropriately
- Uninhibited social conduct
- Depressed judgment
- Lapse in awareness and cognitive skills
- Generally behaving in an unusual or improper way
- Violent or erratic behavior
Alcohol intoxication increases risk factors for injury because of its unpredictable effects. The World Health Organization reports that of patients attending the emergency room each year, an estimated 10-18% are alcohol-related cases.
Diagnosing and Testing for Alcohol Intoxication
Ethanol is the primary type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts in various substances like grains or fruits used as the basis of the alcoholic beverage. Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is usually measured as a percentage of ethanol in the blood. Governments entities usually provide a legal threshold for which a person is ‘legally intoxicated’. This typically depends on the situation that it is applied. In the United States, a person is considered to be legally intoxicated and legally prohibited from driving a vehicle if their blood alcohol content is 0.08% or greater.
Conclusive diagnosis of intoxication relies on the results of a test. The three most common methods for testing BAC are breath, blood, and urine tests. Many states require a breath test, but some allow you to request a blood or urine test. Breath testing is the most common method used by law enforcement in the U.S. to measure Blood Alcohol Concentration. This is because breathalyzers are portable, easy to use, and most importantly provide immediate results. These results are usually considered accurate enough to be admitted in a prosecution of a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge. In general, breath tests are not as accurate as blood tests.
Accuracy of BAC Tests
In the U.S. consent to having your blood drawn for testing is usually a requirement as a condition of driving a motor vehicle. Thus refusing to take a blood test can have significant legal consequences including suspension of driving privileges and fines. A blood test for Blood Alcohol Concentration is considered to be more accurate than breath and urine tests. However, lab testing errors can and do occur and thus render the test results inaccurate. Some of the factors that can affect the accuracy of a blood test include lack of vial mix-ups, sterilization issues, preservatives, refrigeration or lack thereof, fermentation of the blood sample, and coagulation of blood in the vial.
Urine tests are less accurate than breath and blood tests. They tend to be used only when other tests are not available. Studies have shown that urine test results can show a significantly higher or lower level of alcohol in the subject’s body than the actual BAC in the blood. Alcohol also can take up to 2 hours to appear in a person’s urine and can remain in a person’s system for 6 to 24 hours. Because of this, a positive urine test may not prove that the subject was legally intoxicated at the time the test was administered. But alcohol can show up in the urine for 12 to 36 hours, and possibly longer with certain new methods. So it can be used to try to show that a person has consumed alcohol. Urine tests are also subject to many of the same possible laboratory errors as blood tests.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?
In one important respect alcohol is different than food or most other types of drugs, because alcohol requires little or no digestion to break it down into a digestible form. Thus in practical terms, the body readily absorbs alcohol almost immediately as soon as you take a drink. Once the alcohol hits the stomach approximately 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed directly into small blood vessels that are designed to carry water and nutrients from food into the circulatory system, and thus throughout the body.
Approximately 80 percent of the alcohol then moves into the small intestines where it is absorbed by another group of small blood vessels. This similarly transports the absorbed material throughout the body. Note that because the stomach is directly involved, the rate at which alcohol enters the body decreases when there is food in the stomach. Slower absorption rates serve to increase the time it takes a person to become intoxicated. Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it eventually travels to the liver and metabolizes there.
Alcohol to the Bloodstream
The liver metabolizes alcohol at approximately the same rate for everybody, regardless of sex, weight, race, or age. However, rates of metabolism can be significantly slower for someone suffering from liver disease or some other serious liver condition. On average the liver processes .015 of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) per hour. Therefore .015 of the alcohol in your body is being metabolized and disappearing from your body for every hour that you are not drinking. So someone who has a high BAC of 0.15, almost twice the legal limit in the U.S., will have no measurable alcohol in their blood after ten hours. This result is obtained because .15 divided by .015 = 10. And a person with a BAC of 0.08, which is the legal limit in most of the U. S., would take approximately 5.3 hours for all the alcohol to be eliminated from their body.
Signs of Alcohol Dependence
Once a person has progressed past a certain point they may develop alcohol dependence or addiction. Common behavioral indicators of alcohol dependence are measurably identifiable. Alcohol progressively becomes a priority for those impacted with alcoholism. It is common for abusers to make attempts to hide the frequency of drinking, unforeseen consequences, and the general negative effect that alcohol has on their life. Those affected often become involved in precarious circumstances, experience memory lapses, feel guilty and embarrassed about their behavior, spend a lot of time recovering from their drinking, make failed plans to stop drinking, and they commonly have legal problems.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?
Alcohol Withdrawal refers to symptoms that occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis suddenly stops drinking. Alcohol Withdrawal is not the same diagnosis as a hangover. A hangover is a short response to sporadic intoxication. Withdrawal presents a contrast of biochemical and physiological side effects, which begin to occur within approximately 2 hours after the last drink. During alcohol withdrawal, the will and desire to continue to drink is often prevalent. The Journal of the American Pain Society found that alcohol craving is directly related to withdrawal symptoms during the acute alcohol withdrawal period, and that the craving can last for weeks.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?
Receptors in the brain called GABA Receptors are responsible for relaxation of the brain and various muscle groups. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the major suppression transmitter of the brain’s behavioral process and is responsible for balancing levels of excitatory stimuli. When alcohol comes in contact with GABA receptors, it binds to the nerve endings. It enhances the normal level of function, causing intense feelings of euphoria for the individual. Over a period of repeated exposure to alcohol, GABA receptors recognize this altered transmit function as normal and regulate at this frequency. When the individual stops drinking, GABA levels begin to decrease to a normal state. The brain strives to adapt to normal functioning. As a result, confusion and disorder in the brain begin to occur and this causes hyperactivity in the Central Nervous System (CNS).
This imbalance is commonly referred to as alcohol withdrawal. Dr Michael A Rogawski, MD, PhD and author of Neurobiology of Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures, determines that an estimated 2 million Americans experience the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal each year. The most dramatic and severe side effects of alochol withdrawal are generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Which become more likely with repeated alcohol detoxification.
Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal
The American Psychiatric Association defines Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder, (AUD) as a psychiatric diagnosis. However, there are also a large number of people who do not meet the accepted criteria for alcoholism, but can still be considered to be a problem drinker. Effects of withdrawal from alcohol are progressive and are usually characterized on a scale from mild to extremely severe. The severity of symptoms can be dictated by a number of factors. With primary considerations being the volume of alcohol consumed, the length of time the individual has been using alcohol, and any previous history of alcohol withdrawal. The longer the alcohol dependence history, the more significant the effect of withdrawal. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Intense craving for alcohol
- Acute tiredness
Feelings of guilt and embarrassment about behavior are common emotional traits of mild alcohol withdrawal. Physical effects become much more pronounced in more severe cases of alcohol withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM -IV), to meet the assessment criteria acknowledged for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, patients must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms:
- Raised blood pressure
- Hand tremors
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Transient hallucinations (auditory, visual or tactile)
- Psychomotor agitation
- Tonic-clonic seizures
- Rapid heartbeat
Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms, usually occurring within the first 12 to 36 hours after alcohol consumption, are likely to include the mild symptoms above. They then can progress to nightmares, hallucinations, severe anxiety, severe depression, and an increased heart rate. These effects can change quickly and without warning. Therefore, it is advisable to seek medical advice if you or someone that you know is experiencing these symptoms. One of the more severe withdrawal symptoms that can occur within 48 hours are seizures. Another acute symptom, Delirium Tremens (DTs), may become more apparent within 24 to 72 hours after last consumption.
The British Medical Journal of Psychiatry characterizes symptoms of Delirium Tremens as chronic delusion, severe disorientation, body tremors, and hallucinations. Of a study 0f 30, 97% of participants with alcohol-induced psychotic disorder, presented with hallucinations, of which 53% experienced delirium. Alcohol-induced psychotic disorder is a severe mental disorder, with a poor outcome. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 5-25% of patients experiencing Delirium Tremens succumb to this disorder.
Alcohol Detox and Prognosis
Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening. Symptoms begin within the first 2 hours and can last for up to ten days and longer. Although typically symptoms tend to improve after 5-6 days, the effects of withdrawal may be felt for a long period of time after consumption. Treatment for detoxifying from alcohol will depend on the extent of a person’s drinking history. Doctors can sometimes treat patients on an outpatient basis, with primary medications being Benzodiazepines. This allows withdrawal to be more tolerable for the individual. However, depending on the severity of symptoms, inpatient medical treatment, and intensive care may be necessary.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Help with recovery from abuse of alcohol is only a phone call away. Please contact us at Oceanfront Recovery, located in Laguna Beach, for advice and begin your journey of recovery today. Orange County in Southern California, and the Laguna Beach area in particular, have a strong recovery community which make the often difficult process of recovery from alcohol abuse that much easier.
The Oceanfront Recovery Alcohol Detox Program provides a safe and comfortable environment for the detox process. If a client requires further treatment after detox from alcohol, the Oceanfront Recovery Alcohol Treatment Program uses a variety of therapeutic methods in a highly contemporary approach to alcohol rehab. Please contact one of our professional and compassionate team at 877.279.1777 today to discuss Alcohol Detox and/or Alcohol Treatment options for you or your loved one.