Liquor, also known as spirits, is a distilled alcohol form with an average alcohol per volume of 40 percent, or 80 proof. Liquor can be found in several different forms, including gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and many more. The body processes liquor similar to other alcohol types, such as beer and wine.
On average, a healthily functioning liver can process around ten grams of ethyl alcohol, or one standard drink, per hour. Shortly after drinking alcohol, about 20 percent will travel through the blood on the way to the stomach and then onto the brain. The rest is moved to the small intestine and ultimately absorbed into the bloodstream. Alcohol is then sent to the liver to be processed and broken down.
BAC (blood alcohol concentration) peaks just before metabolization begins. When an individual consumes more than one alcoholic drink per hour, the liver gets backed up and cannot process the excess alcohol in the bloodstream. This extra alcohol produces intoxication as well as several mental and physical impairments.
Testing for Alcohol’s Presence
There are several different alcohol tests that may be employed by law enforcement, the legal system, or employers to determine if an individual is intoxicated or has drunk alcohol in the recent past.
Breathalyzer – A breathalyzer is an instrument frequently used by law enforcement to identify a drunk driver operating a motor vehicle. A breathalyzer is a type of apparatus into which a suspected drinker blows a puff of air. After this, the device estimates the individual’s BAC as grams of alcohol per mL of blood.
Blood Tests – Alcohol can be found in the blood for up to 36 hours after the last drink, but it is most accurate between 6-12 hours. Blood screens are not used as often as breathalyzers because they are more expensive and invasive, but occasionally they may be ordered for legal purposes. That said, alcohol testing using blood is considered the most accurate method available.
Urine Tests – Alcohol can also be identified in urine from between 8-80 hours. Again, urine screens or EtG tests are not usually administered by employers because alcohol is legal, and an individual could have drank many days before the test. They also are not ideal for on-the-spot testing if an individual appears to be intoxicated. Urine tests are most likely to be used for legal purposes, such as for persons on probation.
Saliva and Hair Tests – Occasionally saliva swabs are administered, and they can identify alcohol for up to 24 hours. Hair tests are rarely used but can identify alcohol in a person’s system for up to 90 days or longer.
A few factors affect the rate at which a person will become intoxicated. Alcohol is broken down at about the same rate for most individuals, assuming they have a healthy liver and their overall health is relatively stable. Other factors that may influence an individual’s level of intoxication include the following:
- Sex (male or female)
- Weight and body fat percentage
- Amount and duration of alcohol use
- Amount of food in the stomach
- Fat contact of food in the stomach
- Other substances in the body, such as illicit drugs or certain medications
For many people, alcohol’s effects begin as relaxing, rewarding, and pleasant, which is why many individuals enjoy drinking it. Nevertheless, there are many acute and chronic adverse effects and very few, if any, positive long-term outcomes of frequent alcohol consumption. Alcohol’s acute effects on the body are closely related to an individual’s BAC.
Short-term effects include the following:
At 0.03–0.12% BAC:
- Enhanced mood
- Increased self-confidence
- Impaired attention span
- Flushed face or skin
- Impaired motor coordination
- Impaired decision-making
At 0.09–0.25% BAC:
- Impaired memory
- Blurred vision
- Sensory impairments
- Impaired balance
- Very poor motor skills
- Reduced reaction to stimuli
- Increasing loss of judgment
At 0.25–0.40 percent BAC:
- Staggered movements
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow heart rate
- Memory impairment
- Transient consciousness
At 0.35–0.8 percent BAC:
- Loss of pupillary light reflex
- Extreme respiratory depression
- Profoundly slow heart rate
- Weak pulse
- Acute liver failure
- Coma or death
A BAC of 0.40 percent or above is considered life-threatening in many cases. Depending on a person’s level of tolerance, coma or death may be imminent when this BAC is reached.
If you suspect you or a loved one you know is experiencing severe alcohol poisoning, please call 911 immediately. If you are watching over individual suffering, do not let the person “sleep it off” and do not leave the person alone until emergency medical help arrives.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include the following:
- Profoundly impaired coordination
- Stupor or unresponsiveness
- Low body temperature
- Bluing of the skin (cyanosis)
- Loss of consciousness
- Profoundly depressed breathing
Long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption include the following:
- Gastrointestinal ulcers
- Anemia, low iron
- Interrupted brain development
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
- Loss of brain cells
- Memory impairments
- Cognitive impairments
- Reduced attention span
- Reduced sperm count in men
- Hepatitis B and C
- Cirrhosis/other liver diseases
Moreover, long-term, heavy alcohol use increases the risk of cardiovascular problems and stroke, as well as several cancers, including those related to the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, breast, and gastrointestinal system.
Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal
The more often an individual drinks alcohol, the more their tolerance will increase. Tolerance is a condition that develops in reaction to repeated, excessive alcohol consumption. This condition occurs because the body becomes accustomed to alcohol’s presence and dedicates more enzymes to metabolize it efficiently. This reaction leads to a diminished response to alcohol due to repeated exposure.
Tolerance is one of the body’s primary defense mechanisms because alcohol is basically a poison. Indeed, tolerance reduces an individual’s risk of overdose or alcohol poisoning. There have been instances of people surviving unbelievably high blood alcohol levels that would have killed the average individual at a much lower BAC.
Dependence is a condition characterized by the brain developing a chemical need for alcohol’s presence in order to function normally. Withdrawal symptoms will occur if the dependent individual attempts to stop drinking. These symptoms can be mild to severe and, in extreme instances, lead to life-threatening complications and death.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Depression or anxiety
- Shakiness and tremors
- Irritability and moodiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Elevated heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Impaired mental functioning
Treatment for Alcoholism
Alcoholism tends to be a stubborn, life-long disease, and, unfortunately, no one approach will be useful for everyone. Very few alcoholics can ever return to ‘normal’ or occasional drinking or fully get control of their lives while they are actively engaging in any form of alcohol use.
Fortunately, alcohol addiction is very treatable. Modern treatment approaches usually feature services clinically-proven to be beneficial for improving patient outcomes long-term. These services include behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, peer group support, mindfulness therapy, and aftercare planning.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offers these services in partial-hospitalization and residential format. We provide those we treat with the education, tools, skills, and support required to experience a full recovery and enjoy long-lasting, satisfying lives.