How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Finding out how long alcohol can stay in your system is a common question. After all, you do not want to risk trying to drive if there is still any alcohol left in your system. Unfortunately, the answer depends on many different factors. You need to measure how much you were drinking, the proof of the alcohol, and your body size as starters. How well your kidneys and liver function also factor into how long alcohol can stay in your system. Then there is the factor of how old you are, whether you are male or female, and if you ate anything before or while drinking.

Thankfully, there is a pretty good rule to follow should drinking be a part of your regular routine. Most people will have no residual alcohol left after 2-4 hours if they were drinking a can or two of beer in that time. Anything more than that, the time goes up exponentially. The best way to be sure that there is never any alcohol in your system is to stop drinking. That way, any time you need to go out, you know it is safe to do so without putting yourself, or anyone else around you, at risk.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: How Quickly Do Symptoms Start?

When a person comes to a doctor’s office, two things will point toward a diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal: the first is long-term alcohol use with sudden cessation, and the second being symptoms typical of withdrawal (these will be explained in the following paragraphs). For the symptoms, physicians use a largely accepted algorithm known as the CIWA-Ar (Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment) protocol. This survey takes a snapshot of a patient to determine how severe their withdrawal is at a point in time during their visit.

What doctors look for when determining severity of alcohol withdrawal: The categories assessed by the patient include nausea and vomiting, tremor (often in the hands), auditory, tactile or visual hallucinations, sweats, anxiety, headache, agitation, and disorientation. Additionally, the doctor will measure heart rate, blood pressure, and do a physical exam. Each category is measured out of 7 points, with 7 being the worst (the exception to this is disorientation, which is measured out of 4 points). The maximum score in the assessment is a 67, with patients under 10 usually being safe without medication, and with any number over 20 being considered severe withdrawal. However, this scale is meant to determine the severity of withdrawal, and is not as helpful in laying out a timeline of when these symptoms will present. For that, it is more helpful to understand the body’s reaction to the cessation of alcohol use.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal – Treatment, Causes, Timeline & Dangers

When you make the decision to stop drinking, either gradually or suddenly, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal. While the exact symptoms of withdrawal will be different depending on the severity and longevity of addiction, there are some commonalities for withdrawal. Understanding the symptoms of withdrawal can help you prepare for the journey ahead. Keep reading to learn more about alcohol withdrawals and what to expect during the process.

What causes alcohol withdrawal?

Prolonged use of alcohol or alcohol abuse alters the brain’s chemistry. When copious amounts of alcohol are present or alcohol is used in high volumes, the body has to adapt. The mind adjusts to a new “normal” state with alcohol present. Once alcohol is removed, the body has to readjust to a new state of normal.

Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Headaches?

What Types of Symptoms Often Accompany Alcohol Withdrawals?

While the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary greatly between individuals, there are some common effects that many people experience. Here are some of the more common effects that come with stopping the consumption of alcohol.

Headaches that range from mild to migraine-like
Anxiety that can range from a slight nuisance to all-encompassing
Struggles with getting to sleep or staying asleep
Stomach upset, which may also include diarrhea and/or vomiting
Hallucinations can happen in anyone, but typically happen with those who have consumed considerable amounts of alcohol in their lifetime
Sweating that does not seem to stop even when the person cools off
Mild shakes that can make sitting still difficult

Most symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin by the time the person hits 24 hours without a drink. In most cases, these symptoms subside within 5-7 days. However, in some of the more serious instances, these effects can go on for much longer. Some patients have actually struggled with some of these symptoms for weeks after their last drink.