Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
Despite it being legal, Alcohol should still be considered a drug and becoming addicted to this substance is a very problematic and common side effect. Some of the most apparent signs of Alcohol addiction are excessive drinking, loss of control, increased tolerance, memory loss or “blacking out”, using to cope with emotions such as stress or sadness, physical dependence and or cravings.
When a person loses control under the influence of Alcohol, this does not only mean unable to control one’s actions but also is defined by the inability to control the amount of alcohol one consumes in a period of time. This can be a struggle with an alcoholic who may even be aware of a problem and vow to only have one or two drinks but by the end of a night, for instance, will have consumed far more than the initially decided amount, losing control and unable to stop themselves.
- History of Alcohol
- Who Abuses Alcohol
- How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?
- Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
History of Alcohol
Alcohol is so intertwined in American culture that the word “drinking” alone connotes alcohol consumption. Prohibition, the most wide-sweeping effort ever made to eradicate alcohol from the American landscape, became law after the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 29, 1919.The law was originally passed in hopes of combatting alcohol addiction. However, it made matters worse, spawning bootlegging, speakeasies, smuggling alcohol across state lines and homebrewing or moonshining. Prohibition also unintentionally led to an increase of power amongst crime syndicates. Notably, gangster Al Capone reportedly earned $60 million per year from illegal bootleg and speakeasy operations. Compounded with the Great Depression, Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition in 1933.
Of course, the history of alcohol consumption goes further back than 1920s America. Fermented beverages such as mead, wine, beer, grog, and liquor have been developed across the entire world as far back as 10,000 BC. Many countries and cultures have their own unique spin on alcoholic beverages — sake in Japan and champagne in France, for example — that contribute to the larger landscape of alcohol production, cultural alcohol consumption and alcoholism.
The national legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old, which was established in 1984. Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in part because of the drug’s high possibility for abuse and dependence. Although this limit does not entirely prevent alcoholism, it does ensure children and teenagers, who are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, do not have access to the drug until their brains are more fully developed.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Alcohol is one of the most popular drugs in the world. As a result, many people wonder how long alcohol stays in their systems. Once a person consumes alcohol, the liver begins to break down ethanol into other, less toxic substances before expelling it. The liver can metabolize roughly .25 ounces of alcohol per hour.If you have consumed more than .25 ounces of alcohol, the remaining amount will be absorbed into the bloodstream until the liver has the capacity to metabolize it. It takes 30 minutes – two hours for alcohol to fully absorb into the bloodstream, which is why it takes some time for a drinker to experience a buzz or get drunk. This concentration of alcohol in the blood is where the common measurement of drunkenness — blood alcohol concentration, or BAC — comes from.
People who drink beyond the legal limit of .08 BAC will often remain that drunk, and their BAC will be detectable at that level, for up to eight hours after consumption.
Unsurprisingly, one way to test for alcohol consumption is using the blood. Scientists will evaluate a blood sample to measure the amount of ethanol content. Urine tests can also be used. Alcohol can be detected in a person’s urine roughly 12 – 24 hours after consumption. Urine tests cannot assess BAC, however. Instead, urine tests are typically pass/fail, reading as either positive or negative for alcohol consumption.
It’s also possible to test for alcohol consumption orally. Often, police will test drivers to see if they are under the influence of alcohol using a breathalyzer, a tool the person breathes into measure BAC. Recently, labs have also been testing hair samples for alcohol consumption. Hair samples from close to the scalp can show a roughly three-month drinking history. It takes one to five days from the last use of alcohol for biomarkers to appear in the hair.
Alcohol Withdrawl Signs & Symptoms
What causes alcohol withdrawal?
According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), if a person has been drinking alcohol for a long period of time suddenly stops drinking, the body can experience certain signs and symptoms of withdrawal. This is because alcohol enhances the effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to inhibit and reduce the excitability of the brain. Alcohol cessation results in the brain becoming overexcited since that inhibition is no longer in place.
Who is at risk for alcohol withdrawal?
Not everyone will go through withdrawal in the same way — and some people will experience it less severely than others. You are more likely to go through severe withdrawal if you are an adult who has been drinking heavily and/or for a long period of time and if you have other health conditions already.
What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), there is a typical timeline for withdrawal symptoms:
6-12 hours after alcohol cessation
Common symptoms include:
- Minor hand tremors
- Sleep disturbances
- Low-level stress or anxiety
- Stomach upset/loss of appetite
12-48 hours after alcohol cessation
At this point, a patient may experience:
- Hallucinations that may involve sight, hearing or touch
- Withdrawal seizures
- General tonic-clonic seizures
48-72 hours after alcohol cessation
At this point, a patient may experience:
- Further hallucinations, mostly involving sight
- Delirium tremens (see paragraph below for more information)
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature
Symptoms peak in the first several days after drinking cessation, but can go on, in less severe forms, for weeks.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), treatment at this time may include:
- Initial observation of the patient to determine severity of withdrawal symptoms
- Anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety withdrawal symptoms
- Anti-seizures drugs like Depakote
- Beta-blockers which can slow the heart rate, reduce tremors and sometimes also helping with the craving for alcohol.
The goal of treatment is to ease the symptoms of withdrawal and support the patient during this critical time.
Alcohol withdrawal is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. This is why skilled rehabilitation centers, where competent and compassionate professionals can supervise the detoxification process and manage withdrawal symptoms, is so vital for patient health and safety. These are the first, difficult steps towards sobriety — and as such is incredibly important.