Despite the advancements made towards gender equality, the biological differences between women and men remain. Alcohol metabolizes faster in a woman’s body than a man’s. Due to this, males can typically handle greater amounts of alcohol than their female counterparts. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) definition of binge drinking outlines different numbers of drinks for the different sexes: 4 drinks on the same occasion for women and five drinks on the same occasion for men.
When considering the chances of developing an alcohol use disorder, the NIAAA established a baseline for low-risk drinking. These rates also allow for different amounts of alcohol for men and women. Women should have no more than three drinks in a single day and no more than seven drinks per week. Alternatively, men should have no more than four drinks in a single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.
We know the difference between men’s and women’s bodies is in how they process alcohol at different rates. So how long does alcohol stay in a woman’s body? How much difference is there between the length of time alcohol stays in a woman’s body versus a man’s body? And what do these differences mean for women?
How Alcohol Levels Are Determined
The amount of alcohol in a woman or man’s system is calculated as their Blood Alcohol Concentration level, or BAC. BAC is commonly known due to the legal limit to be charged with driving under the influence, a national standard of 0.08 BAC. BAC means the concentration of alcohol in a woman’s bloodstream. The more a woman drinks in a shorter period of time, the higher her BAC will be. The effects are as follows:
- 0.10 – 0.12 BAC results in poor judgment as well as impairment to motor function. Common effects include slurred speech, slower visual reaction time, impaired hearing, and difficulties with thought processes. In a woman, this takes roughly three drinks.
- 0.13 – 0.15 BAC causes significantly to severely flawed judgment capabilities, perception, and motor skills. Reaction time noticeably slows, vision blurs, loss of balance occurs, and speech is obviously slurred. Vomiting often occurs at this BAC level. Most women require four drinks to get this BAC.
- 0.16 – 0.19 BAC creates feelings of the incapability in most drinkers. Those who don’t often drink heavily may pass out at this point. Nausea is almost constant, and reaction time, vision, balance, and motor skills reach extremely dangerous levels of impairment. On average, a woman requires five drinks to get this BAC.
Although you can subtract .01% BAC for every 40 minutes of drinking, it’s still easy to reach high levels of intoxication. For this reason, it is always wise to bring along a designated driver or find a ride at the end of the night. Oftentimes drinkers underestimate their intoxication level due to the decreased ability to make proper judgment calls.
Factors that Determine the Amount of Time Alcohol Stays in Your System
Now that you better understand blood alcohol concentration levels, you might wonder how long this alcohol stays in a woman’s blood, breath, and urine. Again, you can subtract a numerical value of .01% BAC for every 40 minutes of drinking, which results in an extended period of time. The length of time alcohol stays in your system after drinking depends on a variety of factors:
- Amount of time since last drink
- Type of alcohol consumed
- The amount that is eaten before, during, or after drinking
- Types of medications in your system
- Health conditions
Women have more fat in their bodies which helps alcohol remain in a woman’s system for longer periods of time. That time lengthens depending on the other factors listed above. Since women have more fat in their bodies, heavier women retain alcohol for even longer. If a woman drinks hard alcohol, the higher alcohol concentration results in it remaining in her system for a longer amount of time. Alcohol levels can be picked up in a woman’s bloodstream, breath, and urine.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?
If a woman’s BAC is at the legal limit of 0.08, her body will metabolize all of the alcohol after about five to six hours. The liver’s metabolization clears its alcohol levels from the woman’s bloodstream. Once it’s cleared from the bloodstream, it should also be clear in her breath. How long does alcohol stay in a woman’s breath? Generally, once a woman’s blood is clear of alcohol, her breath has no alcohol in it either. While not a guaranteed result, it is a good rule of thumb to go by. After this point, she is no longer intoxicated, and the alcohol is cleared from her blood and breath. However, chemicals from alcohol are still present in a woman’s urine.
Alcohol remains in a woman’s urine for as long as 3 to 4 days following alcohol consumption. Another way to measure the length of time is to assume around 80 hours after her liver has fully metabolized all the alcohol she consumed. Therefore, if a woman consumes alcohol less than four days before an employment drug screening or addiction treatment drug test, it will likely show up in the results.
The Length of Time Alcohol Stays in a Man’s Body Vs. a Woman’s Body
According to studies done by Creighton University:
- Alcohol use is more common among men than women, but binge drinking is more common among women.
- It takes longer for men to achieve higher alcohol concentrations in their bodies due to having less water.
- Men have a larger amount of dehydrogenase. This is the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
- Men do not experience hormone fluctuations that influence their susceptibility to get drunk.
- Men also experience an increase in estrogen levels when drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
It is common for people to be misinformed about alcohol use and the differences between men and women. Men usually weigh more, which means that it is less concentrated in the bloodstream. For a woman weighing 140 pounds who tries to keep pace with a man weighing 180 pounds, they can achieve a BAC level that is two times higher.
A Quick Look at How Alcohol is Digested
To better grasp how alcohol affects a woman’s body, you first need to understand how this chemical is digested. In the stomach, a number of metabolizing enzymes help break down your food so that it’s more readily absorbed either by the stomach or the intestines. One particularly helpful enzyme when it comes to drinking is what’s known as alcohol dehydrogenase, also known as ADH. This enzyme is most commonly found in the liver, but there are also varying amounts in the stomach.
It’s worth noting that men have significantly higher levels of ADH in their stomachs than women. Consequently, this can reduce the absorption of alcohol in men by 30%, making men far more resistant to intoxication than women. Not all of the alcohol is broken down in the stomach, though. Eventually, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream, where it flows to the body’s main filter: the liver.
How Alcohol Impacts the Liver
When you think of the effects of heavy, long-term alcohol use, you most likely think of its impact on a woman’s liver. The liver is responsible for processing chemicals during the digestion period. When it comes to alcohol, the liver is the main storehouse of most of the enzymes required to break the alcohol down. Despite what most people may believe, the rate of alcohol metabolism in the liver alone is the same between races, sexes, or people of different weights – as long as that liver is healthy. And when you only look at liver metabolism, everyone can break down about 1 ounce of pure alcohol an hour.
When more alcohol flows through the liver than can be broken down, it can start causing some serious damage. For one thing, when there’s too much alcohol, the liver tends to only focus on breaking down that single compound. As a result, the fat in the bloodstream accumulates in the liver because it simply can’t get to it in time. This is what ends up causing the fatty liver to develop. The alcohol that isn’t broken down then continues to cycle through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
After leaving the liver, the alcohol travels throughout the rest of your circulatory system, interacting with the heart, lungs, and brain along the way. With continued exposure to these vital organs, a woman’s body may experience a variety of health effects, some of which can be quite damaging. In any case, within the circulatory system, the alcohol is further diluted by water carried by the bloodstream. Consequently, alcohol tends to be more concentrated in their bloodstream. The alcohol continues the cycle through the body and passes through the liver until it is fully broken down into non-toxic compounds.
Is There Any Way to Quickly Sober Up?
Contrary to popular belief, there really are no tips or tricks that can be done to help someone sober up faster. Women often believe that they can do certain things to speed up the alcohol elimination process. Unfortunately, it is not possible. Still, that does not mean that many will fail to attempt it. There are a lot of different things they will try to sober up quickly when they have consumed too much alcohol.
Common Myths About Ways to Get Sober Faster
There are many myths about how to get sober after drinking too much in one sitting. These include:
- Drinking coffee: This is probably the most commonly mentioned way to sober up fast. The only thing that drinking coffee will do is make you more alert. It will not do anything for your blood alcohol levels. Sometimes people will drink coffee thinking that they will be able to drive, even after a night of heavy drinking. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of accidents and DUI arrests.
- Exercising: Most people do not want to exercise when they are drunk. Yet, this myth is one that is often perpetuated because it produces endorphins. Exercising may help you feel better, but it will not influence your blood alcohol levels.
- Taking a cold shower: Likewise, taking a cold shower does not impact blood alcohol levels either. It can make you feel more awake and less drunk, which can help you feel as though you can function better.
- Eating something: Eating food may help you not get drunk as quickly, but once you are drunk, it will not lower your BAC levels. It is good to have a healthy meal after you drink and make sure you eat before you start drinking as well.
- Drink juice: Juice, fruit, and vegetables will give your body a lot of B and C vitamins and fructose. They will assist your liver in processing alcohol. While they can help the liver flush out toxins, this may not affect your BAC level.
The best way to get sober is to go to sleep. That is because sleeping takes time, which is what is necessary to process alcohol. Your body needs the time to rest and recover after a night of drinking too much.
Long-term Health Consequences
Alcohol may not remain in a woman’s blood, urine, and breath for an extended period of time like some other drugs, such as marijuana. However, heavy alcohol use over a long amount of time results in significant impacts on her body. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver, and excessive alcohol processing results in fat buildup on the liver. When alcohol consumption does not slow, the fat on a woman’s liver has no opportunity to break down. The fatty liver may result in dangerous health complications such as alcoholic hepatitis or fibrosis. Over time, scar tissue begins to build upon the liver, known as cirrhosis, which impacts the liver’s functional capabilities and results in liver deterioration. Liver diseases are one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
Over 2 million Americans live with liver disease as a direct result of their alcohol consumption. This information is particularly important for women since the risk of developing alcoholic hepatitis is actually much higher for women than it is for men. In fact, women are generally about twice as likely to contract this damaging liver disease than men. Part of this has to do with the fact that one drink for women can be equivalent to about two for men. Alcohol absorption also comes into play in that if alcohol is brought in quicker than the liver can metabolize it, the damage is likely going to be more extensive.
Effects of Heavy, Short-Term Alcohol Use
Heavy, short-term alcohol consumption immediately affects neurotransmitters in a woman’s brain. The effects on the neurotransmitters cause the loss of balance, slurred speech, difficulties with vision, and impaired reaction time experienced while drinking. Brain plasticity generally compensates for these short-term adjustments. Heavy, long-term alcohol use affects mainly affects the liver, but this leads to complications in a woman’s brain. When the liver no longer processes alcohol properly, some of the alcohol toxins travel to the brain, causing a brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy. Side effects include:
- Difficulties sleeping
- Mood changes
- Depression or anxiety
- Problems with coordination
- Shortened attention span
Heavy, long-term drinking impacts the heart’s ability to function properly. It weakens the heart muscle and can result in alcoholic cardiomyopathy. This means it cannot pump enough blood to a woman’s organs.
Excessive short-term and long-term drinking affects the heartbeat as well. This impact on the heartbeat can cause alcohol-induced heart arrhythmia, meaning irregular or abnormal heart rate. Arrhythmias have the chance of causing a stroke or blood vessel blockage when it’s unable to properly pump blood throughout the body.
Alcohol’s Connection to Cancer
Excessive alcohol consumption has an impact on the development of specific types of cancer. Research has shown alcohol plays a role in the risk factors of developing:
- Mouth cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Pharynx cancer
- Larynx cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Rectal cancer
7 out of 10 people with mouth cancer report heavy drinking. Women who drink five or more drinks a day have roughly 1.2 times more risk of developing colon or rectal cancer than those who do not drink. Although some cancers are genetic, why wouldn’t you decrease your chance of their development? By cutting alcohol out of your life, you can help minimize the impact of its toxins on your body and hopefully minimize the chances of cancer as a result.
Alcohol’s Effect on Menstruation and Pregnancy
Women in particular face a different kind of danger when it comes to drinking in that alcohol can have a substantial effect on both the menstrual cycle as well as pregnancy. With regards to how alcohol affects your pre-menstrual syndrome, the short answer is – negatively. Though alcohol doesn’t directly impact your menstrual cycle, the indirect side effects can add up to a significantly more uncomfortable time of the month.
Besides the breast tenderness, headaches, and mood fluctuations that alcohol may aggravate even further, your cramping can end up being even worse by further intensifying bloating throughout the process. In general, most physicians recommend staying away from alcohol, especially if you’re exhibiting symptoms of PMS already.
Pregnancy is also a major issue when it comes to alcohol consumption. While news headlines often deliver conflicting information about whether it’s okay to indulge just a little while carrying, the truth of the matter is that there is no level of alcohol consumption that’s been proven safe while pregnant. Many physicians agree, then, that you should avoid alcohol completely while pregnant if possible. Not doing so may lead to the development of fetal alcohol syndrome, even if alcohol is consumed in relatively small amounts.
The Impact of Alcohol on a Woman’s System
Alcohol may not remain in a woman’s blood, breath, or urine for very long. However, the long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption are severe. When you cut out drinking from your life, you decrease your chances of developing serious conditions, diseases, and cancers. The sooner you stop drinking, the sooner you can start to recover from the short-term and long-term impacts of alcohol on your system.
How to Tell if It Is Alcohol Abuse or Addiction
It is not uncommon for women to have a difficult time differentiating between alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Perhaps you are struggling with this as well. You may want to begin by taking our Am I an Alcoholic? quiz. If that does not give you enough information, you can look for some of the more common signs of alcoholism, which include:
- Drinking more than you intended to
- Drinking for a longer period of time than you told yourself you would
- Trying to stop or cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink but finding it impossible
- Spending a great deal of time drinking, obtaining alcohol, or recovering from a hangover
- Obsessing over the next time, you will be able to drink
- Being unable to think about anything other than drinking
- Having problems at home because you cannot stop drinking
- Finding that consuming alcohol is affecting your job
- Continuing to drink even though it has caused you to have medical problems
Any of these are signs that you could be an alcoholic.
Alcoholism Recovery For Women
Women who are suffering from alcoholism have hope. You should never attempt to recover from an alcohol addiction on your own. Doing so can be very dangerous, and it can result in serious withdrawal symptoms that may even become fatal. If you are an alcoholic, you have options for treatment that can help you stop drinking. Not only that, but they can provide you with the support you need to never return to that way of living. It is important to know what those options are. Keep in mind that some types of treatment might be mandatory because of the fact that alcohol is a very dangerous drug.
The Alcohol Detox Process
Stopping the use of alcohol is going to result in withdrawal symptoms. These tend to vary from person to person, but they can be more severe for someone who has been drinking a long time. Delirium tremens is a condition that can develop in someone who goes through alcohol withdrawal. It tends to happen for those who have been drinking excessively for ten years or more. But it can happen to anyone. The risk of DTs is the main reason why alcohol detox is so important.
Alcohol detoxification allows you to receive treatment for your withdrawal symptoms. It can help you avoid going through the DTs and make your recovery much more comfortable overall. Detox usually includes staying in an inpatient facility until the worst of withdrawal is over. This can take up to a week to ten days, or even longer in some cases. Patients are given medications (such as Vivitrol) to help alleviate their symptoms, and many times, they receive holistic treatments for withdrawals.
Going to an Alcohol Rehabilitation Facility
Alcohol rehab is the next step in recovery for anyone who is an alcoholic. It is a step that should not be skipped because it is important to get to the root cause of the addiction. During rehab, patients spend time receiving many different types of therapy. This includes group therapy, individual therapy, and family therapy sessions. The patient’s treatment is tailored according to her specific needs. For many women, alcoholism can be the result of the presence of a co-occurring disorder. This refers to a mental health issue that has contributed to the addiction to alcohol. There are many types of co-occurring disorders, such as:
Women may drink as a way to help their symptoms from co-occurring disorders go away. This approach can be effective, but it usually only works for a short period of time. Eventually, they find that their symptoms return with a vengeance, and no amount of drinking helps them feel better. By that time, they are already addicted to alcohol.
Types of Treatment Available for Women
There are many different types of treatment for alcoholism available to women. It is best to talk with a professional to determine which method might be best for you. They may recommend any of the following:
Traditional outpatient recovery programs usually only involve seeing a counselor on a regular basis; usually once a week. For women who are new to treatment, this might not provide them with enough support. This is why this method of recovery is usually recommended for those who have had more intensive forms of treatment first.
Intensive outpatient programs are often referred to as IOPs. While this is still an outpatient form of treatment, it is very intense, as the name suggests. Patients are expected to attend appointments during the week, usually in the evenings. Appointments may last a few hours and may be scheduled three to five times per week. This is often an excellent option for those who need inpatient care, but who cannot make that commitment.
Day treatment programs are similar to IOPs, except that appointments are usually during the daytime. Patients may be required to come as often as seven times per week for up to eight hours each time. While they are there, they will work with a therapist and participate in group therapy as well.
Sober living homes have changed the lives of women all over the United States. These programs allow them to receive long-term care in a facility that is designed for that purpose. Some of these facilities offer their own in-house treatment programs, while others require patients to obtain their own.
Continuing Treatment After Rehab
It is very important for women to make sure they follow up with the proper form of treatment after rehab is over. This means that they need to attend a less intensive form of treatment. For women who started by attending an inpatient program, going to an IOP might be their next step. Those who started with IOP may transition into an outpatient program along with Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The reality is that it takes time to recover from alcoholism.
It is not something that can be accomplished during one stint in rehab, even if that stint is a long time. It is important for you to realize that you have a disease. Just like other diseases, it requires ongoing care in order for you to remain in recovery. Once you finish your treatment, your team will work closely with you to determine which type of follow-up care you need.
Get Help Today at Women’s Recovery
If you are an alcoholic, please do not put off getting the help you need to recover. It is so easy to promise yourself that you will take care of it next week, or next year. Before you know it, time has passed and you are in an even worse position. We can provide you with the support you need here at Denver Women’s Recovery. We treat all kinds of addictions, including alcoholism, through evidence-based treatments, such as:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
We can assist you in finding a quality detox program, and we also provide Vivitrol services at our facility. Our outpatient program is among the best in the state, and we also offer a housing option that may meet your needs. Alcoholism does not have to continue to be an active part of your life. Recovering can take some time, but we’re confident that we can give you the tools you need to be successful. Do you have additional questions about how long alcohol stays in a woman’s body? Would you like to know more about our services? Please contact us today at 833.754.0554 or use our convenient online form.
- “Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa46.htm
- “How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?” Health Essential http://healthessential.net/alcohol-in-your-system/
- “Blood Alcohol Content Table” California DMV
- “Beyond Hangovers” NIAAA https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/hangovers/beyondhangovers.htm