Alcohol is an organic compound that appears in a variety of forms. The ingestible form, for both legitimate and abuse purposes, is ethanol. It is and has been historically used for hygienic, dietary, medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes. Its potential for abuse is high since there is little stigma assigned to appropriate use and it is readily and cheaply available. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Because of its potential for changing human consciousness, it is considered a psychoactive drug. While small doses may produce euphoria and relaxation and possible impaired judgment, increasing dosages produce impaired sensory and motor function, slowed cognition, stupefaction, unconsciousness, and possible death. In addition, the social acceptance of alcohol consumption and its classification as a food in many varieties can lead to health problems in the long term, in addition to its addictive potential. A major problem with alcohol consumption is that, since it is often consumed in social situations away from home, there is higher likelihood of driving a motor vehicle after consuming. The impairment to judgment, cognitive abilities, and motor functions increase the potential for accidents leading to injuries and death.

Abuse and Detection

Some of the most common physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse are:

  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired thinking
  • Memory impairment
  • Wanting to stop drinking but not managing to do so
  • Diverting energy from work, family, and social life in order to drink
  • Being secretive about the extent of the alcohol abuse in order to protect it
  • Engaging in risky behavior, such as drunk driving
  • Being in denial about the extent of the alcohol abuse problem
  • Becoming distressed at the prospect of not having access to alcohol

When a person who regularly abuses alcohol stops drinking or significantly reduces the amount of intake, withdrawal symptoms will emerge. Such symptoms can begin as soon as two hours after the last drink and continue for weeks. Symptoms can include shaking, anxiety, and the desire for a drink. Delirium tremens (DTs), a severe withdrawal symptom, can include confusion, fever, and rapid heartbeat. There is a general advisement that alcohol withdrawal should occur under the care of a doctor specialized in addiction treatment, as some withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

Common street names:

Beer, wine, hooch, liquor, jungle juice, cocktails

Symptoms of Abuse:

Poor coordination, Slurred speech, Impaired thinking, Memory impairment

Testing Medium:

Urine, oral fluid, blood and hair

Medical Dangers (including withdrawal effects):

Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking

Window of Detection

Urine 3-5 days; oral fluid 1-2 days; blood up to 12 hours; hair up to 90 days, depending on hair length