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What Causes Alcohol Breath?

Halitosis is the medical term for bad breath. It occurs when someone has a noticeable and unpleasant odor related to the breath. In some cases, the smell is persistent, but for some people, it comes and goes.

Almost every person will experience bad breath at some point in their lives. But for some individuals, the extent of the issue can lead to concern. 

In many cases, a person may learn they have the condition after being told by a loved one. Some people have bad breath and are not aware of it.

Alcohol Breath

Alcohol breath often occurs after excessive drinking. An individual may have bad breath and an unpleasant scent coming from their skin as they sweat.

Those with a drinking problem may regularly experience bad alcohol breath. The reason alcohol consumption results in bad breath is the way the body deals with it. Alcohol is treated as a toxin by the body, so it tries to transform it into a less harmful chemical.

Ninety percent of alcohol changes into acetic acid during metabolism. However, some of it is released through the respiratory system and through sweat. This process results in alcohol-related bad breath. 

Overindulgence with alcohol can also lead to an unpleasant smell that can originate from the stomach. The smell is particularly noticeable if the individual belches.

If someone has not been drinking but still has an unpleasant scent that resembles alcohol breath, it could signify an underlying medical condition. Sometimes bad breath is mistaken as caused by alcohol consumption when it results from a condition like diabetes.

Dismissing bad breath as caused by alcohol can mean missing concerning symptoms of another condition that may be more serious.

How to Get Rid of Alcohol Breath Fast (Myths vs. Truths)

There is no real way to beat alcohol breath. However, there are some methods to follow to cover up the smell. Some practices offer effective results, and some are myths.

Myth: Using Menthol and Minty Products

The smell resulting from drinking alcohol does not come from your mouth. It comes from your lungs, where alcohol in the blood enters the air you exhale. This is how breathalyzers detect blood alcohol levels.

Using peppermint chewing gum, floss, mainline mints, or mouthwash may cover the smell of alcohol breath temporarily. However, the effects will not last.

Truth: Consuming Something Smelly

While you cannot replace the smell of alcohol with a fresh smell, you can consume something equally as potent to cover up the odor of alcohol breath. Try eating foods with a strong smell, such as garlic, fish, or blue cheese.

Myth: Trying Breath Perfume

Many cultures finish a meal with a herbal chew to perfume away unpleasant breath. Mukhwas in India, for example, freshens the breath with ingredients like anise, fennel, and coconut. 

However, these breath perfumes and mouth fresheners are unlikely to keep your breath fresh for long.

Truth: Brushing Your Teeth

Alcohol breath does not live in your mouth, but bacteria do. Bacteria thrive in your mouth after alcohol consumption. Brush your teeth with toothpaste to scrub out the bacteria to reduce bad alcohol breath.

Be sure to brush your tongue and the roof of your mouth as well as your teeth.

Myth: Drinking Neutral Smelling Alcohol

Some people believe that drinking neutral smelling alcohol like vodka or herbal digestifs will not cause unpleasant smells from digestive breakdown. But as the scent originates from your lungs, all alcoholic beverages create a similar unpleasant booze breath, no matter the smell of the drink.

Truth: Helping Your Body Process Alcohol

You cannot speed up the hourly rate at which your liver metabolizes alcohol. However, you can help your body process the alcohol more efficiently by staying on top of your wellness. 

Be sure to consume a healthy diet, stay active, and drink plenty of water. The more you help your liver stay healthy, the more it will help you.

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How to Get Rid of Alcohol Odor from Skin Pores (Sweat)

As some alcohol leaves the body via the skin pores, this can lead to a noticeable odor during sweating. 

There are some ways you can make this odor less noticeable:

  • Having a long, soapy shower
  • Changing into fresh clothes
  • Drinking lots of water to help flush out the alcohol through the urine
  • Spraying deodorant
  • Staying on top of your skincare routine and keeping your body clean

How Long Does it Take to Get the Smell of Alcohol Off Your Breath?

The presence of alcohol in your breath depends on how much you have consumed and other biological factors.

The typical rate of alcohol elimination is one unit per hour. At this rate, traces of alcohol would have disappeared in relation to the amount of alcohol you consume.

If you consumed one large glass of wine, it would usually take your body three hours to eliminate any alcohol it has absorbed. During those three hours, your breath may smell of alcohol.

Is it Possible to Consume Alcohol Without Your Breath Smelling of Alcohol?

Prevention is always going to be better than the cure. 

If you want to consume alcohol without your breath smelling, consider:

  • Avoiding drinking too much alcohol
  • Choosing the right type of alcohol and staying away from aromatic drinks like liqueurs
  • Trying not to mix different types of alcoholic drinks
  • Avoiding drinking on an empty stomach

Link Between Alcohol Odor and Alcoholism

If someone regularly smells of alcohol, it could be a sign that they are suffering from alcoholism. Some individuals experience periods of their life when they drink alcoholic beverages heavily but manage to reduce their intake before developing a physical addiction. Others progress into alcoholism and develop physical and psychological addictions to alcohol.

Some people may try their best to disguise the signs of their drinking. However, in many cases, individuals suffering from alcoholism are unaware that they may smell of alcohol. 

Confronting someone with concerns about their alcohol odors and potential addiction can lead to many denials, but it can also encourage them to seek help.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

No matter how severe an alcohol misuse problem may seem, most people can benefit from treatment. 

One-third of people who receive treatment for alcohol issues have no further problems one year later. Many others significantly reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related issues.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. What may work for one individual may not for another. Understanding the various options available can be an essential first step in receiving treatment.

Detox

Professional detox helps people dealing with unpleasant alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. The treatment goal typically includes reducing withdrawal symptoms, preventing complications of alcohol use, and therapy to help patients stop drinking.

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments aim to transform drinking behavior through counseling. Health professionals lead these types of treatments.

Medications

There are currently three FDA-approved medications available in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse.

A health professional prescribes these medications. They may be used alone or alongside detox, counseling, and other treatments.

Mutual Support Groups

Mutual support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and similar 12-step programs offer peer support for people quitting or reducing their alcohol intake. In combination with other treatments provided by health professionals, mutual support groups can offer a valuable additional layer of support.

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Resources

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Bad breath (halitosis), NI Direct Government Services, https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/bad-breath-halitosis

Smelling Sickness, NIH News in Health, September 2018, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/09/smelling-sickness

Bragulat, Veronique et al. “Alcohol sensitizes cerebral responses to the odors of alcoholic drinks: an fMRI study.” Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research vol. 32,7 (2008): 1124-34, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2905852/

Maurage, Pierre et al. “Olfaction in alcohol-dependence: a neglected yet promising research field.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 4 1007. 3 Jan. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879530/

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 2014, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help

Alcohol withdrawal, MedlinePlus, February 2021, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

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