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Alcohol Breath and Body Odors:
How to Detect an Alcoholic and Methods Used for Removal of Alcohol Smells

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Most people are familiar with the breath and body odors that spring up after a heavy drinking session. The smell of alcohol in the body is very distinctive and can make the drinker feel self-conscious and uncomfortable around others.

As we detail in this practical guide, removing alcohol smells from the body requires an understanding that alcohol causes odor-causing bacteria to build in the mouth and body, beyond the actual booze smell. Drinking can also trigger several chemical reactions affecting the smell of saliva, sweat, and urine.

Still, it is often possible to avoid publicizing a drink session or awkward situations by getting rid of familiar boozy odors on the breath, body and clothes quickly and discreetly.

This guide will also help readers detect and understand signs of alcoholism in others. If a friend or close family member regularly emits or leaves behind certain alcohol related odors, they could be experiencing alcohol addiction. Moreover, if one detects a recent increase in some of the odor reducing routines and tricks -some of which are outlined here, and others that circulate in the public discourse, it might be a strong signal of a discreet struggle with unbalanced drinking. You may want to also see our article about other ways to detect whether someone is just drinking or over-drinking, here.

While confronting someone about their alcohol intake may trigger defensiveness and denial, if done properly and compassionately it could also encourage them to seek the help they deserve. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with an alcohol addiction, please contact the experts at Prosperity Haven Ohio as soon as possible. Our high-quality, tailored care and comfortable homelike rehabilitation center will deliver the therapy, support and tools they need to beat addiction for good.

  In This Article

Alcohol odors – Three ways to smell an alcoholic

Some may not know, but there are three main pathways through which identify an alcoholic through smell, including:

  • Breath:
    Drinking large quantities of alcohol causes a metabolic odor-inducing chemical reaction in the lung area. It also can make the mouth dry, causing bacteria to flourish and grow. These bacteria can make the breath smell stale and unpleasant. When a drinker is prone to belching after excessive intake, the breath odor will sharpen and will smell like a combination of sweet, tangy, and acidic. (A person experiencing alcohol addiction may also not have a healthy diet or eat enough food to fuel their body. If this happens, they may produce a condition called alcoholic ketoacidosis, which makes the breath smell like acetone.)

  • Sweat:
    Alcohol triggers several chemical reactions in the body that cause sweat to smell distinct and often bad as unmetabolized alcohol is excreted through the pores via sweat. One of these reactions produces a substance called diacetic acid, which smells a little like vinegar and may be very noticeable on hot days and in those who don’t wash their clothes often. Drinking high quantities of alcohol can also make people sweat more and develop higher quantities of bacteria on the skin, significantly affecting their personal hygiene.

  • Urine:
    The chemicals that cause sweat to smell bad can also escape through the urine, making it smell off. As a diuretic (causing increased urination), alcohol also makes bacteria in the urine more concentrated, causing a rotten vegetable like smell. If someone leaves a strong alcohol smell in the bathroom after urinating, that may be a sign of an addiction problem.

How does alcohol produce breath and body odors?

As explained above, one of the main ways alcohol produces breath and body odors is through the buildup of bacteria in the saliva and sweat. The body also metabolizes alcohol in a different way from other food and drinks. As soon as alcohol hits the stomach, the body recognizes the substance as a toxin and immediately begins to process it. This allows the liver to metabolize alcohol as efficiently as possible. However, until alcoholic drinks are fully metabolized -after a few hours, the alcohol will spread around the body via the blood and cause an odor-inducing chemical reaction called oxidation.

Oxidation releases diacetic acid, carbon dioxide, and water through saliva, sweat, and urine, causing unpleasant, vinegary body odors. Additionally, sweat smells may become more noticeable as drinking makes blood vessels enlarge, causing people to feel hot and making them produce more sweat.

Before we consider how to get rid of bad smells from alcohol, it’s worth emphasizing again that bad breath and body odors are almost completely not related to the odor of the drinks themselves. For example, a person who drinks several glasses of wine will end up smelling almost identical to someone who drinks several glasses of beer. The smell, as explained, is produced by bacteria and the chemical reactions taking place within the body, making it difficult to hide without the right know-how.

Myths -How to (not) avoid smelling after drinking Alcohol

While alcohol odors can permeate deep into the body, there are a few tips and tricks a person can use to hide the smell from alcohol drinking. Firstly, however, it’s worth busting a few misconceptions surrounding alcoholic body odors. The following actions are unlikely to help much:

Drinking alcohol without a strong odor: All alcoholic body odors are very similar and generated by the way in which the body processes alcohol – not the strong smell of the drink itself. It is true, though, that certain mixes and cocktails with sugary or acidic ingredients can contribute to a stronger metabolic and bacterial reaction to the drink, which in turn can increase odors.

Chewing gum: Chewing mint gum does little to successfully mask the deeper smell of alcohol, instead it just ads a minty scent to the mouth itself, and could often be perceived as a transparent attempt at breath masking and actually raise people’s suspicions.

Six of the quickest ways (that work) to eliminate alcohol smells in the breath

Most of the odors coming from the breath of a drinker are deeper than just a lingering mouth smell, like when drinking some cherry drink, they emanate from the chemical reactions and bacteria in the lungs, throat and mouth -as we’ve already established here. And therefore, completely removing the smell from someone who is well-tuned to the smell or someone actively sniffing close-up for any hints of alcohol, is not fully realistic. But by utilizing certain solutions, we can expect to greatly override any smells passing through or emitting from the mouth.

The following tricks can help get rid of or greatly reduce smelly breath relatively fast:

  • Drinking plenty of water: While drinking water may not seem like an obvious way to eliminate bad breath, it will help flush alcohol out of the body through urination and wash away odor-inducing bacteria. Adding a little salt can also help get rid of as much unwanted bacteria as possible. That is, besides for the obvious reduction in mouth dryness and accompanying odor which oral rinsing and general hydration accomplish.
  • Eating peanut butter: Peanut butter has a rather potent, deep scent and is known to help conceal alcohol breath.
  • Drinking coffee: On top of counteracting some of the cognitive effects of drinking such as fatigue, drinking (strong) coffee can help with bad bacteria and mask the smell of alcohol on the breath. Even more effective, taking a quarter of a spoon of coffee powder and swishing it all around in the mouth for 20-30 seconds, and then swallowing the coffee filled saliva, leaves a very potent smell of coffee. (Yes, it’s bitter for a minute, but so is a shot of Vodka…) While some people dislike the smell of coffee breath, it may help the drinker avoid even more difficult conversations about alcohol consumption.
  • Drinking lemon water: Lemon contains citric compounds that help tackle toxins in the body and eliminate the smell of alcohol on the breath. The lemon’s acidity will also help eliminate oral bacteria which built up with drinking as well as reduce feelings of nausea. The more lemon in the mixture, the more effect.
  • Eating parsley: Parsley is an antibacterial plant with deodorizing effects. As such, it can help kill bacteria and reduce the smell of booze on the breath. While some people may not want to eat parsley fresh from the stalk, it can be added generously to a wide range of dishes.
  • Brushing the teeth and mouth and using mouthwash: Oral hygiene alone will not completely get rid of alcohol breath and may even hint that a person is attempting to hide a smell on their breath. But minty, quality toothpastes and mouthwashes -when used properly- can indeed help wash away unwanted bacteria in the mouth and throat, thereby reducing odors. It is very important to brush all parts of the mouth, including the tongue and cheeks, and to gargle at the throat for about 30 seconds, to ensure the cleaning targets all areas where bacteria can grow.

Three ways to get rid of body odors linked to drinking alcohol

While people may not be able to smell alcohol on themselves, others will probably detect boozy odors emitting from their person after a heavy night of drinking. Naturally, changing clothing regularly will help reduce the chances of bad smells accumulating on the body and garments. Here are a few additional tricks to make alcoholic body odors go away:

  • Taking a soapy shower: Using anti-bacterial and stronger scented soap in the shower will help wash away odor-causing bacteria and the scented body wash and shampoo will leave the person smelling fresh.
  • Eating foods that fight bacteria: Eating bacteria-fighting ingredients such as honey, turmeric, garlic, ginger, carrots, pineapple, yogurt, and tempeh will help eliminate odor-causing bacteria from the body and reduce bad smells. While smelly foods like garlic and onion will in addition to their bacteria reducing effects also help mask alcohol breath (although some people prefer to avoid smelling like anything at all).
  • Staying hydrated: Again, staying well-hydrated with large amounts of water or healthy energy drinks, will help the body flush out bacteria and chemical toxins fast.
  • Exercise: Some people wonder whether it’s possible to sweat out alcohol smells through exercise. The simple answer is that vigorous exercise can indeed help the body process alcohol, flush out odorous bacteria and toxins, and get rid of alcohol smells. However, it’s not always wise to exercise vigorously after drinking, as this could lead to dehydration, and as such, caution and constant hydration are necessary.

Getting Help with alcohol misuse

If you or someone you know may be struggling with unwanted alcohol misuse, they may be stuck in a cycle of addiction, which can be almost impossible to break out of alone. Addiction usually causes one to obsess over the substance they have developed a dependency on, and to seek it out and use it at all costs, even when it may be detrimental to them or their relationships. Additionally, most addictions stem from an underlying emotional or mental cause which may need to be addressed professionally and carefully in a thorough and deep manner. (For more on this see our article on “problem drinking“.)

If someone you care about is exhibiting signs of social or emotional deterioration, as well as other behaviors that may hint at a substance misuse or addiction, you might want to help them research the best available options for caring for and recovering from addiction (for more insight, you may want to see “An Alcoholic Spouse“) . Someone stuck in a cycle of addiction may need longer term inpatient care, or a lower level of care, depending on their situation and circumstances. This evaluation is best done by a trained and certified addiction treatment specialist or a doctor. All quality addiction rehabilitation facilities provide access to proper evaluation of treatment needs, along with full applicable health screenings.

Along with finding the suitable care options, you may want to turn to an addiction care provider to assist you in finding a way to encourage and convince the one struggling with addiction to go ahead and commit themselves to treatment. This intervention is usually successful only when approached with sincere respect and compassion.