How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? Longer Than You Think

If you’ve ever wondered, “how long does alcohol stay in your system?”, the answer is that it depends on many factors, such as age, weight, amount of food consumed, and liver and kidney function. Generally, the liver can metabolize about one standard drink per hour. However, the type of test you’re taking determines how long alcohol can be detected in your body.

How Long Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

As soon as you take a drink of alcohol, it quickly enters your bloodstream through the stomach, travels to the liver to be processed, and then is sent to the rest of the body. After about 10 minutes, the effects of alcohol—like slurred speech, impaired motor skills, mood changes, and reduced inhibitions—appear.1 If you continue drinking, the alcohol content in your blood rises, and the effects are more intense. If you drink quickly, that alcohol can take a lot longer to exit, which increases the amount of alcohol in your blood.2

Alcohol affects cognitive and motor abilities even after you’ve stopped drinking—this is because alcohol continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream well after your last drink.  Once you stop drinking, your body reaches its peak blood alcohol concentration (BAC) before eliminating alcohol from your system. Many factors affect how long it takes to reach peak BAC and elimination and how long your function is affected.2

Type of Alcohol

Studies have shown that beer and wine are absorbed much slower than liquor. This is especially true if you are drinking on an empty stomach.2

The Liver

Reports from Brown University state a healthy liver can process one standard drink per hour. Any excess alcohol consumed past that will remain in your blood until the liver catches up.3

Sex

Your sex is part of the answer to how long alcohol stays in your system. One reason is that those assigned male at birth have more body water than those assigned female. The more body water, the more diluted the alcohol will be in your bloodstream. Additionally, individuals who were assigned male at birth have more dehydrogenase—an enzyme in the liver that breaks down alcohol—meaning they can break it down more quickly. Estrogen, even received through birth control pills, can slow the rate of alcohol metabolism.3

Medications

Medications interact with alcohol and can delay the process of eliminating alcohol from the body. Alcohol may also change the effects of the medication, putting you at risk for dangerous interactions. In the elderly, some may experience gastrointestinal bleeding if combining alcohol with NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory medicines. An increase or decrease in blood pressure can happen when mixed with some antidepressants, which can lead to dizziness and hypertensive crisis.4

Food Consumption

Those who do not eat before consuming alcohol reach a peak BAC within one hour.2 Further, studies show those who drink alcohol on an empty stomach feel the effects of alcohol faster than those who eat a meal before drinking. Food slows both gastric emptying and the absorption of alcohol into the blood. This can also mean peak BAC will be lower among those who eat before drinking alcohol.5

Body Composition

Research proves there is a significant correlation between body composition and alcohol consumption. Very little alcohol enters fat because fat is not very soluble. As such, metabolism of alcohol is slower in those with higher subcutaneous fat, like many assigned female at birth.5

A few other contributors that answer the question of “how long does alcohol stay in your system” are biological rhythms and internal temperature. Reports state internal temperature is affected by the time of day and can cause alcohol metabolism to vary.6

How Long Does Alcohol Stay on Your Breath?

The same factors that affect your cognitive and motor skills also help answer the question of how long alcohol stays on your breath. The liver processes about 90% of the alcohol you consume, and the body gets rid of the other 10% through breath and urine. Numerous tests or breath analysis machines can test BAC. When taking one of these tests, you blow into the device, which then converts the alcohol in your breath to a corresponding BAC.7

Alcohol breath tests measure the amount of alcohol in your blood at the time of the test. There is a short period for detecting alcohol using this system.8

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?

Like breath, urine is another way the body gets rid of the 10% not processed by the liver. Urine analysis tests can provide answers to the question, how long does alcohol stay in your urine? Urine tests can detect alcohol a lot longer than breath tests. Some report detecting alcohol for up to 48 hours, but 10-12 hours is most common.8

Collecting a urine sample takes place in a private restroom. Accurate collection, storage, and handling are crucial when testing for alcohol. Results come in the form of positive or negative, with negative meaning no detection of alcohol.8

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?

Much like breath, blood is a moment-to-moment depiction of the amount of alcohol in your body. There is only a limited window of detection for alcohol in your bloodstream—lasting minutes to hours. Having your blood drawn to detect alcohol can be invasive and uncomfortable and often requires a trip to a medical facility for this procedure.8

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More Ways to Test for Alcohol in Your System

Breath and urine tests are two of many testing methods to determine the concentration of alcohol and other substances in the body, however there are other tests, including:8

  • Saliva or oral fluids, which can test same-day use of alcohol
  • Sweat, which can test up to a week or longer when using a sweat patch
  • Meconium, which tests an infant’s feces to determine if the gestational parent has been using alcohol

Positive Uses of Alcohol Tests

Many people think of law enforcement or drinking while driving when discussing BAC testing, but there are many environments using testing for much more positive outcomes. One example is contingency management, a motivational method used in substance use treatment centers.9

Alcohol breath and urine tests are often used in alcohol treatment centers to reward and motivate participants. Contingency management models may include a voucher-based system. For every negative result for alcohol, you earn a voucher to cash in for various products. The more negative test results you acquire, the more the value of the vouchers increases. Prize incentives are another technique where you receive various prizes for each negative test result.9

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How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Detox, as a service, is a series of interventions which aim to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal and seek to minimize any physical harm caused by alcohol abuse.10 Detox typically takes between 7 to 10  days for people who have developed a dependence on alcohol or an alcohol use disorder. During detox, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. According to reports, up to 50% of people with alcohol use disorder experience symptoms of withdrawal, which can range from mild to severe and will vary for each person.11

6 to 10 Hours After Last Drink of Alcohol

The first signs of withdrawal arrive quickly and may include mild, moderate, or severe versions of the following:11

24 Hours After Last Drink of Alcohol

After the first day of detox, symptoms may continue, and you may also see new signs, such as:11

  • Headaches
  • Obsessive thoughts about alcohol
  • Digestive problems
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Anxiety or depression increasing
  • Sleep problems, nightmares, or dreaming about alcohol
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart racing or palpitations
  • Dehydration

48 Hours After Your Last Drink of Alcohol

While this is the last phase of the withdrawal process, it can produce dangerous symptoms, including:11

  • Delirium tremens, characterized by hallucinations, shaking, and confusion
  • Psychosis
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Even when alcohol is entirely out of your system, you may still experience some withdrawal symptoms, such as intense cravings and urges for alcohol. For some, symptoms can come and go for weeks, months, or years. But there is no better time than now to begin recovery.

While a few steps are involved, you can start the treatment journey today. We are can help you make that connection to a treatment specialist available 24/7. To speak to a specialist about addiction recovery services for like alcohol misuse call 800-839-1686Who Answers?.

Resources

  1. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Overview of Alcohol Consumption.
  2. Mitchell, M. C., Jr, Teigen, E. L., & Ramchandani, V. A. (2014). Absorption and peak blood alcohol concentration after drinking beer, wine, or spirits. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 38(5), 1200-1204.
  3. Brown University. (2021). Alcohol and your body.
  4. Moore, A. A., Whiteman, E. J., & Ward, K. T. (2007). Risks of combined alcohol/medication use in older adults. The American journal of geriatric pharmacotherapy, 5(1), 64-74.
  5. Paton A. (2005). Alcohol in the body. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 330(7482), 85-87.
  6. Cederbaum A. I. (2012). Alcohol metabolism. Clinics in liver disease, 16(4), 667-685.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). The Science of Drug Testing: How Alcohol Breath Tests Work.
  8. Hadland, S. E., & Levy, S. (2016). Objective Testing: Urine and Other Drug Tests. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 25(3), 549-565.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine).
  10. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
  11. Mirijello, A., D’Angelo, C., Ferrulli, A., Vassallo, G., Antonelli, M., Caputo, F., Leggio, L., Gasbarrini, A., & Addolorato, G. (2015). Identification and management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Drugs, 75(4), 353-365.

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