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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Everyone’s body processes alcohol differently due to certain individual factors such as age, weight, and metabolism. When compared with other addictive substances, alcohol does leave your system fairly quickly. A healthy individual can fully metabolize one standard drink in just one hour. However, certain types of drug tests can detect alcohol in your system for much longer.

Understanding How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol

Alcohol is consumed via beverage and passes from the mouth to the digestive system. Unlike food, alcohol does not undergo the extensive digestion process that food does. Instead, most of the alcohol you consume is absorbed straight into your bloodstream through your stomach tissue lining and small intestines. Once it is in your bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body, organs, and to your brain.[1]

Alcohol is metabolized and removed from the body through the liver. The liver produces two enzymes that are responsible for processing alcohol: alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), and cytochrome P450.[1,2] These enzymes break alcohol down to Acetaldehyde, which is easier for the liver to process. After alcohol completely leaves your system, traces of Acetaldehyde metabolites are left behind which can be detected in various types of drug tests for hours or days after drinking.

How Long Do The Effects of Alcohol Last?

Unlike other drugs, people usually consume alcohol over a period of time rather than taking a dose all at once. As a result, the amount of time it takes to sober up varies greatly depending on how much alcohol was consumed and other factors. This is because the effects of alcohol depend on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

BAC is a measurement that describes the amount of alcohol in your blood in relation to how much water is in your blood. A healthy person will usually begin feeling the effects of a drink after 15-45 minutes. Most people begin to show some signs of intoxication when their BAC level reaches 0.05%. At 0.10%, people are usually clearly intoxicated. The higher your BAC gets, the more likely you are to experience symptoms like slurred speech, impaired coordination, and lowered inhibitions. Also, the higher your BAC, the longer it will take alcohol to get out of your system.

There are many factors that influence your BAC and how you react when you drink, such as:

  • Age, weight, and gender
  • Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach
  • Taking certain medications
  • Having liver or kidney disease
  • The manner in which you are drinking (casual, binge drinking, or alcoholism)
  • How much alcohol is in your drink

The amount of alcohol in the drink you consume can be used to determine how long it takes your body to metabolize one drink. For example, a small shot of liquor is metabolized in about one hour but a large glass of wine takes up to three hours.[1]

Factors That Influence How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System

The amount of time it takes the body to process alcohol, as well as how long alcohol metabolites stay in your system, varies greatly from one person to the next due to numerous factors, such as:

  • Weight
  • Body composition
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Genetics
  • Liver function
  • Time since eating last meal
  • Type of drink consumed
  • Medications
  • Other drugs
  • What the alcohol was mixed with

A healthy person’s body will process alcohol at a rate of approximately one standard drink (one shot of liquor) per hour. As a result, someone who drinks six standard drinks will need six hours for their body to completely process alcohol.

How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected in Your System?

The most popular type of drug test that screens for alcohol use is called a breathalyzer. It is a device that requires you to blow into a tube while it tests your BAC. Breathalyzers are often carried by law enforcement to test people who are suspected of drinking and driving. Any BAC measurement above 0.02 is considered dangerous for driving and other safety-related tasks.

Breathalyzers only test your BAC–not for alcohol metabolites in your body.[3] As a result, breath tests can only detect alcohol for about 24 hours maximum after your last drink. Most people can pass a breath test after only 12 hours.

If you are doing a drug test for a job or in a medical setting, other testing methods may be used. Here are approximations on how long alcohol can be detected in your system based on the other types of tests used.

  • Blood test – up to 6 hours after drinking
  • Saliva test – 12-24 hours after drinking
  • Urine tests – older methods of testing yield positive results for only 12-24 hours, while newer methods that test for ethanol metabolites like ethyl sulfate and ethyl glucuronide can yield positive results for up to 72 hours
  • Hair tests – up to 90 days (3 months) after drinking

Compared to other addictive substances, alcohol is metabolized and eliminated from the body fairly quickly.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today

Alcohol is a legal substance for individuals over the age of 21, so you shouldn’t have to worry about passing a drug test for alcohol to get or maintain a job. However, situations during which you may worry about this include run-ins with police or the criminal justice system. If you are trying to flush your body of alcohol so you can drive, you should not get behind the wheel. If you are trying to pass a drug test for medical clearance, you should consider being honest with your doctor. Either way, looking to figure out how fast alcohol can leave your system may indicate that you have a problem with alcohol.

Alcoholism is extremely common, and you are not alone. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse and can’t seem to quit drinking on your own, our team at Mandala Healing Center can help. Call now to see if our alcohol treatment program in West Palm Beach is right for you.