How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

A common question many people want to know the answer to is how long alcohol stays in the system after consuming it.  Maybe you are on medication that can’t be taken with alcohol.  Maybe you need to undergo testing for a new job or are wanting to look into a rehab or detox program.  Whatever the case, the standard answer is that the average amount of time that alcohol stays in your system is about 1 hour for every 1 ounce of alcohol consumed.  While this is the average amount of time, the actual time can vary depending on weight, gender, age, your metabolism, the strength of the alcohol, what you have eaten, medications, health, and a variety of issues.  The more you drink, the longer the alcohol remains in your system.  Every drink adds more time that alcohol will stay with you. 

Detecting Alcohol in Your System

To detect alcohol in the system, the BAC or Blood Alcohol Content is used.  There are three different methods for testing your Blood Alcohol content.  It can be done through a blood test, urine test, or breathalyzer test.  A standard drink will raise your BAC about 0.015% doesn’t usually lead to intoxication.  Unless you have a liver disease, most people will process alcohol at this rate.  When you drink more than your body can absorb, your BAC level will rise, leading to intoxication.  The alcohol will be absorbed in the blood.  For alcohol testing, these are estimated ranges of how long alcohol will be detectable in your system.

  • Blood Test: 12 hours
  • Urine Test:3-5 days
  • Saliva Test: 1-5 days
  • Breathalyzer: up to 12 hours

How Alcohol Travels Through the Body

The average beer is about 12 oz. After consuming your drink, the alcohol first travels to your stomach where it is immediately absorbed into the stomach lining and then into the bloodstream.  Unlike food, which must be digested and processed before it spreads to the rest of the body, alcohol absorption begins almost immediately.  The stronger the drink, the quicker the alcohol is absorbed into the system. For example, shots have a low liquid, high alcohol volume and thus enter the bloodstream faster than other types of alcohol.  The amount of food in your stomach also affects how quickly alcohol enters your bloodstream.  The more food you have in your stomach, the slower the alcohol reaches the bloodstream. About of all alcohol you drink will travel to your stomach while the other goes to the small intestines. 

After you have consumed alcohol and it begins to enter your system, then it will begin to affect your brain.  The brain is the very first organ that feels the effects of drinking alcohol as brain cells will absorb alcohol through the blood barrier.  The more your BAC rises, the more your functions are affected.  Alcohol is a natural depressant that slows down brain function, specifically in the cerebral cortex, limbic system, and cerebellum of the brain.  When the brain is affected by alcohol intake, you may begin to see symptoms such as decreased inhibition, increased feelings of confidence, blurred vision, poor judgment, or a higher pain tolerance.  One of the other effects of too much drinking is the inability to remember what happened while you were drinking.  Many health professionals state that drinking too much can actually affect your memory-making abilities.  Severe alcohol consumption can even lead to a form of amnesia called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.  If drinking becomes a problem for you or a loved one, rehab can help.  Drug and alcohol addiction treatment can give you the tools you need to break free from addiction.

The next organ to feel the effects of alcohol is the heart.  While the heart doesn’t actually take in liquid alcohol, it is drastically affected by the consumption of alcohol.  Because alcohol is a vasodilator, the more alcohol you drink, the dilated blood vessels become, leading to lower blood pressure.  To make up for the lack of blood flow from dilated blood vessels, the heart begins beating at a faster pace.  Alcohol consumption can also lead to more significant heart problems such as atrial fibrillation, blood clotting, stroke, or heart disease.

After the heart, comes the kidneys.  By now, the alcohol has fully entered your bloodstream.  Alcohol is processed through the kidneys.  Because alcohol is a diuretic, it can negatively affect the kidneys’ ability to balance water through your body.  This can decrease urine output, leading to dehydration in severe cases.  Of course, if something this serious happens to you or someone you love, first seek medical care from a profession.  After recovering, it may be time to seek long-term care from a drug rehab facility that can address the heart of the matter.

Alcohol can also affect your bladder.  The bladder uses vasopressin, a hormone made in the kidneys, to ensure that the water that ends up in your bladder is waste.  With alcohol consumption, vasopressin production is diminished and the bladder fills up with water from the beer.  Urine tests can determine whether or not alcohol is in your system up to 48 hours after drinking alcohol due to the high levels of EtG (ethyl glucuronide) that is in your system. 

Finally, the last of the alcohol in your body is processed through the liver.  About 5% of alcohol will be removed from the body through saliva, urine, or sweat.  The remaining 95% is metabolized in the liver.  It metabolizes alcohol at a rate of 0.016% Blood Alcohol Content per hour, which is less than one drink.  This rate varies from person to person based on the size of your liver and liver health.  Alcohol is metabolized and what remains is acetaldehyde, a toxin that damages liver cells and scars the liver itself.  It also causes a buildup of fat inside the liver.  Fatty liver disease from excessive drinking is what eventually leads to liver disease or cirrhosis.  This is a very damaging disease that can be fatal.

The effects of alcohol consumption are felt even the next day in the form of a hangover.  Alcohol may be out of your system, but the results of drinking too much can still be felt.  The body needs to replenish and replace the water and nutrients lost due to drinking alcohol.  As a result, you may feel lightheaded and dizzy, weak, or disoriented, all the hangover symptoms many feel the day after drinking.  To cleanse your body, you should drink lots of water, exercise to sweat out toxins, and fast for a day or two.  Some even recommend cleansing the liver by drinking milk thistle.

Because of such a tedious process, there is no completely accurate answer as to how long alcohol stays in your system.  There are a lot of factors involved, but for most, an hour per drink is pretty reliable information.

How Long Does It Take to Sober Up?

Your BAC level will tell you how much alcohol is in your system, but it doesn’t let you know how long it will take to sober up after drinking.  People reach the rate of intoxication different, and this rule applies to sobering up as well.  Everyone will begin to sober up after a night of drinking at different rates.  You need to take into account how much food you have eaten, your age, and your weight.  Different medications that you may be on can also affect the rate at which the body metabolizes alcohol.  Because there is no way of knowing when you are truly sober, it is always recommended that you exercise caution after drinking too much.  No matter what old wives tales you apply in an attempt to sober up quickly, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Don’t hop into the driver’s seat of a car until you are fully confident that you are sober and able to drive.  You may feel like you are safe to drive, even if you are just a little buzzed, but the reality is that is not a safe decision.  Alcohol stays in your system longer than you think, so realize the effects and be smart.

You Can’t Speed Up the Metabolizing Process

Contrary to popular belief, there really is no way to speed up how quickly your body rids itself of the alcohol within your system.  No amount of throwing up, coffee drinking, water drinking, or shower taking is going to sober you up faster.  You simply have to wait for the alcohol to run its course through the body to the liver to be metabolized.  The following chart shows the average time it takes for alcohol to fully clear your system.

BAC Levels

Hours Until 0















Take note that this chart only reflects the time it takes to process alcohol through the body for a healthy, high functioning liver.  If you are prone to heavy drinker or have been drinking for a long time then these rates will vary.  An unhealthy liver that has been exposed to alcohol often will take longer to metabolize alcohol than a healthy liver.

Binge Drinking Takes Longer to Clear the System

While the rule of thumb is one standard drink clears your system in one hour, this is not the case for binge drinking sessions. 5 drinks or more for men and 4 drinks or more for women constitutes binge drinking.  If you have taken part in a night of binge drinking, then it could take hours for the alcohol to completely clear your system.  If you drank enough, it could still be in your system the next morning, causing you to fail an alcohol test or even be pulled over for driving under the influence.

Side Effects of Drinking Too Much

It is important to note that binge drinking will not only cause your Blood Alcohol Content to rise, but it can also have some negative side effects.  Once your BAC level reaches 0.055% or above, you may begin to experience unpleasant or unwanted side effects such as depression, irritability, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, or disorientation.  What began as a night meant to be fun and carefree can quickly turn into more than you intended.  Instead of feeling great, you feel miserable.  Knowing where the fine line is between drinking for fun and drinking too much is important.  If at any point, you feel you are drinking too much at one time or drinking too often, that may be a sign you need to seek help for a drinking problem.  Summer Sky Rehab offers inpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs designed to address the root of your drinking problems and offer solutions to break free from a habit that may be affecting you more than you realize.

What Happens During Alcohol Testing?

If asked to submit to alcohol testing, there are two types of tests that can be performed.  If you are being tested for intoxication, doctors will more than likely use a blood test.  If being pulled over for suspected drunk driving or after an accident, a breathalyzer is likely to be administered.  Both of these alcohol tests are looking for either ethanol or EtG in your system.  Ethanol can be detected one to two hours even after alcohol has left the body.  Depending on how your body metabolizes substances, alcohol can typically stay in urine for up to 80 hours, the bloodstream for 24 hours, and hair follicles for up to 3 months. However, some newer screening tests will detect the presence of alcohol within your system for up to 5 to 7 days after drinking.  These tests aren’t as reliable as they can sometimes report false positives, especially if the subject of the test has recently been in contact with small amounts of alcohol in things such as hand sanitizer or mouthwash. 

Consequences of Failing an Alcohol Test

Failing an alcohol test can have consequences.  It can land you in legal trouble as well as affect your job or your family.  Driving under the influence of alcohol has legal ramifications such as fines, loss of driver’s license, or even jail time.  If you have been found guilty of a DUI more than once, then your consequences are likely to be more severe the second or even third time you are pulled over for drunk driving.  The maximum offense for driving under the influence can be up to 3 years in prison. 

The Risks of Alcohol Abuse

According to statistics, about 15.1 million people in the US suffer from alcohol abuse disorder.  Alcohol-related deaths are third on the list of causes of preventable deaths in the nation.  Roughly 90,000 people die each year from alcohol-related problems such as liver disease, drunk driving accidents, or overdose.  The more you know about alcohol and how it affects your body, the more you can be aware of your Blood Alcohol Content levels.  Knowing when you can and can’t drive is important for saving not only your life but possibly the lives of others as well.  You can also track your drinks and use the information about the rate at which alcohol is metabolized to avoid alcohol poisoning and unintended over-intoxication. 

Being aware of what you drink and how much you drink can make you aware of a need or habit that you have developed for drinking alcohol.  Everyday people realize that drinking has become a problem that they were unaware of.  If this is you, if alcohol has affected your home life, work life, friendships, finances, or any other part of your life, know that drug rehab centers are a place to seek help for alcohol addiction.  Summer Sky is a top rated rehab facility with supportive staff who will walk alongside you as you strive to break the cycle of alcohol addiction.  Before things get worse, consider looking into a drug and alcohol rehab for tools and support to overcome alcohol addiction.  Call today to find out more information and get the help you need to live your best life.

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