How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Knowing the answer to how long does alcohol stay in your system may help change your thoughts and behaviors relating to alcohol consumption.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Table of Contents

What Defines a Drink?

People who drink, and even those who do not, can be misinformed about alcohol and its effect on the body. Many believe alcohol is harmless, and the greatest danger it poses is a hangover. Unfortunately, this mindset is not true. The truth is that alcohol addiction is serious and, in some cases, life-threatening.

A drink is defined differently based on gender in America. The reasons for this definition include general body size, weight, and metabolism. Generally, men can handle more alcohol than women due to their weight and size.1

A drink has several definitions. It is one 12 fluid ounces of beer or wine cooler. For wine, a drink is 5 fluid ounces. A mixed drink is 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof hard liquor, such as gin, whisky, or run. According to the US’s official dietary guidelines, the alcohol consumption recommendation for each biological sex include:

Consuming more than a single drink in an hour may result in alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction. These “fun” situations can quickly become harmful and even life-threatening.

Is Alcohol Addictive?

For many people, alcohol is a highly addictive substance. Following tobacco, alcohol is the second most addictive substance actively used in the US.2 Alcohol addiction is real and considered by many to be a disorder. Fortunately, medical professionals can treat alcohol addiction and help those suffering regain control of their lives.

Statistics on Alcohol Abuse

To understand the prevalence of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, consider the following facts:

Alcohol addiction can be dangerous, and it can greatly alter the lives of both those suffering from the addiction and their loved ones. Knowing the facts and being educated about alcohol’s effects can help change these statistics for the future.

How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Kick In?

While this aspect depends somewhat on the individual, the effects of alcohol in the body usually start within 10 minutes of consumption. However, someone drinking may not feel anything for up to 30 minutes. As soon as you take a drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream.

Signs of Being Drunk

Knowing what intoxication looks like can save lives. The following signs and symptoms of intoxication tend to get worse the more a person drinks alcohol:

These are just a few signs of intoxication. Many more exist and may be specific to each individual. For example, some individuals become extremely affectionate or humorous when they drink. Other people may become extremely mean or violent. These effects are not typical signs of alcohol abuse.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

There is no exact time limit for how long alcohol remains in the body’s system. This factor depends on the body component tested for alcohol detection. The following are body components typically tested for alcohol consumption:6

Blood

Alcohol stays in the bloodstream for up to 6 hours. A blood alcohol test is helpful in vehicle accidents if someone is driving while intoxicated (DWI). Alcohol detectors using blood also are beneficial when the targeted individual is unconscious due to an accident.

Breath

When you ingest alcohol, it stays on your breath 12 to 24 hours later. Officials use a breathalyzer to detect alcohol consumption during this time. These alcohol detectors are portable and can be used in various ways, even preventing a car from starting if the driver is impaired.

Urine

An alcohol urine test is quick and cost-efficient. For most people consuming alcohol, the substance is detected in urine 12 to 24 hours after ingestion. However, alcohol detection is possible up to 72 hours after heavy drinking.

Saliva

It is possible to detect alcohol in your saliva up to 24 hours after you ingested it. Typically, any alcohol in your system is metabolized after 24 hours and is no longer detectable in your saliva after that point.

Hair

Hair samples also contain traces of alcohol. Unlike the other body components, an alcohol test can detect the substance in hair up to 90 days after ingestion. Microscopic testing is required with hair samples to determine when someone consumed the substance.

In general, alcohol stays in your system for 12 to 36 hours. However, it is not unheard of for it to be detected 80 hours later, depending on the detection system used. Alcohol addiction can extend the length of time that alcohol detection is possible.

Factors that Affect Alcohol Detection

A typical misunderstanding about how long does alcohol stay in your system pertains to the ability of others to detect it. Individual factors determine the ability to detect alcohol within a specific period.

Body Fat

Individuals with higher percentages of body fat require more time to become intoxicated. However, the amount of alcohol in their body tissue is much higher than that found in individuals with lower body fat who may get drunk faster. The alcohol detection period may last longer in bodies with a higher percentage of body fat.

Sex

Alcohol leaves a woman’s system faster than it does a man’s system. However, women become intoxicated more quickly. Unlike men, women do not have as many stomach enzymes that break down alcohol. In addition to the body fat percentage, women’s hormones play a role in blood alcohol count (BAC).

Age

It takes more time for young people to get intoxicated, so they need to drink more alcohol to feel the effects. Older people do not need to drink as much for alcohol detection. They become intoxicated faster than their younger counterparts because of their slower metabolism and other age-related factors like loss in water weight and muscle tissue.

Food Consumption

Eating while you drink slows alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. The type of food consumed has no bearing on the rate of BAC. Larger meals eaten closer to the time of alcohol consumption are more likely to lower blood alcohol concentration. Food may prevent alcohol from entering your bloodstream or stop the stomach from emptying into the intestines.

Use of Other Substances

Drinking and using drugs at the same time affect alcohol detection. Even the interaction between alcohol and prescription medications can affect alcohol detection time. Alcohol is a depressant and mixing it with other depressants can keep it in the body’s system longer.

Additional factors are known to affect alcohol detection including hydration, sleep, and prescription medications. The amount of alcohol and the speed at which it is consumed will impact the alcohol detection timeline.

Myths About How to Get Alcohol Out of Your System

Myths have been passed from generation to generation regarding how to sober quickly, such as:

MYTH: Sweat It Out

TRUTH: You cannot sweat alcohol out of your system. Approximately 90% of alcohol consumed ends up in the liver—no need to step on your treadmill when you get home.

MYTH: Eat, Eat, Eat

TRUTH: Food does not absorb alcohol. What happens is that a valve between the stomach and intestines remains closed while you eat (and drink) to allow food to digest.

MYTH: Caffeine Makes You Sober

TRUTH: Coffee and energy drinks do not affect getting alcohol out of your system. People believe this myth because these beverages can make you feel more awake and alert.

Alcohol can only leave the system if you give the body time to properly digest it. Drinking water and eating food are beneficial, but there is no quick trick to sobriety.

How is Alcohol Metabolized?

When you consume alcoholic drinks, the alcohol enters your bloodstream through your intestines and stomach. Your blood contains enzymes that break down chemicals. As soon as alcohol enters your blood, enzymes begin metabolizing the alcohol. Your liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol. It can only metabolize one standard drink every hour. If you drink four standard drinks in one hour, it will take your body at least four hours to metabolize all three of the drinks. If you continue to drink, more time is needed to metabolize the alcohol fully out of your system.

The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a grave situation. People can die from drinking too much alcohol or from the sudden withdrawal of alcohol. First-time and binge drinkers are at particular risk of alcohol poisoning. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include:7

If you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms after alcohol consumption, contact medical help. The individual suffering from these symptoms should be monitored until help arrives.

Resources

  1.  
      1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose

2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse

3. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/overview-alcohol-consumption

4. https://www.cdc.gov/brfss/

5. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/features/excessive-drinking.html

6. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-system/

7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

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