How Long Does Alcohol Remain in Your System?

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 11/15/2021

Alcohol can remain in your system for up to 90 days, depending on where you're tested for alcohol. During this period alcohol is absorbed through almost every part of the body and causes intoxication. The intoxication period varies depending on how much alcohol was consumed.

In Blood 

Alcohol remains in your blood for about 6 hours. The length of time depends on the person and their tolerance to alcohol. Alcohol is metabolized in the body through the liver by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. The average liver can metabolize one drink per hour.

In Breath 

In the breath, alcohol can last for up to 24 hours. Alcohol remains in the breath for long periods because your body gets rid of small amounts of alcohol through the breath over time. This is what makes the breathalyzer exam effective. Moreover, even making your breath smell better won't impact the result of the exam.

In Urine 

Alcohol can last for 12-24 hours in urine. While that's the common period for most people, recent studies from 2007 present different information. For example, people who consumed large amounts of water had less alcohol concentration in their urine. Therefore, drinking water can impact the results of this exam.

In Saliva 

Alcohol lasts for between 12 and 24 hours in your saliva, which is similar to your breath and other exams. Alcohol remains in the saliva because your body lowers q small amount BAC through the saliva. Unlike urine and breath, there aren't many ways to mask the alcohol level present within saliva.

How is Alcohol Metabolized?

About 20% of alcohol is absorbed by the stomach, and the remaining alcohol is absorbed in the small intestine. At these points, the alcohol is introduced directly into the bloodstream, where it is transported through the entire body and to the brain. Most of the alcohol then collects in the liver where it is metabolized at a rate of about 1.5 oz of liquor (or its equivalent, a standard drink) per hour.

What Factors Affect Alcohol Metabolism?

Five main variables have the most effect on a person’s ability to metabolize alcohol:

Age 

Generally, as a person ages, their ability to metabolize alcohol decreases, and the process is slowed.  This means an older person will be more affected by the same amount of consumption than their younger counterpart, and for a longer period of time following consumption.

Biological Sex

Due to differences in body composition and hormone production, women do not metabolize alcohol as efficiently as men.  Women’s bodies tend to have a higher fat content, less water, and more fluctuations in hormone levels, all factors that slow alcohol metabolism.

Food

A full stomach dilutes alcohol and slows the rate at which alcohol will move from the stomach and into the intestine where it is absorbed more readily.  Food greatly increases the amount of alcohol your body is able to process.

Body Size

Height, muscle mass (high water content dilutes alcohol), and low fat content all make for faster metabolism of alcohol.  Even when two individuals weigh the same, if one is taller or has more lean muscle and less fat tissue, they will have a lower BAC after equal alcohol consumption.

Medication

Some medications interact with alcohol in the body and can affect the way you absorb and metabolize the alcohol. Drugs known as having these kinds of effects include ADHD medications, anxiety/panic attack medications, cough/cold medicines, and diabetes treatments.

What is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC), also known as blood alcohol level, is the most common measurement of alcohol concentration. BAC measures the percentage of alcohol present within an individual's blood. It's a great tool to determine how much alcohol someone has consumed and if someone has consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol.

BAC works by measuring how much alcohol is in the blood. This is accomplished by measuring milliliters of blood and seeing how many grams of alcohol are present within. For example, .05 grams of alcohol in 100 milliliters would be a BAC of 5%. For testing purposes, the common amount of blood tested is 100 milliliters.

What is a Standard Drink Portion?

A standard drink portion refers to the amount of alcohol present within different drinks. The standard drink in the United States typically refers to 14 grams of alcohol. Therefore, a standard drink portion varies based on the type of alcoholic beverage (beer is weaker than liquor). 

Here are some examples of standard drink portions:

  • 12 fluid ounces of beer (5% alcohol)

  • 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol)

  • 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol)

  • 1.5 fluid ounces of liquor (80 proof, 40% alcohol)

How Long Does it Take for Alcohol to Kick in?

Once consumed, alcohol is absorbed rapidly in the stomach and small intestine, and effects can be felt within 5 to 10 minutes. After initial consumption, it will start to peak in the blood after about 90 minutes as it's carried to other areas of the body.

While alcohol can kick in quickly, there are many factors that change how slowly or quickly it's absorbed in the body. For example, drinking on an empty stomach can cause the alcohol to move through the small intestine faster. On the other hand, with a hardy meal sitting in the stomach, it takes longer for alcohol to move through the intestine.

Some other factors that contribute include:

  • The alcohol level within the drink –the more alcohol the faster it's absorbed 

  • Carbonated alcoholic beverages enter your body faster 

  • Drinking rapidly will decrease the time it takes to kick in

  • Bodyweight

  • Biological sex

  • Medications 

Alcohol impacts everyone differently, so the factors may vary from person to person.

How Do You Know When You Are Drunk?

Alcohol has a unique impact on everyone. In fact, drinking different types of alcohol can cause different outcomes. That said, some of the most notable symptoms of drunkenness include:

  • loss of balance

  • poor judgment

  • slurred speech

  • blurred vision

  • Confusion 

  • Loss of memory 

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting

  • Sweating 

Everyone reacts differently, so you might experience one or all of these symptoms.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Drink Out of Your System?

Getting one drink out of your system depends on several factors. That said, the average person can metabolize one alcoholic beverage per hour (the standard portion drink). This means that you can have one beer each hour without feeling impaired or showing up as intoxicated on a BAC test.

Still, many factors can change how fast alcohol is metabolized in the body. Here are the most common factors:

  • Bodyweight

  • Metabolism 

  • Biological sex

  • Food consumed 

  • Age 

  • Type of alcohol consumed

Based on these factors, sometimes one drink is enough to cause drunkenness. Moreover, one drink could take up to 2 hours to leave your system in some cases.

How Long Does Alcohol Last in Urine?

Alcohol will remain in your urine for 12-24 hours. While this is the average amount of time, there are factors that can increase or decrease the level of alcohol present within urine. For example, someone who is dehydrated might have more alcohol in their urine for extended periods. On the other hand, someone who drinks a lot of water will cause dilutions to their urine which reduces the amount.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breastmilk?

The alcohol concentration in breastmilk is highest between 30 and 90 minutes after the alcohol is ingested, and can be detected in breastmilk for up to 3 hours after. The amount consumed, however, will affect the length of time that it can be detected.

If someone consumes a lot of alcohol it can take several hours for the body to process it. In these cases, we recommend avoiding breastfeeding to prevent adverse reactions and health effects. Alcohol can also impair your body's ability to heal and fight infections, so it's not recommended to drink directly after pregnancy anyway.

Does Drinking Water or Coffee Help You Sober Up?

The short answer is no; contrary to conventional wisdom, coffee actively dehydrates you, resulting in slower metabolism of alcohol.  Water, while it will help flush toxins and rehydrate your body, greatly reducing the hangover effects you might experience, will do nothing to sober you up in the meantime.

When is Alcohol No Longer Detected on a Test?

Alcohol can be detected on tests for up to 90 days –in the worst case. Still, the rate in which alcohol is detected varies depending on each test.

Here are the breakdowns for how long you can expect alcohol to show up on a test:

  • Hair: 90 days

  • Urine: 12-24 hours

  • Blood: 6-12 hours

  • Breath: 12-24 hours 

Urine tests are interesting because it depends on how much water is consumed. In some cases, alcohol can be found up to 80 hours after being consumed in the urine.

How Much Alcohol Will Kill You?

A blood alcohol concentration of .400% or higher will lead to the onset of coma, and possibly death due to respiratory arrest.  The exact amount of alcohol will be different between individuals however this BAC or higher puts you at risk of death.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person has a BAC between .250 and .399%.  The amount of alcohol consumption it would take to reach that level varies from person to person, however binge drinking (5 or more rapidly consumed drinks within 2 hours for males, 4 or more for females) is its main cause.

How Much Alcohol Intake is Needed for it to Show Up on Tests?

The amount of alcohol consumed to give a result on a test is as little as one drink. In most cases, you'll have to consume more than one drink per hour to receive a significant marker on a BAC test. That said, this varies based on the individual. Factors like body weight, age, and biological sex are all at play here. 

How to Speed Up Alcohol Metabolism?

Once it has entered your bloodstream, alcohol can only be eliminated by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, or be expelled through sweat, vomit, urine, and breath.

While you can't boost your metabolism there are things you can do to appear more coherent and less drunk.

These include:

  • Sleeping it off

  • Having coffee or energy drinks

  • Eating food

  • Carbon capsules 

  • Exercise

None of these will clear your body of alcohol but they can reduce the impact of drunkenness.

Does Lemon Reduce Alcohol Content in Your Body?

Another false story, chewing on a lemon will not do anything to decrease the amount of alcohol in your body. While there is evidence that it can help you appear soberer, it won't decrease your BAC.

Which Foods Soak Up Alcohol?

Although there is no instant cure that you can eat to rid your body of alcohol, there are several foods that, if eaten before drinking, can greatly reduce alcohol's effects on your body.  

Protein-rich foods like eggs will slow the emptying of alcohol from your stomach, in turn slowing the rate at which it is absorbed into your bloodstream. Other protein-rich foods include beef, chicken, fish, and other lean meats. There are also vegan options like legumes and lentils. 

Oats can protect against liver damage and benefit liver function, plus carbohydrates are great for soaking up alcohol. Bananas are high in fiber which slows absorption and their high potassium content helps to fight electrolyte imbalances caused by drinking.

These foods won't help you pass a BAC test but they can help you feel soberer.

Does Exercising Help Remove Alcohol From the Body?

While there is no conclusive evidence to determine the exact relationship between exercise and alcohol metabolism, studies suggest that it may be able to minimally increase the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from your body. This is because exercise increases heart rate, which boosts metabolism. The reason that the evidence is mixed is that exercise also slows down digestion.

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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.