How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

how long does alcohol stay in your system

Alcohol is the substance that is found in beer, wine, and liquor. Drinking alcohol is one of the most common pastimes in America. Unfortunately, many individuals drink too much alcohol, causing them to experience adverse side effects and even develop an alcohol use disorder

Alcohol is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug, meaning it depresses the central nervous system (CNS) at high doses and can act as a CNS stimulant at low doses. If you drink too much, high levels of alcohol in your body could cause you to experience drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma, and even death. 

Having too much alcohol in your system at one time can cause an array of life-threatening consequences. Thankfully, understanding how long alcohol stays in your system could prevent you from experiencing an array of medical emergencies. 

How Does Your Body Metabolize Alcohol?

When you swallow alcohol, the substance travels through the digestive system until it reaches the stomach and small intestine. About 20% of the alcohol is absorbed by your stomach, while the remaining 80% is absorbed by your small intestine.[1] This allows the alcohol to enter your bloodstream. 

Once the alcohol has reached your bloodstream it is rapidly transported throughout your body. This is why alcohol can affect an array of organs, like the brain, heart, liver, and others. In fact, most of the alcohol that enters your system eventually ends up in the liver.

Typically, the liver metabolizes one standard alcoholic beverage per hour.[2] If you consume more than one alcoholic drink per hour, the additional alcohol will accumulate in your blood and other tissues until it can be metabolized properly. This is why many individuals who suffer from alcoholism experience liver complications like cirrhosis.

Most of the alcohol you drink is completely metabolized and absorbed, but any remaining alcohol will be expelled from your body through your sweat, urine, vomit, and feces.

What is BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration)?

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol that is present in your body. To explain, your BAC represents the percentage of ethanol that is present in your blood. This is measured by the units of mass of alcohol per volume.[3]

Typically, when you drink one ounce of alcohol your BAC will be 0.015%. After about 10 hours, the ounce of alcohol you consumed would be metabolized and out of your system. 

The negative effects of alcohol begin to increase once your BAC reaches 0.05% to 0.055%. To explain, any feelings of euphoria or relaxation typically turn into irritability and disorientation once you reach a BAC higher than 0.05%. Additionally, you may begin vomiting because your body is unable to metabolize the alcohol as quickly as you are drinking it at this BAC. 

For comparison, the legal driving limit in the United States is a blood alcohol concentration of under 0.08%. 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How long alcohol stays in your system depends on a variety of factors. On average, one alcoholic beverage can be metabolized within an hour. However, once you begin consuming more than one drink per hour, alcohol will stay in your system longer.

Let’s take a look at how long alcohol is detectable in your system based on blood, urine, and hair drug testing.

Blood 

Alcohol is eliminated from your bloodstream at about 0.015 per hour. Typically, alcohol will show up on blood tests for up to 12 hours after you consume it. However, this will depend on how much you drank, how quickly you drank, and additional biological factors.

Urine 

During a traditional urine test, alcohol is detectable for 10 to 12 hours after you last drank. However, the ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test can detect alcohol in your urine for 3 to 5 days. 

Hair 

Hair tests can detect drugs and alcohol in your body for the longest amount of time. While these tests are the most accurate and provide the longest window of detection, they are extremely expensive and time-consuming. Because of this, many people opt to use a urine or blood test before performing a hair test for alcohol. 

However, if you are being subjected to a hair test, it can detect alcohol in your system for up to 90 days. 

What Factors Affect How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System?

There are a variety of factors that affect how long alcohol is detectable in your system. For example, if you drink large amounts of alcohol frequently, alcohol will be in your system for a longer amount of time than normal drinkers. 

Factors include:

  • Age
  • Biological sex 
  • How much you eat 
  • Body size and composition 
  • Your metabolism
  • Medications you take 
  • How much and how often do you drink
  • Whether you abuse additional substances 

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can cause an array of adverse effects. From financial devastation to social isolation and health complications, struggling with an alcohol use disorder is never easy. Thankfully, alcohol addiction treatment programs can help you build a strong foundation of sobriety. 

If you or a loved one require treatment for alcohol abuse or alcoholism, contact Moving Mountains Recovery today. 

References:

  1. https://www.dcc.edu/student-life/health-services/drug-alcohol-prevention/alcohol-hazards.aspx
  2. https://shop.ucsc.edu/alcohol-other-drugs/alcohol/your-body.html
  3. https://super.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/what-bac
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