how long does alcohol stay in your system

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How long alcohol stays in your system depends on various factors, such as how much you’ve drank, how quickly you drank, and your overall health. After alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it is eliminated from the body via urine, where it can typically be detected for 12-24 hours after your last drink.

How Long Do The Effects of Alcohol Last?

After having an alcoholic beverage, you’ll likely feel the effects of it within just a few minutes. Depending on the person’s tolerance level and how much they drank, the effects typically peak within 30 minutes to 2 hours after consumption. Alcohol’s effects on coordination, judgment, and cognitive function can persist for several hours, sometimes into the morning after drinking.

How is Alcohol Measured in the Body?

Healthcare professionals and law enforcement personnel typically measure alcohol levels in the body by assessing blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. BAC is a measure of the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream, expressed as a percentage. People commonly use BAC to determine a person’s level of intoxication.

BAC can be measured through various methods:

  • Breath Tests – Breathalyzer devices are commonly used to measure BAC. These devices estimate the concentration of alcohol in the breath, which correlates with the concentration in the blood. The person simply blows into the device, and it provides a BAC reading.
  • Blood Tests – Blood tests directly measure the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. A healthcare professional takes a blood sample from the individual, and the alcohol concentration is analyzed in a laboratory.
  • Urine Tests – While less common, urine tests can also be used to estimate BAC. However, urine tests are less accurate and reliable compared to blood or breath tests.
  • Field Sobriety Tests – These tests are conducted by law enforcement officers to assess a person’s level of impairment. They typically involve tasks such as walking in a straight line, standing on one leg, or following an object with the eyes to look for abnormal eye movements. While field sobriety tests can indicate alcohol impairment, they do not provide an exact measurement of BAC and are most often used in conjunction with breath or blood tests.

Various factors influence BAC levels, including the amount and type of alcohol consumed, the rate of consumption, body weight, metabolism, gender, and overall health. In most states, the legal limit for drinking and driving is 0.08 BAC. 

How Quickly Can The Body Metabolize Alcohol?

After drinking alcohol, it enters the digestive tract. Upon entering the upper gastrointestinal tract, most of the alcohol is absorbed right into the bloodstream through the lining of the stomach and upper region of the small intestines. Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it travels throughout the body, including to the brain.

Alcohol is metabolized when it reaches the liver. The liver utilizes two key enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), to break alcohol down into carbon dioxide and water. These are eventually eliminated from the body via urine. 

The rate at which the body metabolizes alcohol can vary depending on various factors, including weight, gender, age, metabolism, liver health, and recent diet. However, as a general rule, the body typically metabolizes alcohol at a rate of about 0.015 to 0.020 grams per deciliter (g/dL) of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) per hour.

One standard drink can increase BAC levels by about 0.02 within an hour of being consumed, so it can be safely said that the average person metabolizes alcohol at a rate of about one standard drink per hour.

A standard drink is the equivalent of:

  • 12 ounces of beer (with an alcohol content of about 5%)
  • 5 ounces of wine (with an alcohol content of about 12%)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor (such as whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, tequila, etc., with an alcohol content of about 40%)

If someone’s BAC is 0.08%, which is the legal limit for driving in many jurisdictions, it would take approximately 5 to 6 hours for their BAC to reach 0.00% if they stopped drinking and did not consume any additional alcohol.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

There are several different types of tests that can detect alcohol in your body. How long it can be detected depends on the type of test and individual health factors.


A breathalyzer test may be able to tell if someone was drinking up to 12-24 hours after their last drink.

Alcohol in Urine

For most people, alcohol only stays in urine for 12-24 hours. However, alcohol may be detected in urine for up to 72 to 80 hours in heavy drinkers.

Alcohol in Blood

A blood test can detect alcohol in the bloodstream for up to 6 hours after the last drink.

Alcohol in Saliva

Saliva tests can detect alcohol in the saliva for approximately 12-24 hours after the last drink.

Alcohol in Hair

Hair tests examine the hair follicle for traces of drugs and alcohol. Alcohol can be detected on a hair test for up to 90 days after drinking.

Factors That Impact How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System

While the average body processes alcohol at a rate of one standard drink per hour, various factors affect how long it takes to get it out of your system. 

  • Amount of alcohol consumed – Consuming large amounts of alcohol over a short time increases BAC and places extra stress on the liver. The more you drink, the longer it takes to sober up.
  • Age – Younger individuals can typically metabolize and eliminate alcohol from their bodies compared to older individuals. 
  • Other drugs or medications – Certain drugs and prescription medications can impact the rate at which your body metabolizes alcohol, slowing down the process.
  • Liver health – People with liver disease or liver function may have a more difficult time metabolizing and processing alcohol due to an impaired liver. This can cause alcohol and its byproducts to linger in the body longer than they normally would.
  • Food – Eating food before drinking is typically considered good practice because it can help settle the stomach. However, alcohol is absorbed by the digestive tract, and when you’ve just eaten, the food can absorb the alcohol instead. This results in more time required to metabolize alcohol and eliminate it from the body.
  • Gender – Women often metabolize alcohol more slowly compared to men due to having a higher percentage of body fat.

How to Flush Alcohol Out of Your System

Flushing alcohol out of your system is primarily a matter of time, as the body metabolizes and eliminates alcohol naturally. However, there are some steps you can take to help speed up the process and alleviate some of the effects of alcohol:

  • Hydration – Drink plenty of water to help flush alcohol from your system. Alcohol can dehydrate the body, so replenishing fluids can help speed up the metabolism and elimination processes and reduce the severity of your hangover symptoms.
  • Eat a Balanced Meal – Consuming food can slow down the absorption of alcohol in the stomach and help stabilize blood sugar levels, which may mitigate the effects of alcohol and promote quicker metabolism.
  • Get Plenty of Rest – Allow your body time to recover from drinking by getting adequate rest. Alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, so prioritizing sleep can help the body recover more efficiently.
  • Avoid Additional Alcohol – Refrain from consuming more alcohol while your body is metabolizing what you’ve already consumed. Adding more alcohol to your system will only prolong the process of sobering up.
  • Exercise – Engaging in moderate exercise can help stimulate circulation and metabolism, potentially speeding up the elimination of alcohol from your system. However, avoid vigorous exercise if you’re feeling severely intoxicated or experiencing dehydration.
  • Time – Ultimately, the most effective way to flush alcohol out of your system is to give your body time to metabolize and detox from it naturally. Alcohol metabolism occurs at a relatively constant rate, typically processing about one standard drink per hour.

Get Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

In small, controlled amounts, alcohol can be an enjoyable way to celebrate, connect with others, or unwind after a long day. When it is enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, most people don’t have to worry about passing drug tests or breathalyzers for alcohol. However, if you’ve found yourself unable to quit drinking despite the consequences, you may have a drinking problem.

Alcoholism can seriously affect your mental and physical health, relationships, family, and work life. Without proper treatment, alcoholism can be progressive, getting worse as time goes on. Thankfully, addiction treatment programs like The Living Room at Princeton can help you detox safely and learn a new way of life. Contact us today to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programs.

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