How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Most people like to enjoy a drink or two with friends, but sometimes individuals have a little too much alcohol consumption. There’s plenty of advice out there about how to sober up before leaving the bar or a party, but many people don’t realize how long alcohol can stay in your system. In fact, you could think that you’re sober and still have enough alcohol in your body to test positive for a high blood alcohol concentration known as a BAC level.

The best way to stay safe and avoid legal penalties is to understand alcohol absorption and how your body processes alcohol to know how long it stays in your system.

Understanding How Alcohol Is Processed

Alcohol passes through your digestive system, but it requires very little digestion. After drinking it, 20% of the substance goes directly to your blood vessels, where it is carried throughout your body and to your brain. The remaining alcohol is absorbed by your small intestine. If there is food in your digestive tract, the absorption process is slower and it takes longer for you to feel intoxicated.

When alcohol enters your bloodstream, one of the organs it visits is the liver, where it is processed for removal from your body. While people may become intoxicated at different rates, a healthy liver will metabolize alcohol at the same rate regardless of a person’s ethnicity, sex, or weight. On average, a healthy liver will process one ounce of alcohol every hour.

While the liver generally metabolizes alcohol at a consistent rate, there are factors that do influence how quickly alcohol leaves your system – and how quickly you become intoxicated.

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Sex
  • Weight
  • Medications or drugs
  • Speed of alcohol consumption
  • Amount and type of food eaten before and during drinking

How Alcohol Impacts Blood Alcohol Content

Blood alcohol content (BAC) refers to the percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream. For most people, one ounce of alcohol will cause their BAC to rise to 0.015. Since the liver can metabolize a single ounce of alcohol each hour, it will take one hour for one ounce of alcohol to leave your body. If you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08, which is the legal limit in most states for driving, it will take five and a half hours for this amount of alcohol to leave your system.

However, the process for metabolizing alcohol changes when someone drinks faster than their liver can process it. Additionally, once a person’s BAC reaches more than 0.055, the body begins to absorb the extra alcohol. This can result in many of the unpleasant side effects of drinking, including depression, disorientation, irritability, memory loss, nausea, and vomiting.

Measuring the Amount of Alcohol in Your System

Once alcohol is in your bloodstream, it leaves your body in two different ways. 10% of it leaves through your breath, sweat, and urine, while the remaining 90% is metabolized by your body.

Alcohol can be detected in your blood, breath, hair, saliva, sweat, and urine. As a result, there are multiple tests that can measure how much alcohol is in your body.

  • Blood: Using a blood test, the presence of alcohol can be detected for up to 12 hours.
  • Breath: A breathalyzer test can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours after your last drink.
  • Hair: Alcohol can be detected in your hair for up to 90 days after drinking.
  • Saliva: Alcohol can show up in your saliva for one to five days.
  • Urine: Alcohol usually stays in urine for 12 to 36 hours after drinking. However, an advanced urine test, known as Ethyl Gluconoride (EGT), can detect alcohol in urine for three to five days after your last drink.

Regardless of what you’ve heard, there is nothing you can do to speed up how fast your body processes alcohol. Drinking coffee or water, taking a shower or a walk, and even vomiting won’t help you sober up or or drop your blood alcohol level. The only thing that helps is giving your body time to do its job and naturally process and remove alcohol from your system.

While many people enjoy drinking socially, some might drink to excess. If you or someone you love is struggling with an alcohol problem, please contact the friendly and knowledgeable staff at HARP, a drug and alcohol treatment center.

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