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Updated on November 29, 2022

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Alcohol can be detected in your body for hours, days, weeks, or even months after drinking. This depends on your ability to metabolize alcohol, the test used, and the type of alcohol consumed.

How Fast Can Your Body Eliminate Alcohol?

Alcohol is eliminated from your blood at a rate of 3.3 mmol/hour (15 mg/100 ml/hour). However, this varies across individuals, drinking occasions, and the quantity of alcohol consumed. 

Ideally, more than 90 percent of alcohol is excreted through the liver. About  2 to 5 percent of alcohol is excreted in urine, sweat, or breath.9

Below are alcohol detection timelines based on the type of test:

Urine Test

Alcohol can be detected in your urine for 6 to 12 hours after drinking. This period depends on the type of test used.

The urine ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test is a standard urine test that may detect recent alcohol use even if no measurable alcohol is present in the system.

Breath Test

Alcohol breath tests can detect alcohol consumed within the last 12 to 24 hours, on average. The test uses a breathalyzer, which measures your blood alcohol content (BAC). It analyzes the air you breathe out and gives you a reading immediately. 

Blood Test

A blood alcohol content (BAC) test can detect alcohol in your system for 6 to 12 hours. This test is commonly used to see if a person has been drinking recently.

This test is typically used to test for alcohol use disorder (AUD). It can even show the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed.

Saliva Test

Alcohol can be detected in your saliva for 12 to 24 hours. The saliva test is a rapid, highly sensitive method to detect the presence of alcohol.

The tests can approximate relative blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at 0.02% or greater. However, this test can only give preliminary results. Other tests can provide a more specific and analyzed result.

Hair Test

A hair test can detect alcohol in your system for up to 90 days. It detects your hair's Ethyl Glucuronide (EtG) and fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) markers.5

Both EtG and FAEE are direct indicators of alcohol consumption. This is done by carefully analyzing the hair to ensure accurate results. 

Factors That Affect Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Below are factors that affect blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the body.7

Rate of Metabolism

The rate of metabolism differs from person to person. The liver breaks alcohol into ketones at about 0.015 g/100mL/hour (reduces BAC by 0.015 per hour).

A faster metabolism can help keep your BAC level lower, while a slower one will increase your BAC level. A damaged liver can slow down this process.

Gender

Women usually get drunk more quickly than men. This is because alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) is lower in women than men (men have 40 percent more).

Alcohol stays longer in a woman’s blood, making intoxication take less time. Women also have a more significant body fat percentage. This means there is less lean body mass that can disperse alcohol concentrations. 

The recommended drinking limit for men is two or fewer standard alcoholic drinks. For women, the limit is one or fewer. 

Body Size

The more weight you carry, the more water you accumulate in your body. Because water dilutes the alcohol, a person who weighs more will have a lower BAC level. Despite drinking the same amount of alcohol, a person with less body weight will have a higher BAC level. 

Consumption Rate

If the body absorbs alcohol faster than it can break it down, you can get drunk more quickly. This means the more alcohol you consume in a given period, the less time you give your body to process it.

The liver is built to handle one standard drink each hour. One standard drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol.

Stomach Content

Having a stomach full of food can help delay the absorption of alcohol in your blood. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a bundle of muscles at the low end of the esophagus, where it meets the stomach. 

If the lower esophageal sphincter is closed for digestion, it slows down the absorption of alcohol. This means drinking on an empty stomach can get you drunk much faster.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic. It removes fluids from your blood much quicker than other liquids and inhibits water absorption.

You can become dehydrated if you don’t drink enough water in between drinks. While dehydration doesn’t make you drunk, it can intensify the effects of alcohol.

Research indicates that consuming 250 ml of alcohol can cause the body to expel up to 1000 ml of water. This results in increased BAC levels.7

Carbonation

Carbonation speeds up absorption. Alcohol mixed with carbonated beverages such as Coca-Cola or tonic water will be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream.

Emotional State

When people are stressed or tired, alcohol has a stronger impact than usual. Anxiety causes your body to divert blood from your stomach and into your muscles, slowing absorption. When you relax and your blood begins to flow properly again, your BAC may rise.

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How Long Does it Take to Feel Alcohol’s Effects?

Alcohol enters your system as soon as you take that first drink. The first effects of alcohol set in fairly quickly, even if you don't notice them immediately.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the effects are noticeable within 10 minutes. The effects can peak after about 30 to 45 minutes.8  However, the strength may vary from person to person due to factors already discussed.

How Long Does it Take for the Effects of Alcohol to Wear Off?

Alcohol can stay in your body for 6 to 12 hours. But it’s difficult to predict how long you’ll feel its effects.

The duration of alcohol’s effects depends on how much you’ve drunk and how quickly. Other factors that affect the length of intoxication include:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Stomach Contents
  • Health Status
  • Tolerance

Is There A Way to Sober Up Faster?

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to get sober faster. However, it is possible to shake off the effects of alcohol

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Drink coffee
  • Take cold showers
  • Light exercise
  • Sleep

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Treatment for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

There are various treatment options for people with alcohol use disorder. Each method is focused on addressing the patient's specific issue. 

In most cases, a combination of treatments and programs may be much more beneficial. Treatment options for alcohol addiction include:

Summary

Alcohol can be detected in your body for hours, days, weeks, or even months after drinking. This can depend on a few factors, such as the test used, the type of alcohol, and your body’s metabolism.

There are five different tests used for detecting alcohol in your body. This includes blood, breath, saliva, urine, and hair.

Several factors can affect how long alcohol stays in your body. These factors can also affect how fast you’ll feel the effects of alcohol.

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Resources

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  1.  Jiang et al. “Alcohol Metabolizing Enzymes, Microsomal Ethanol Oxidizing System, Cytochrome P450 2E1, Catalase, and Aldehyde Dehydrogenase in Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease.” Biomedicines, 2020.
  2. Alcohol Metabolism.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2022.
  3.   “About Urine Ethylglucuronide (EtG) Testing,” Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
  4.   “The Science of Drug Testing: How Alcohol Breath Tests Work,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, 2016.
  5. Tsanaclis L, et al. “The Effect of Prolonged Storage Time on the Stability of Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters in Hair Samples.” Journal of analytical toxicology, 2020.
  6. Ethyl glucuronide in hair and fingernails as a long-term alcohol biomarker,” Wiley Online Library, 2013.
  7.   “Factors that Affect Intoxication,” Bowling Green State University
  8.   “Overview of Alcohol Consumption,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
  9. “Alcohol's Effects on the Body” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2021.
  10. Alcohol and Caffeine.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022.

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