Updated on April 3, 2024
8 min read

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Key Takeaways

  • A traditional urine test can detect alcohol between 12 and 48 hours after your last drink
  • More advanced urine testing can measure alcohol in urine 80 hours after ingestion
  • How long alcohol remains in your system depends on several factors
  • Although there’s no way to flush the alcohol out of your system quickly, there are ways to detox easier
  • You can make the detox process easier by managing symptoms, drinking water, getting good sleep, and eating healthy

How Long Can You Detect Alcohol in the Body?

Traces of alcohol can generally be detected in the body if it’s been consumed within a day. Alcohol byproducts like ethyl glucuronide (EtG) will be present in urine for up to 3 days after a person’s last drink.

The average urine test can pick up alcohol between 12 and 24 hours after drinking.3 More advanced urine testing can measure alcohol in the urine up to 80 hours after consumption.1

Collecting at least two urine samples around 30 minutes to 1 hour apart is recommended for the most accurate results. Lab tests might also test urine for ethyl sulfate (EtS), another metabolic substance that confirms a person’s most recent alcohol consumption.

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Alcohol Detection Times

Alcohol detection times vary depending on the person and the test used. In most cases, alcohol can stay in your system for 6 to 72 hours. This is why different tests detect traces of alcohol from a few hours to several weeks.

Depending on the type of test conducted, you can detect alcohol under their respective detection windows:

Blood Tests (12 to 24 hours)

Blood tests are conducted primarily to determine if a person has consumed alcohol within a few hours before the test. This test measures the concentration of alcohol in a person's bloodstream, providing a precise and accurate assessment of their blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

BAC measures how much alcohol is in a person’s bloodstream. A BAC of 0.10% means a concentration of one part alcohol for 1,000 parts of blood volume. Generally, BAC levels peak one hour after drinking and can remain elevated beyond 2 to 3 hours.

Breath Tests (12 to 24 hours)

A breath test uses breathalyzer devices to measure a person’s BAC from their breath. Measuring the alcohol in approximately 2,100 ml of breath is equal to testing for the same substance in 1 ml of blood.

Although breath tests are less accurate than blood tests, the latter is typically harder to administer.

Saliva Tests (12 to 24 hours)

A saliva test measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s saliva. The detection window for saliva tests is usually shorter than for breath or blood tests.

Urine Tests (12 to 72 hours)

A urine test measures the amount of alcohol in a person's urine and typically has a shorter detection window than other types of testing. As mentioned, urine tests can detect alcohol up to 3 days after the last drink.

EtG Tests (24 - 130 Hours)

An ethyl glucuronide alcohol test (EtG test) is an advanced form of urine testing that measures the amount of ethyl glucuronide in a person's urine sample. Ethyl glucuronide is produced after drinking alcohol and is a byproduct of alcohol metabolism.

These alcohol tests are more reliable than traditional urine tests for various reasons:

  • They’re more difficult to tamper with
  • EtG tests can certify alcohol consumption even if only a small amount of alcohol was consumed
  • EtG and EtS are detectable for up to 130 hours if an excessive amount of alcohol was consumed

The accuracy of EtG tests depends on several factors:

  • How much a person has been drinking in the past 24 to 80 hours
  • Using a reputable lab
  • Following up with additional tests

Hair Tests (90 Days)

Hair tests can detect alcohol in a person’s hair for up to 90 days after drinking. However, these tests are generally expensive and aren’t the preferred method to detect recent alcohol use.

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How Does Your Body Get Rid of Alcohol?

Depending on how much you drink, it can take 6 to 24 hours for your body to metabolize alcohol. However, it doesn’t eliminate all of the substance.

Around 20% of alcohol is absorbed in the stomach. It then moves directly from the blood vessels to the brain. The remaining 80% of alcohol goes to the small intestine and the bloodstream.2

Here’s a more detailed process of how the body metabolizes alcohol:

  1. The liver breaks alcohol into byproducts using enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH)
  2. ADH breaks alcohol into acetaldehyde
  3. ALDH further breaks the acetaldehyde down into acetic acid
  4. These byproducts are eliminated from the body through urine, breath, and sweat

How Fast Does the Liver Metabolize Alcohol?

The body metabolizes alcoholic beverages approximately one standard drink per hour. Alcohol exits the body’s systems at an average rate of .015% per hour, equivalent to roughly .25 to .30 ounces of ethanol (half a drink) every hour.

Generally, the more alcohol your drink has, the longer your body metabolizes it. However, certain factors can affect this alcohol metabolism and absorption rate.

Various factors affect someone’s BAC and how they react to alcohol. These include:

  • Gender: Men typically metabolize alcohol faster than women due to differences in body composition and enzyme levels.
  • Age: As you age, your body has difficulty breaking down alcohol and building tolerance.
  • Weight: Alcohol’s sedative effects significantly impact people who weigh less or have a lower percentage of body fat.
  • Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach: Consuming food slows alcohol absorption. People who consume alcohol on an empty stomach may experience a peak BAC three times higher than those who consume a meal before drinking.
  • Medications: Certain drugs may interact with alcohol, making it harder for your body to process.
  • Liver disease: The liver metabolizes alcohol, and any issues in this area can affect the process. Even if your BAC isn’t high, the liver can’t break down the alcohol fast enough to avoid damage.
  • Having many drinks in a short period: Binge drinking can increase blood alcohol levels quickly, which puts you at risk of alcohol poisoning.

What Happens When You Have an Elevated BAC?

The optimal drinking range for moderate alcohol consumption is a BAC between .02% and .06%. A BAC of .08% is illegal in most states, leading to an arrest if driving under the influence (DUI).

In terms of weight, a 160-pound man can stay in a safe BAC range by having up to 1 to 3 drinks. A 140-pound woman can have up to 1 to 2 drinks.

Any more can lead to an elevated BAC. A BAC of .08% is equivalent to four drinks consumed by a 160-pound person in one hour.

Elevated BAC and DUIs

Drinking while driving is one of the most dangerous actions you can do behind the wheel. It can affect your:

  • Judgment
  • Reaction time
  • Motor skills
  • Attention span
  • Other cognitive functions

The legal limit for BAC while driving is .08%, though some states enforce a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under 21. Driving with a BAC of .08% or more can result in serious penalties, including fines, jail time, license suspension, and more.

It's important always to drink responsibly and never get behind the wheel if you've had too much to drink. Otherwise, it can also lead to:

  • An arrest for driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Accidents
  • Injuries
  • Death

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How Can I Flush Alcohol From My System Faster?

There’s no immediate way to flush alcohol from your system. However, some methods can ease hangover symptoms and help the detox process function, including:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Getting some sleep

If you take care of yourself and avoid drinking too much alcohol, hangover symptoms will eventually decrease.

How Does Alcohol Addiction Affect Alcohol Detection

Alcohol misuse and addiction can influence how long it takes to process alcohol in your system. People with an alcohol problem may have it in their system for a longer time if they're tested.

Heavy drinkers can also experience more severe health consequences due to heavy drinking habits.

Dealing with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a chronic relapsing brain disorder. It's characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

Besides changes in behavior, alcohol misuse can compromise the following body systems:

Body SystemEffects from Alcohol
Cardiovascular systemHigh blood pressure, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), stroke, and cardiovascular diseases
Digestive systemStomach lining inflammation (gastritis), liver cirrhosis, and pancreatitis
Immune systemIncreased risk of infections and diseases
Nervous systemImpaired coordination, judgment, and cognitive function, disrupted hormone production (sexual health issues)
Reproductive systemFetal alcohol spectrum disorders, low birth weight in babies, stillbirths, miscarriages

Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, many resources are available to help you recover. Rehab programs can assist in treating AUD by providing medically supervised detox, rehabilitation, and therapy services.

Here are some treatment programs you can sign up for:

Inpatient Programs

In-patient programs provide round-the-clock care and support from the medical team. Detox services help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Therapy and counseling sessions can help you understand the underlying causes of your addiction.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient Programs allow for more flexibility in scheduling and treatment plans. You can still receive tailored therapy and counseling services while being free to return home after each session.

Self-Help Groups

Self-help support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a safe and supportive environment to share stories and experiences. Group meetings can help individuals stay accountable while going through the recovery process.

Online Resources

Many online resources like chat rooms, forums, and websites can help connect people in recovery and provide educational materials.

The road to recovery is different for everyone. If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, seeking professional treatment can be the first step toward a healthier and happier future.

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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