How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
How long alcohol stays in your body depends almost entirely on how much you’ve had to drink. Almost everyone breaks down alcohol at the same rate, regardless of physical characteristics such as weight, age, gender, or race. Every hour, the body burns through about one drink worth of alcohol (approximately 0.016 percent of BAC).1
On average, a breath test can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours after the last drink. Certain chemicals can even stay in your hair for up to 90 days. How long alcohol stays in your urine also depends on how much you drink. That being said, a typical urine test can pick up traces of alcohol for as long as 12 or even 48 hours after drinking. Some of the latest, most advanced tests can even measure alcohol levels for up to 80 hours after someone has had a drink.
Table 1: Alcohol Detection Times by Type of Test2
How Is Alcohol Metabolized?
Alcohol passes through your stomach and small intestines, where it gets absorbed through the bloodstream. The stomach absorbs about 20 percent of the alcohol, which goes straight to the blood vessels and, from there, to the brain. The small intestine absorbs the other 80 percent.3 Once it enters your bloodstream, your body metabolizes it at a rate of 20 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) per hour.
As it circulates through your body, it affects nearly every major organ including the heart, brain, and lungs. Ninety percent of the alcohol passes through the liver, which breaks it down into acetaldehyde and acetate, which is further broken down into carbon dioxide and water.4 A healthy liver will filter about one drink per hour. Finally, the kidneys continue to break down the alcohol before expelling the waste through the urine. You also release toxic byproducts through your breath and sweat.
|Time to Metabolize
|Shot of liquor
|Pint of beer
|Large glass of wine
Table 2: Time to Metabolize by Type and Quantity of Drink2
How Long Does It Take for the Effects of Alcohol to Wear Off?
Alcohol metabolizes at a fairly constant rate, regardless of the individual or type of drink, but it affects people in different ways. Some get drunk faster than others. Some stay intoxicated for longer. Some can “handle their alcohol” while others can’t. How fast your body absorbs the drinks and how much of an effect it has on you depends on a number of factors.
- Gender: Women experience the effects of alcohol quicker than men for two reasons: they tend to be smaller than men and their bodies have fewer enzymes designed to metabolize alcohol. As a result, women will almost always have a higher blood alcohol concentration than men after drinking the same amount.1
- Body Mass Index: How much you weigh plays a big role in how your body reacts to alcohol. The more weight you carry, the less drunk you’ll feel. Those who have a higher percentage of body fat may also get more intoxicated than leaner individuals.5
- Food: Your body absorbs alcohol faster on an empty stomach. That means the effects will hit you sooner than they would if you ate a full meal, or even a snack. High protein foods, in particular, slow the absorption rate.6
- Consumption Rate: The faster you drink, the quicker you’ll get drunk and the more intoxicated you’ll become. If you drink faster than your liver can metabolize, alcohol will begin to build up in your blood and tissues.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when you drink more alcohol than your body can metabolize. It is a serious, even life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Most people experience alcohol poisoning after a bout of binge drinking.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Slow, repressed breathing
- Reduced blood temperature7
If someone you know displays the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, it’s important to seek help right away. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol-related issues, contact RECO Institute to get the help you need.