How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Alcoholism January 5, 2018
Author: Ilana Jael

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.

TestDetection Times
Breath24 hours
Urine12-48 hours
Hair90 days

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.

BeverageTime to Metabolize
Shot of liquor1 hour
Pint of beer2 hours
Large glass of wine3 hours
Several drinksSeveral hours

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.

Alcohol Poisoning

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:

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.


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