On average, alcohol can stay in your system for between one and three hours. However, this varies and depends on several factors, such as your age, gender, health, genetics, and how much alcohol you drink.
As you consume alcohol, your body absorbs it through the bloodstream, affecting your kidneys, liver, bladder, and skin. Although you may think alcohol leaves your body quickly, it takes approximately one hour to metabolize a standard drink.
If you drink large quantities of alcohol or have an alcohol use disorder, your body may eliminate alcohol from its system quicker.
How Does the Body Process Alcohol?
The length of time that alcohol stays in your system is determined by how long it takes your body to process alcohol and the amount you consume. Once alcohol is consumed through the mouth, it travels to the stomach, where approximately 20% is absorbed. Meanwhile, the remaining 80% of alcohol travels to the small intestine to be absorbed.
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As alcohol reaches your small intestine, it meets small blood vessels that transport it directly into the bloodstream, affecting all major organs. As a result, the effects of alcohol can be felt in many different ways. If you have a heavy alcohol intake, this is why you are at greater risk of encountering alcohol-related diseases.
The majority of the alcohol you drink ends up in your liver. Here, alcohol metabolism occurs as the liver removes around 90% of the alcohol from your bloodstream. Although many factors influence alcohol processing speed, the liver typically eliminates one standard drink in about one hour. Because the liver experiences the most severe effects of alcohol, alcohol abuse can cause irreversible damage to this major organ.
Within your body, two enzymes break alcohol down into acetaldehyde. These enzymes can be found in the stomach and liver, preventing alcohol from entering the bloodstream. Medically known as alcohol dehydrogenase, enzymes break down nearly all alcohol consumed and convert it into energy.
It is important to remember that the more you drink, the longer alcohol will stay in your system.
How Long Does Alcohol Metabolism Take?
As metabolism depends on the volume of alcohol consumed and the strength of a drink, your body may metabolize alcohol at a slower speed after drinking excessively. However, when you start drinking alcohol, it generally takes sixty to ninety minutes to reach peak levels in the blood before the body begins to break it down.
The liver can process alcohol at a speed of one ounce of alcohol per hour, which is why public health authorities advise only drinking one drink an hour. While this is true, some influencing factors can affect this process.
Factors That Affect the Process Of Alcohol
The length of time it takes the body to process alcohol is dependent on several factors, such as:
- Age – Age is an essential factor as the older you are, the longer alcohol remains in your liver. This is because older people experience a decrease in body water, metabolism, and loss of muscle tissue, which all affect alcohol absorption.
- Food – If you have food in your stomach when you drink alcohol, it will usually take the body longer to absorb and process it. This is because food forces alcohol to stay in the stomach, enabling a slower absorption time. If you drink on an empty stomach, you will feel the effects of alcohol a lot quicker.
- Biological sex – Women have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of body water compared to men. This means that alcohol stays in a woman’s system longer as a man’s body can automatically dilute the alcohol. Hormone levels have also been found to affect this.
- Body size – Individuals with more body fat generally have a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This is because high-water muscle tissue can absorb alcohol quicker than low-water fatty tissue.
- Medications or substance abuse – Medications and drugs, such as those used to treat diabetes, depression, and allergies, can affect the absorption of alcohol.
- Strength of drink – Drinking alcohol that has a stronger percentage can increase the absorption rate, causing it to stay in your system for more extended periods.
- Mood – You may not think it, but your mood can affect how your body reacts to and processes alcohol. After a few drinks, if your BAC is between 0.02 and 0.05, you may begin to feel the euphoric effects of alcohol. However, when your BAC reaches 0.07, these effects may become negative. If you have a mental health disorder and abuse alcohol, your symptoms may worsen when you drink.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol detectable in your bloodstream. The most common way to measure alcohol levels, a BAC of 0.1 would mean that your blood alcohol level is 0.1%. However, as touched on above, characteristics such as your weight, age, and sex influence this.
When your blood alcohol concentration goes above 0.05%, the adverse effects of alcohol start to take place. As a result, you may begin to feel depressed, irritated, or disorientated. When your BAC level reaches 0.08%, your motor skills may become impaired, and your sense of balance may be off. Likewise, when your BAC reaches 0.08%, you are considered legally intoxicated. At this level, it is illegal to drive. A BAC of 0.45% is deadly for around 50% of the population.
If you drink alcohol very quickly, such as when binge drinking, lethal BAC levels are more likely to be reached at a faster speed, therefore, resulting in alcohol poisoning.
How Long Can Tests Detect Alcohol?
Another influential factor when questioning how long does alcohol stay in your system is the type of test being used to detect it. People often mistake having no measurable BAC as an indicator of having no alcohol in the system. However, BAC is simply a measure of blood alcohol level, which rapidly changes.
An alcohol test can detect alcohol metabolites in blood, urine, breath, sweat, and saliva for two to eighty hours. Below, we have shared how long blood alcohol levels can be detected by specific tests.
- Blood tests – When a blood test is carried out, blood alcohol levels can be detected for up to twelve hours.
- Urine tests – Alcohol can be detected in urine twenty-four hours after drinking.
- Breathalyzer – Commonly used by the police, breath tests can detect alcohol for up to twenty-four hours after drinking.
- Saliva tests – Saliva tests can detect alcohol for up to two hours after consumption.
- Hair tests – Unlike other tests, a hair follicle drug test detects alcohol for up to ninety days.
Understanding BAC and how the body processes alcohol can help prevent the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption. If you abuse alcohol and question how long does alcohol stay in your system, it is in your best interest to seek professional medical advice via a treatment center, treatment facility, certified addiction professional, or medical provider.
Although the thought of obtaining treatment may seem daunting, doing so is in your best interest. Treatment centers offer many options when working with alcohol addiction, and professional treatment advice will help you overcome your substance abuse.