Alcoholic

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

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Although the effects of alcohol can wear off in a matter of hours, the substance actually stays in your system for much longer. This should be taken into consideration when one needs to pass alcohol tests such as a urine test or a breathalyzer.

The length of time for which alcohol remains in one’s system depends heavily upon their weight and size. With the knowledge presented in this article, you will be able to answer, how long does alcohol stay in your system?

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How To Estimate How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System

Your liver works as quickly as possible to get rid of alcohol. With that said, the liver works at an approximate rate of 0.25 to 0.50 ounces each hour. Most standard alcoholic beverages will have anywhere from 0.50 to 1.00 ounce of alcohol in it. Do the math, and you’ll figure out that it takes about 1 to 2 hours for your body to metabolize a standard drink. If you take a shot, your body will take about an hour or two to fully clear the alcohol from the body. The more you drink, the longer it will take your body to clear all the alcohol.

So how long does it take the body to clear other drinks, like beer? A standard beer will usually contain about 12 ounces of liquid, with an alcohol content of 5%. This works out to about 0.60 ounces of liquor. According to the math, it should take your body about an hour to 2.5 hours to fully metabolize a can of beer. Bearing this in mind, you should wait until the can of beer you’ve drunk has fully metabolized before getting behind the wheel.

Keep in mind that the alcohol content in various drinks will vary. Some bartenders add more alcohol to the drinks, while others may add a bit less. In general, it takes about 1 to 2 hours to metabolize a cocktail and 3 hours to metabolize a glass of wine.

Does Alcohol Show Up On A Drug Test?

Alcohol consumption can be detected in a person for a different amount of time in different parts of the body.

  • In blood, alcohol can be detected up to 6 hours after consumption.
  • On breath and in saliva, alcohol can be detected for 12-24 hours after consumption.
  • In urine, alcohol can be detected 3-4 days after consumption.
  • In hair, alcohol can be detected up to 90 days after consumption.
 

Alcohol Metabolism

The body easily metabolizes alcohol. Blood vessels in the stomach absorb 20% of the liquor. This pathway is also known as the first-pass metabolism pathway (FPM pathway). Blood vessels in the small intestine then absorb the rest of the alcohol, or the remaining 80%. The rate of absorption with these pathways can vary. If there’s food in the stomach, the food will absorb some of the alcohol. This disrupts a part of the absorption process, and it takes the liquor longer to enter the bloodstream.

Once the liquor enters the bloodstream, it gets carried to the liver. Enzymes in the liver will break down the alcohol even further. After the alcohol has been metabolized, its metabolites will leave the body through other means. It will most likely leave through bodily fluids, like sweat, urine, and saliva. So how long is alcohol in your blood? As long as it takes for this process to finish.

Some of the alcohol in the bloodstream will enter the brain. Fortunately, the brain also synthesizes enzymes that break down alcohol. Alcohol molecules attach to receptors in the brain to create a depressive effect on the body. It interrupts and interferes with numerous neurological pathways.

Enzymes that Break Down Alcohol

Alcohol is broken down by two main enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome P450. Alcohol dehydrogenase is found in the liver, while the brain produces cytochrome P450.

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The Primary Enzyme in the Liver: Alcohol Dehydrogenase

The first metabolic pathway that alcohol encounters is through the liver. Alcohol dehydrogenase binds with alcohol to break it down into a substance known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a very reactive substance that’s responsible for the toxic effects of alcohol. It’s responsible for alcoholism and alcohol use disorders (AUDs). After it’s broken down, acetaldehyde will begin to attack the liver. This is also why many alcoholics suffer from liver disease.

The Main Enzyme in the Brain: Cytochrome P450

The enzyme cytochrome P450 is found in the brain. It’s another important enzyme that removes alcohol from the body. This metabolic pathway is usually only activated when an excessive amount of alcohol is consumed. Although it can break down alcohol, this enzyme produces some pretty toxic byproducts, like superoxide anions and hydroxyethyl molecules. These byproducts can damage tissues in the body.

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Blood Alcohol Concentration And Physical Effects

Even though alcohol may remain in the bloodstream for hours or days, its physical effects wear off fairly quickly in comparison. The intensity of these effects is dependent on the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) [1].

  • BAC between 0.02% and 0.039% causes slight euphoria and no loss of coordination. Good judgment and decision-making abilities are still intact.
  • BAC 0.040% to 0.059% causes the user to feel relaxed, euphoric, and have slightly impaired judgment and memory.
  • BAC 0.08%, one may be considered drunk in some or all U.S. states. There is a slight impairment of reaction time, balance, hearing, vision, and speech.
  • BAC 0.100% and 0.129% causes a substantial impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. There is also major impairment of reaction time, vision and peripheral vision, speech, balance, and hearing.
  • BAC 0.130% to 0.159% causes motor impairment and loss of physical control. There is major loss of vision and balance, and the user feels dysphoric rather than euphoric.
  • BAC 0.160% and 0.199%, the user mostly feels dysphoric and nauseated. At this point, they may be considered “sloppy drunk.”
  • BAC 0.20% to 0.249%, the user needs assistance with walking, and experiences total mental confusion. They are nauseous, dysphoric, and could possibly even experience an alcohol blackout. They may be considered “wasted” at this point.

Awareness of your blood-alcohol concentration levels can help you determine how and when your symptoms will wear off. For example, if you have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.100%, you can expect to go through the first 3 stages after consumption before becoming sober. After that, you may not feel the effects or have symptoms of a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.02% or 0.03%, but it will remain in your system just the same.

Chart: Blood Alcohol Level Effect on the Body


Slight euphoria 0.02% BAC
Slightly impaired judgment & memory 0.04% BAC
Drunk - impairment of reaction time, balance, hearing, vision and speech 0.06% BAC
Impaired motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Major impairment of reaction time, balance, hearing, vision and speech 0.10% BAC
Major motor impairment and a lack of physical control. Loss of vision and balance. Feeling of dysphoria rather than euphoria. 0.13% BAC
Strong dysphoria and nausea ; also known as “sloppy drunk.” 0.16% BAC
Requires assistance with walking; experiences complete mental confusion, nausea, dysphoria, and potential blackout. Person may be considered “wasted” at this point.
0.20% BAC

 
 
Factors That Affect the Alcohol Removal Timeline

The level of intoxication you reach during a set period of time through a set percentage of alcohol varies according to several factors:

  • Size. People with a smaller body or lower BMI [2] are more likely to experience the effects of alcohol sooner.
  • Water body levels. People with a higher body water level have a wider distribution of alcohol throughout the body, slowing the rate at which they will experience the effects of alcohol consumption.
  • Age. On average, users under the age of 25 are less likely to have a hangover than those over 25. Older people can often become easily intoxicated by an amount of alcohol they were able to absorb easily when they were younger. This is a result of physical changes which occur in our brains as we age.
  • Sleep. Lack of sleep can cause a user to feel the effects of alcohol sooner than someone who got a full night of sleep.
  • Hydration. One should always drink water before, during, and after drinking alcohol. This slows the onset of hangover symptoms and may help lessen the effects of a hangover.
  •  Whether alcohol was consumed with food. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach causes one to experience the effects sooner. When your stomach is empty, there is nothing present to absorb the alcohol you are drinking.
  • Body fat content. Body fat can store alcohol and slowly release it into the body.
  • Ethnicity. Some ethnicities have the genes needed to efficiently metabolize alcohol.
  • Health. Especially other medications that are being taken; polydrug use can have a huge effect on alcohol’s metabolic pathways.
  • Volume. The amount of alcohol consumed.

The liver can metabolize liquor at a constant rate. Once the blood alcohol level rises above 0.055, blood and fatty tissues will begin to absorb the extra liquor. The body then stores the alcohol for a much longer period of time.

How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected in Urine?

Urine tests can typically detect alcohol consumed within the last 3 or 4 days.

A urine test uses a urine sample to check for the presence of alcohol, drugs, and medications. The test detects the presence of ethyl glucuronide, which is a metabolite in alcoholic beverages.

The patient is given a cup for the screening and escorted to the restroom to urinate in private. Beforehand, they often must empty their pockets and have their sleeves checked. Once they are finished, the sample is given to a medical professional and is analyzed. If alcohol has been consumed within 3 to 4 days of a urine test, it will show on the results.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System for a Breathalyzer Test?

Breathalyzer tests can detect alcohol consumed within the past 12-24 hours.

Breathalyzer tests are one of the most common ways of measuring alcohol levels in one’s system; they detect the presence of alcohol through the breath. A breathalyzer is a tiny machine that is used to measure a user’s blood-alcohol concentration. Because of its compact size, it is often used by police forces to check for drunk driving.

Breathalyzer tests are quick and simple. A mouthpiece is attached to one end, and the user blows air into it. It will then read ethanol levels in the breath. If you have consumed alcohol within the last 12-24 hours, it will show up on a breathalyzer test.

Understanding The Effects of Alcohol on The Body

The amount of time alcohol remains in your system depends on your blood-alcohol concentration. Your blood-alcohol concentration depends on how much alcohol you drink, and can change drastically based on your gender, age, and race, as well as how much food, water, and sleep you receive.

Different alcohol tests can give different results about intoxication and alcohol levels. Understanding each of them will ultimately help you determine how long alcohol can stay in your system, and help you with medical alcohol detox.

So, How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Ultimately, alcohol will stay in your system as long as one keeps on drinking. If you or a loved one suffer from an addiction or alcohol use disorder, rehabilitation and total recovery are always possible. You can live a clear-headed, meaningful, sober, focused life with those whom you love most. Reach out to Avenues Recovery, leaders in addiction rehabilitation, for expert advice on alcohol addiction and treatment options available. Avenues Recovery are here to guide you on your journey home.

FAQ's

  1. How long does alcohol stay in urine?
    3-4 days
  2. How long does alcohol stay in your saliva?
    12-24 hours.
  3. How long does alcohol stay in your hair?
    Up to 90 days
  4. How long does alcohol stay in your system?
    From 6 hours in blood to 90 days in hair.
  5. What is the half life of alcohol?
    4-5 hours.

Sources

[1] vaden.stanford.edu

[2] nhlbi.nih.gov

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