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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Get answers to questions like “how long does alcohol stay in your system” and learn about treatment options here.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Alcohol is a widely consumed substance, and many people may be curious about how long it can stay in the body. On average, it takes about one hour for the body to metabolize one standard drink (0.6 ounces of pure alcohol). But this does not mean it completely leaves the system within an hour. The time it takes for alcohol to leave the body can vary greatly from person to person.1

In this article, we will explore the different factors that can affect the length of time that alcohol stays in a person’s system. We will also discuss the different ways that alcohol can be detected, whether that be through saliva or urine. Additionally, we will explore the impact that alcohol can have on the body and how it is metabolized. This post will seek to answer the frequently asked question, “how long does alcohol stay in your system?”
how long does alcohol stay in your system

Table of Contents

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How to Detect Alcohol in the Body

How long does alcohol stay in your system, and how is it detected? Alcohol can be detected through many different tests. It can be detected in the breath, urine, saliva, blood, and even hair.2

Breath

Alcohol can be detected in the breath using a breathalyzer test for about 12-24 hours after consuming alcohol. However, the level of alcohol in the breath decreases significantly within the first hour. It becomes much harder to detect as time goes on. Mouthwash, breath fresheners, or other products do not affect the presence of alcohol in the breath.

Urine

On average, alcohol can be detected in urine for about 12-48 hours after consumption. Also, urine tests are not as accurate as blood tests. They may not detect alcohol consumption that occurred more than twelve hours before the test.

Blood

Blood tests are considered the most accurate way to answer the question, “how long does alcohol stay in your system?” Alcohol can typically be detected in the blood for about 12-24 hours after consumption, depending on the individual. However, heavy drinking or binge drinking can prolong the detection time.

Saliva

Alcohol can typically be detected in saliva for about 12-24 hours after consumption, depending on the individual. It is seen using a saliva test, similar to a breathalyzer test, which can measure the level of alcohol present in the saliva. Saliva tests are less common than breath or urine tests, but they can be a non-invasive way to answer, “how long does alcohol stay in your system?”

Hair

Hair tests are done by cutting a small amount of hair close to the scalp, and the lab will analyze the hair sample for the presence of alcohol. Alcohol can be detected in hair for up to ninety days after consumption. This is because hair grows slowly, so alcohol in the bloodstream is slowly incorporated into the hair as it grows. It is the most reliable way to know “how long does alcohol stay in your system?” 3

How Does the Body Remove Alcohol?

How long does alcohol stay in your system? The answer to this question is majorly dependent on the metabolism of alcohol. The liver processes alcohol through a two-step process called alcohol metabolism.

First Step

The first step of this process is carried out by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH changes alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that can cause facial flushing, nausea, and other unpleasant symptoms.

Second Step

The second step of the alcohol metabolism process is carried out by another enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). ALDH changes acetaldehyde from the first step into acetic acid (vinegar). This acetic acid is broken down into water and carbon dioxide. It can be eliminated from the body through urine, sweat, and breath.
When a person consumes more alcohol than the liver can process, the excess alcohol remains in the bloodstream and can lead to a rise in blood alcohol levels, which leads to feeling “drunk.”

How Long Does It Take to Feel Effects?

The effects of alcohol vary from mild to extreme depending on the amount consumed. Some of these effects, and how long it takes to experience them, are detailed below.

Euphoria

Euphoria is one of the effects of alcohol, and it usually appears after moderate to high alcohol consumption. Most people start feeling the euphoric effects of alcohol within thirty minutes to two hours after drinking. Consuming too much alcohol can lead to negative effects such as nausea, dizziness, and blackouts.4

Loss of Inhibitions

Loss of inhibition is characterized by decreased ability to control impulses and behavior. This can lead to increased sociability, talkativeness, and bad judgment. It typically takes thirty minutes to two hours after drinking for most people to start feeling disinhibition.

Impaired Walking (Ataxia)

Impaired walking is also known as ataxia. It is characterized by a loss of coordination and balance, making walking or tasks requiring fine motor control difficult. Most people typically take thirty minutes to two hours to develop impaired walking after drinking. If you want to answer the question, “how long does alcohol stay in your system?” you can tell by noting signs of impaired walking.

Slowed Reaction Time

Slowed reaction time is another effect of alcohol that can help provide an answer to “how long does alcohol stay in your system?” It is characterized by a delay in responding to a stimulus, making it difficult to react quickly in certain situations. It typically takes thirty minutes to two hours after drinking for most people to start feeling the effects of alcohol, including slowed reaction time.

Factors That Affect Detection Time

How long does alcohol stay in your system and stay detectable? There are many factors that can affect alcohol detection time, including genetics, sex, body fat percentage, food consumption, and medications.

Genetics

The enzymes that metabolize alcohol in the liver are determined by genetics. Variations in these enzymes can affect the rate at which alcohol is metabolized, leading to differences in alcohol detection time.
“How long does alcohol stay in your system” can be increased or reduced by genetics. For example, individuals with a genetic deficiency in the ALDH2 enzyme, common in people of Asian descent, may metabolize alcohol more slowly and have a higher risk of developing adverse reactions to alcohol. This can lead to longer detection times for alcohol in their bloodstream.5

Sex

How long does alcohol stay in your system if you are male or female? On average, women tend to have a slower metabolism than men, meaning alcohol takes longer to be metabolized and eliminated from their bodies. This can result in longer detection times for alcohol in their bloodstream.

Body Fat

Fat tissue does not have an active blood supply. Therefore, the alcohol stored in fat tissue is not metabolized as quickly as the alcohol in the bloodstream. This means that if a person has a higher body fat percentage, alcohol will be eliminated more slowly, resulting in a longer detection time.

Food Consumption

How long does alcohol stay in your system when eating? When alcohol is consumed with food, it is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream. This can result in a lower peak blood alcohol concentration and a longer time for the alcohol to be metabolized and eliminated from the body. This can result in a longer detection time for alcohol in the bloodstream.
On the other hand, consuming alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to faster absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. This can result in a shorter detection time for alcohol in the bloodstream and affect the answer to the question, “ how long does alcohol stay in your system?”

Medications

How long does alcohol stay in your system if you use other medications? Certain medications can interact with alcohol in the body and affect the rate at which it is metabolized. For example, some drugs can inhibit or enhance the activity of enzymes responsible for metabolizing alcohol, such as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).6

Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol overdose, also referred to as alcohol poisoning, is a serious condition that occurs when a person consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Symptoms of alcohol overdose can vary depending on the individual and the amount of alcohol consumed.7

Seizures are one of the most common symptoms of alcohol overdose. Attacks can occur due to the depressant effects of alcohol on the brain. The episodes can be mild or severe and include symptoms such as convulsions, muscle contractions, and loss of consciousness.

Additional Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose

The severity of alcohol poisoning symptoms can range from mild to fatal. Alcohol overdose can lead to serious complications such as brain damage, coma, or even death. Other symptoms of alcohol overdose include:
  • Confusion
  • Bradycardia (Slow heart rate)
  • Difficulty staying conscious or passing out
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Low body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin color)
  • Dehydration
how long does alcohol stay in your system

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Treatment for alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder, typically involves a combination of approaches, including:

  • Behavioral therapy: This includes counseling and therapy to help individuals understand and change their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to alcohol use.
  • Medications: Several FDA-approved medications can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol addiction.
  • Support groups: Support groups can provide social and emotional support and a sense of community for individuals in recovery.
  • Inpatient and outpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment programs provide a controlled environment for individuals to detox and begin their recovery. While outpatient treatment programs allow individuals to continue to live at home and receive treatment regularly.

Getting Help at Ripple Ranch Recovery

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder and are looking to receive treatment, Ripple Ranch Recovery is here to help. We are a fully accredited treatment center that offers a comprehensive recovery program.

We offer a variety of treatment options, and our highly-trained, compassionate staff will make sure that your treatment program is specifically tailored to you and your needs. Our structured, supportive environment can help you measure your progress toward recovery each and every day. For more information on “ how long does alcohol stay in your system” and available treatment options, call us today.

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Don’t let mental health challenges, addiction, or co-occurring disorders keep you from living the happy and fulfilled life you were made for. Contact Ripple Ranch Recovery Center today and begin the path toward sustainable healing.

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