Medically Reviewed

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

3 min read · 11 sections

Alcohol is predominantly broken down by the liver. The rate at which your body metabolizes alcohol depends on a number of factors, including genetics, how much alcohol you consumed, your age, weight, and the amount of food you ate.1

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What you will learn:
How long alcohol stays in the system
How the body metabolizes alcohol
How long it takes alcohol to leave your system
Alcohol overdose
How to get help when alcohol becomes a problem

How is Alcohol Measured in the Body?

Blood alcohol content is a measure of the amount of alcohol circulating in the bloodstream, expressed in terms of weight (milligrams) per unit of volume (milliliters), and shown as a percentage.1 It is widely assumed that the amount of alcohol in the blood reflects the amount of alcohol consumed. However, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is determined not just by the amount and rate at which alcohol is consumed but also the presence or absence of food or other substances in the stomach, blood flow, and the individual’s weight, age, and other genetic factors.2

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Depending on the test used, and whether an individual chronically uses alcohol, detection times vary. Alcohol can stay in your system between 6-72 hours in most cases, depending on the detection test used. Alcohol detection tests can measure alcohol in the blood for up to 12 hours, on the breath for 12 to 24 hours, urine for 12-24 hours (72 or more hours after heavier use), saliva for up to 12 hours, and hair for up to 90 days. The half-life of alcohol is between 4-5 hours.3,4,5

Body System Time in System
Blood Up to 12 hours
Breath 12-24 hours
Urine 12-24 hours; 72 hours or more after heavier use
Saliva Up to 12 hours
Hair Up to 90 days

 

How Is Alcohol Metabolized?

Although alcohol passes through the digestive system, it does not undergo extensive digestion within the digestive tract in the same manner as food. When it enters the upper gastrointestinal tract, a significant portion is absorbed straight into the bloodstream through the tissue lining of the stomach and upper small intestines. Once in the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body and travels to the brain.6

The absorption mechanism may be slightly slowed when there is food in the stomach. Food can absorb alcohol, inhibit it from coming into contact with the stomach lining, or slow its transit from the stomach into the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine), where it otherwise is very rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.7

How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Kick In?

Most men with minimal to no tolerance will begin to exhibit some characteristics of intoxication when their BAC reaches 0.05%, and their ability to drive will be significantly impaired at 0.07%. At 0.10%, they will be clearly intoxicated.8

A woman who weighs 150 pounds will reach a BAC of 0.1% (intoxication) if she consumes about 4 drinks in an hour.8

How Do You Know When You’re Drunk?

The higher your BAC, the more likely you will be to display signs of intoxication, which may include:9

  • Lowered inhibitions.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Confusion.
  • Trouble remembering things.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Breathing problems (e.g., decreased respiratory effort, respiratory depression).

People who are drunk are also at a higher risk for experiencing negative situations, including:8

  • Motor accidents.
  • Risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex.
  • Violence.
  • Suicide and homicide.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Drink Out of Your System?

Alcohol is predominantly broken down in the liver through the actions of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. On average, alcohol is metabolized at a rate of 15-25 milligrams per hour, but it varies by person, occasion, and the amount of alcohol consumed. In addition to liver processing, about 2%-5% of alcohol is eliminated through sweat, breath, and urine.7,8
A standard drink is defined as:10

  • 12 fl. oz. of regular beer.
  • 8-9 fl. oz. of malt liquor.
  • 5 fl. oz. of wine.
  • 1.5 fl. oz. shot of distilled spirits (gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey).

Factors that may influence how fast alcohol is broken down include:2

  • Age.
  • Weight.
  • Gender.
  • Metabolism.
  • How much food the person ate.
  • Type and strength of the alcohol.
  • Whether the person has taken any medications.

Does Drinking Water or Coffee Help You Sober Up?

The breakdown and elimination of alcohol cannot be sped up by drinking water or sleeping, and neither coffee nor a shower will sober you up faster. They might make you more alert, but they will not eliminate alcohol from your blood. As long as your rate of consumption is greater than your rate of elimination, your BAC will continue to rise.11

When Is Alcohol No Longer Detected on a Test?

As previously mentioned, the amount of time alcohol can be detected in your system depends on the type of test used.

Since alcohol is metabolized quickly, clinicians often rely on observations of alcohol use—slurred speech or the smell of alcohol—or a breath test to confirm intoxication or recent drinking.8

How Much Alcohol Will Kill You?

Alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, can be serious. You can overdose when there is a high enough amount of alcohol in your system to cause life-supporting functions, such as breathing or heart rate to dangerously slow or even stop.10

As your BAC rises, you may begin to feel more negative effects of intoxication and your risk of overdose increases:10

  • 0.06% – 0.15% BAC: speech, memory, attention, coordination, balance moderately impaired; driving ability significantly impaired
  • 0.16% – 0.30% BAC: significant impairments in speech, memory, attention, balance, reaction time, and coordination; driving ability dangerously impaired; judgment and decision-making impaired; risk of blackouts; vomiting; loss of consciousness
  • 0.31% – 0.45% BAC: risk of life-threatening overdose and risk of death from suppression of breathing, heart rate, and body temperature

Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose

Symptoms of an overdose include:10

  • Profound mental confusion.
  • Stupor.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Vomiting.
  • Clammy skin.
  • Pale or bluish skin color.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Slowed or irregular breathing.

Your risk of overdose increases if you binge drink which, by one definition, entails consuming 4 drinks in 2 hours for a woman or 5 drinks in 2 hours for a man. Extreme binge drinking is drinking 2 or more times the binge drinking thresholds. Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short time greatly outpaces the liver’s ability to clear alcohol from the body and leads to a rapid increase in BAC.10

The risk of overdose may become even greater if a person mixes alcohol with opioid or sedative-hypnotic medications, such as painkillers, sleep medications, or antidepressant drugs. These drugs also suppress breathing, and combined with alcohol, these effects are intensified and can lead to an overdose with even moderate levels of alcohol.10

Risks of Alcohol Misuse

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 29.5 million people aged 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder in the United States in 2021. This figure represents 10.6% of all people in this age group. Alcohol-related deaths are the fourth-leading cause of preventable death in the country, with about 140,000 people dying each year from liver failure, suicide, drunk driving, and other accidents.13,14

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol misuse, it’s important to know that help is only a phone call away. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help. For more information about our treatment programs, give us a call today at . Our compassionate admissions navigators can listen to your story, answer your questions, explain your treatment options, and verify your insurance (using the form below) so you can get started on your path to recovery.

Take Our “Has My Alcohol Use Become a Problem?” Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute “Has My Alcohol Use Become a Problem?” self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of an AUD. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

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