Because alcohol affects your body and brain in many different ways, it is crucial to understand how long it can remain in your system.

When you drink alcohol, it’s important to consider how long it will stay in your system. Alcohol impairs judgment and ability, making activities like driving or working in calertain environments dangerous. It can also affect your ability to work or complete educational tasks. Because alcohol affects your body and brain in many different ways, it is crucial to understand how long it can remain in your system.

How Long Does It Take To Feel the Effects of Alcohol?

Alcohol is easily absorbed by the body and enters your bloodstream very quickly. Alcohol’s effects are felt within five to 10 minutes1 after drinking, and they increase as more and more alcohol enters the bloodstream. 

The maximum amount of alcohol in your bloodstream will peak about 60 to 90 minutes after a single drink. Afterward, the amount will start to slowly decrease as your body breaks the alcohol down and eliminates it. Alcohol may be absorbed more slowly by your body if you have recently eaten.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Blood alcohol concentration2 (BAC) measures the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream by measuring what percentage of your blood is alcohol. A 0.10% BAC, for example, means that there is one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts of blood. In general, BAC levels and their associated effects include3

  • 0.00% BAC: Sober.
  • 0.01%–0.03% BAC: No apparent effects.
  • 0.04%–0.06% BAC: Relaxed, warm feeling. Minor impairments of memory and reasoning.
  • 0.07%–0.09% BAC: Mild impairments of speech, balance, vision and coordination. A 0.08% BAC or higher is considered legally impaired.
  • 0.10%–0.12% BAC: Speech likely to be slurred. Significant impairments of coordination and judgment.
  • 0.13%–0.19% BAC: Anxiety and restlessness occur. Vision is blurred and balance becomes difficult.
  • 0.20%–0.29% BAC: Confusion, assistance required to walk. Nausea and vomiting are likely.
  • 0.30%–0.39% BAC: Intoxication becomes dangerous. Loss of consciousness and coma may occur.
  • 0.40% BAC or higher: Coma and/or death are likely.

What Is a Standard Drink Measurement?

A standard drink4 is used to provide a consistent description of how much alcohol is in a drink. Some drinks, like beer, may have less alcohol in a given volume than the same volume of another drink, like vodka. A standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol and will raise your BAC by about 0.02%–0.03%. 

Standard Drink Calculator

Different alcoholic beverages can have varying amounts of alcohol in them. In general, a standard drink4 equates to:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

How Long Can It Take for the Body to Process the Alcohol in a Standard Drink?

Your body typically processes alcohol at a rate of 0.015% per hour5, though this can vary based on the individual. At this rate, a standard drink that raises your BAC to 0.03% will take about two hours to fully metabolize once the amount of alcohol in your blood peaks. It can take 1.5 hours for alcohol levels in the bloodstream to peak.

How Long Does it Take to Sober Up?

The effects of alcohol will wear off before all alcohol is totally eliminated from the body. The amount of time that it takes to metabolize alcohol6, however, depends on a variety of factors. These include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Genetic makeup
  • Food eaten
  • Time of day
  • Recent exercise
  • Liver health
  • Medications being used

While the time it takes to sober up varies for each individual, the factor that has the most influence is the amount of alcohol used. The more alcohol that has been used, the longer it will take to eliminate it from the bloodstream.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in the Body?

People may find themselves in situations where they are tested to see if they have used alcohol or have a certain BAC. It can occur in a variety of settings, such as in a pre-employment drug test or a roadside test during a traffic stop. In these situations, it is helpful to understand how long alcohol will be present.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Breath?

Alcohol is detectable in your breath7 as long as there is still alcohol in your bloodstream. It is detectable within 15 minutes of drinking and will continue to be detectable until the alcohol is eliminated.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?

Alcohol can normally be detected in urine for up to 24 hours8 after drinking. However, some advanced urine drug tests may be able to detect it up to 80 hours later.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?

Alcohol will only be detectable in your blood for as long as it remains in your bloodstream. This will depend heavily on how much alcohol is used, but it will normally not be detectable in blood after 24 hours.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Saliva?

Alcohol will normally not stay in your saliva for long, often becoming undetectable within six to 12 hours9 after your last drink. With heavy alcohol use, however, it is possible that alcohol may be detectable up to 24 hours after your last drink.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Hair?

Hair tests are almost always the longest indicators of whether a substance has been used. Alcohol can be detectable in hair samples for 90 days10.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breastmilk?

For breastfeeding mothers, the length of time alcohol is present in breastmilk may be a concern. Alcohol use should be avoided while breastfeeding, as it affects the mother’s overall health. Alcohol is normally present for two to three hours11 after drinking, but it can be present for longer if large amounts of alcohol are used.

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning occurs when the amount of alcohol used has a potentially life-threatening effect on the body. Any amount of alcohol is toxic; however, this toxicity can reach a level that impairs the ability to breathe or perform other basic functions needed to stay alive. 

Alcohol poisoning is related to how high your BAC is and how used to the presence of alcohol your body is. Someone who does not often drink may experience alcohol poisoning at a lower BAC than someone who drinks heavily. Symptoms of alcohol12 poisoning may include:

  • Confusion
  • Problems staying conscious
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Breathing problems
  • Pale or clammy skin
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low body temperature

Alcohol poisoning can lead to brain damage or death and is a medical emergency. If you or someone you are with may be experiencing alcohol poisoning, immediately call 911 and seek emergency medical care.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone who normally has alcohol in their bloodstream goes a period of 24 hours or more without alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms occur because the body has to adjust to the absence of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous, as it can carry the risk of seizures or delirium tremens — a potentially fatal effect of alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal13 include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Clammy, sweaty skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis

Because alcohol withdrawal can create potentially deadly side effects, those who are expected to experience moderate to severe symptoms should seek professional treatment.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

The first step of alcohol addiction treatment14 is detox, the process in which your body eliminates alcohol from the bloodstream and adjusts to its absence. After detox, rehab is always recommended because it teaches you ways to cope without alcohol and maintain the sobriety that you have achieved. 

Alcohol addiction treatment can be done on an outpatient basis, where you visit doctors and therapists but continue to live your normal life otherwise. Treatment can also take place in an inpatient setting, where you live in a recovery facility for the duration of treatment. Each person’s situation and treatment needs vary, so those wanting to begin recovery should speak to a health care professional to determine which treatment option may work best.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can provide the help you need. Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment programs that can help you live a healthier, alcohol-free life.

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Sources

  1. Te Hiringa Hauora/Health Promotion Agency, New Zealand. “What happens when you drink alcohol?” Accessed January 28, 2022.
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Blood Alcohol Level.” MedlinePlus, December 3, 2020. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  3. Stanford University. “What Is BAC?” Accessed January 28, 2022.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” Accessed January 28, 2022.
  5. Home Health Testing. “How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?” Accessed January 28, 2022.
  6. Cederbaum, Arthur I. “Alcohol Metabolism.” Clinical Liver Disease, November 2013. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Testing: How Alcohol Breath Tests Work.” April 4, 2016. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  8. Wojcik, Mark H.; Hawthorne, Jeffrey S. “Sensitivity of commercial ethyl glucuron[…]r alcohol abstinence.” Alcohol and Alcoholism, March 21, 2007. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  9. DrugTestsInBulk.com. “How Long can Alcohol be Detected in a Mouth Swab Test?” March 9, 2017. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  10. Labcorp. “Hair Drug Testing.” Accessed January 28, 2022.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol.” February 9, 2021. Accessed January 28, 2022
  12. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” May 2021. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  13. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, January 12, 2022. Accessed January 28, 2022.
  14. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” August 2021. Accessed January 28, 2022.
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.