How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

Last Updated: February 1, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

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

How Long Will Alcohol Stay In My System?

While alcohol remains detectable in your system for many days, in some cases, it will generally not be active in your body, causing effects for more than 24 hours, except in very extreme cases. The amount of time alcohol will differ by testing method and may include:

  • Breath: Alcohol is detectable in your breath if 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.
  • Urine: Alcohol can normally be detected in urine for up to 24 hours after drinking. However, some advanced urine drug tests may be able to detect it up to 80 hours later.
  • 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 typically not be detectable in blood after 24 hours.
  • Saliva: Alcohol doesn’t normally stay in your saliva for long, often becoming undetectable 6–12 hours after your last drink. With heavy alcohol use, however, alcohol may be detectable up to 24 hours after your last drink.
  • 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 days.
  • Breastmilk: For breastfeeding mothers, the 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 hoursafter drinking, but it can remain longer if large amounts of alcohol are used.

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 5–10 minutes after drinking and increase as more alcohol enters the bloodstream.

The maximum amount of alcohol in your bloodstream will peak about 60–90 minutes after a single drink. Afterward, the amount will 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.

How Does the Body Process Alcohol?

The body processes alcohol by breaking it down into other molecules until it is in a form that can be easily eliminated. The active chemical in alcohol is called ethanol. The body breaks ethanol into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is then converted into acetate, which, in turn, is converted into carbon dioxide. Ultimately carbon dioxide is exhaled.

While most alcohol metabolism follows this pathway, alcohol is also eliminated as ethanol in the breath, sweat and urine without being broken down. This process only accounts for about 2–5% of the alcohol processed at the most. Most alcohol is eliminated by metabolizing it in the liver.

The Liver’s Role in Processing Alcohol

The breakdown of alcohol into different chemicals doesn’t just happen; it requires specific enzymes that make these chemical reactions occur. The liver regulates this entire process. The liver removes toxic or poisonous chemicals and treats alcohol like one of these chemicals. Because the liver produces and regulates the chemicals needed to process alcohol, it plays the most important role of any organ in processing alcohol.

Factors That Affect How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System

The effects of alcohol will wear off before all alcohol is totally eliminated from the body. How long it takes to metabolize alcohol, however, depends on several factors. 

Age, Sex, and Body Composition

As we age, our body’s ability to metabolize alcohol decreases due to slower metabolisms. Sex also plays a role, with females generally metabolizing alcohol slower than males. Body composition, particularly the amount of fat and muscle, can also influence alcohol absorption and elimination rates, with individuals who have a higher proportion of body fat generally having slower rates of alcohol metabolism.

Genetic Factors

Genetic variations can significantly impact how fast the body metabolizes alcohol. Some individuals may have genes that cause them to metabolize alcohol more slowly or rapidly than others. Rare genetic conditions can even severely disrupt alcohol metabolism, causing severe, unpleasant reactions to alcohol use.

Metabolism and Liver Function

Your body’s overall metabolic rate and the health of your liver, the primary organ responsible for alcohol metabolism, play critical roles in determining how quickly alcohol is eliminated from your system. Conditions like liver disease can dramatically slow the body’s ability to metabolize and excrete alcohol.

Type and Amount of Alcohol Consumed

Different alcoholic beverages contain varying concentrations of alcohol, which can impact how quickly the body processes it. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can overwhelm the body’s metabolic capacity, resulting in longer elimination times. 

Food Intake

Consuming food before or while drinking alcohol can slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, allowing the liver more time to metabolize it. On an empty stomach, alcohol is absorbed more quickly, causing blood alcohol concentrations to rise more rapidly.

Recent Exercise

Physical activity and exercise can influence the rate alcohol is metabolized. Regular exercise increases metabolic rate, potentially leading to faster alcohol elimination. Exercise can speed alcohol metabolism directly, but it can also create physical changes that may have secondary effects, such as causing dehydration or speeding up the emptying of food from the stomach.

Drug Interactions

Some medications and drugs can interact with alcohol, potentially affecting the body’s ability to metabolize it. Any drug or substance that requires the liver to process it will be especially impactful, dividing the energy and impact of the liver and making it process alcohol more slowly. You should always consult with a healthcare provider about potential drug-alcohol interactions.

Hydration

Proper hydration can significantly affect how quickly the body metabolizes and eliminates alcohol. Dehydration often slows the body’s metabolic processes, including alcohol metabolism. Adequate water consumption before and during alcohol intake can dilute alcohol and aid its excretion while reducing the risk of unpleasant side effects such as hangovers.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Blood alcohol concentration (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 there is one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts of blood. In general, BAC levels and their associated effects include:

  • 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 speech, balance, vision and coordination impairments. 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 balancing 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.

Your BAC directly impacts how long alcohol will stay in your system. A healthy metabolism will process a BAC of about 0.015% per hour, making it possible to predict how long it will take to fully eliminate alcohol based on your BAC.

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 (i.e., slowed/absent breathing, gasping, etc.) 
  • Pale or clammy skin
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low body temperature

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and can lead to brain damage or death. 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 without alcohol long enough that the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream drops to about 0%. This generally takes 12–24 hours for most people. 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 withdrawal include:

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

Alcohol withdrawal is the most dangerous form of withdrawal, more deadly than even heroin or cocaine withdrawal. Because alcohol withdrawal can create potentially deadly side effects, those expected to experience moderate to severe symptoms should seek professional treatment.

What Is a Standard Drink?

A standard drink provides 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% depending on your gender and other factors.

Examples of Standard Drinks

Different alcoholic beverages can have varying amounts of alcohol. Generally, a standard drink 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 hour, though this can differ 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 1–1.5 hours for alcohol levels in the bloodstream to peak.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

The first step of alcohol addiction treatment is medical detox, in which your body eliminates alcohol from the bloodstream and adjusts to its absence. After medical 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 occur in an inpatient setting, where you live in a recovery facility for the duration of treatment. Each person’s situation and treatment needs differ, so those wanting to begin recovery should speak to a healthcare 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.

Common Questions on Alcohol in Your System

Will alcohol be out of my system after 24 hours?

Alcohol will generally be out of your system within 24 hours unless your metabolism is very slow or you have been drinking a lot of alcohol. While alcohol will typically be out of your system in 24 hours in the sense that it will no longer affect you, it can be detectable for several days after you use it, depending on the test used.

Is it possible to sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes?

No, there is no way to sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes. Your body processes alcohol at a steady rate. You can influence this rate slightly but not significantly. Ultimately, you’ll have to wait for your body to process alcohol to be sober. While you can’t speed up how quickly you process alcohol, some “home remedy-type” approaches, such as drinking coffee, can help you seem less drunk by providing a stimulating effect that counteracts the suppressive effects of alcohol. These, however, don’t actually provide sobriety.

How do you get alcohol out of your system fast?

You can exercise and hydrate to speed up your metabolism; however, these won’t have a significant effect. Ultimately, you have to let your body process alcohol naturally. While you can do things to counter alcohol by stimulating your system, like taking a cold shower or drinking coffee, these will help you feel more alert but won’t actually get rid of alcohol any faster.

Does drinking water help flush alcohol from your system?

No, only 2–3% of alcohol is eliminated through your kidneys. Most of the alcohol in your system is eliminated by the liver. While being hydrated can help the liver function better, drinking a lot of water will not flush alcohol out of your body.

Does coffee help you sober up?

Drinking coffee can help you feel more sober but does not actually make you more sober. Sobering requires your liver to process alcohol, and coffee does not speed this process up at all. Instead, coffee acts as a stimulant and counteracts some of the suppressing effects of alcohol. The amount of alcohol in your bloodstream and affecting your brain is unchanged; however, the suppressing effects are somewhat counterbalanced by the stimulating effects of coffee.

How soon after drinking alcohol can I drive?

You cannot drive after drinking alcohol until your BAC reaches below at least 0.08% in most states. This means if you only have one drink, you can probably drive right away. If you’ve had eight drinks, you should not drive for at least 12–24 hours. Your ability to drive depends entirely on your BAC, which depends on how much alcohol you’ve had and how long it has been since you last drank. If there is any question at all whether you are ready to drive, you should absolutely NOT drive. Driving while impaired is very dangerous, not just to you but everyone around you.

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