How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

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Alcohol is the most common drug consumed in modern day. The use of alcohol pre-dates literature and has been used throughout the years in many different ways.

From religious ceremonies to social activities its use is widely acceptable and remains a large part of popular culture.

Consumed in moderation alcohol can create feelings of relaxation, well-being, happiness and joy.

However, alcohol can be addictive to some, and dependence can occur due to overuse. If there is an onset of alcohol dependance seek help for your alcohol addiction early. 

These factors as well as others will affect how long alcohol stays in your system.

It is important to know how long alcohol remains in the system for numerous reasons. As having alcohol in the body can inhibit movement or the ability to carry out practical tasks.

And in some cases, penalties can occur such as arrests and job losses to those who have consumed the drug.

The body metabolises alcohol i.e. breaks it down at different rates and the rates and contributing factors to the length of time it takes to stay in your system will differ.

Alcohol detection times

The contributing factors to alcohol metabolising 

The factors contributing to the break-down of alcohol are:

  • The amount of alcohol consumed
  • The percentage of alcohol (average beer 4.5, wine 11.6 and spirits 37 percent)
  • Body weight
  • Gender
  • Food consumed
  • Medications
  • Age
  • Liver disease

The amount of alcohol affects the ability of the liver to metabolise alcohol as the liver will need to work harder the more alcohol is consumed.

For example, a small shot of spirits may take one hour and a large glass of wine 3 hours. In these examples the amount of alcohol supersedes the alcohol percentage.

In essence a mathematical calculation could be carried out for each type of alcohol consumed considering in each case the percentage and amount of alcohol.

Body weight is important if the processing of alcohol continues to be considered in a mathematical sense i.e. the larger the body the more mass in which the alcohol can be diffused.

Gender affects alcohol metabolism as males metabolise more effectively than females. This is due to the enzyme responsible for this process to occur known as Alcohol Dehydrogenase ADH.

Males have an active form of ADH in the liver and stomach whereas females have practically none. ADH in larger amounts can break down alcohol quicker i.e. a female consuming the same amount of alcohol as a man will feel the drug’s effects much quicker.

The type of food consumed is an important factor in the breaking down of alcohol. Probiotic foods eliminate toxins from the gut quicker and green vegetables and fruit aid liver metabolism.

Asparagus in particular has been proven to protect the liver and reduce hangovers.

Medications can play a part in the speed of metabolism of alcohol as medications perform many different roles and functions within the body. Upon reading instructions, they may inform the user not to drink alcohol when taking these meds.

For example, Opiate medication can be very dangerous if taken with alcohol as both together can make the patient sleepy and dozy. Aspirin and alcohol can cause some stomach problems or internal bleeding.

Age affects the ability to metabolise alcohol as when older the body stores less water and dehydration is higher as alcohol draws the water from the body.

As vital organs age they can also become weaker as they are forced to metabolise alcohol repeatedly and sometimes over the course of many years, if dependent.

Liver Disease can occur after many years of moderate to heavy alcohol consumption. There is no precise science around the specific time frame it will take for Liver Cirrhosis to occur as each person is different.

Many factors can affect when and how liver disease occurs but once it occurs the livers ability to metabolise alcohol effectively is reduced as areas of the liver having been damaged repair scarred.

These scars inhibit the liver's function.

How does the body metabolise alcohol?

As soon as the body consumes alcohol it begins the process of elimination from the inside of the body out. Elimination can occur through breath, sweating and urination.

Moving from the mouth down into the lining of the stomach and intestines to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Then continuing its journey to all the organs with ETA to brain around 90 seconds.

When alcohol reaches the liver the enzyme ADH begins it roles of breaking down the alcohol into ketones. Ketones allow for elimination to occur.

Important to remember male’s breakdown ethanol quicker than females and the BAC for females will appear higher for the same amount of drinks.

Six Handy Tips to aid alcohol metabolism 

  • Stay Hydrated – drinking water before, during and after alcohol intake can stop dehydration. Also adding lemon or lime to your water will assist the liver. Avoid drinks containing sweeteners.
  • Drink Green Tea – this form of tea is an antioxidant and can effectively flush toxins have formed from the use of alcohol out of the body.
  • Drink in moderation – the liver can only process a certain amount of alcohol each hour. Heavy drinking will damage the liver and its functioning abilities.
  • Have rest days – days off alcohol use can allow the liver to metabolise all alcohol consumed and rest reducing the pressure being placed upon this major organ.
  • Eat probiotic foods and green vegetables – probiotics such as kefir, kombucha or sauerkraut to name a few as well as green vegetables and fruit can aid liver metabolism as well as removing dietary fats.
  • Work out – Exercise that involves sweating will assist in the removal of alcohol. The body will remove toxins through sweating, urinating, and breathing.

Secretion Tests and Times 

An analysis of urine can detect alcohol between 12 and 48 hours after the last drink. With advanced tests measuring up to 80 hours post drink.

Breath Tests can detect alcohol over a shorter time frame – about 24 hours. Police Officers may use Breath Tests for roadside detection. The legal limit for driving is below 0.02.

An interesting fact is that alcohol can stay in the hair for 90 days.

Alcohol can also be detected in sweat and salvia.

Urine – 12-48 hours

Breath – 24 hours

Hair – 90 days

Alcohol Poisoning 

Alcohol poisoning is dangerous and is due to the bodies inability to break down large volumes of alcohol.

The body can usually process (or filter) one unit of alcohol per hour through the liver.

Alcohol Poisoning is a medical emergency and it is recommended to turn a person on their side (if they have passed out) whilst waiting for medical assistance, in case they vomit.

If awake keep them sitting upright, awake and taking small sips of water if possible. Don’t leave the person unattended.

Some signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Tinged blue skin possible hypothermia
  • Being sick
  • Breathing slowing down
  • Loss of control
  • Slurred speech
  • Passing out

Some types of hospital Treatment for alcohol poisoning:

  • Carefully monitored at all times
  • Tube inserted into windpipe through mouth
  • Fitting of intravenous drip
  • Possible fitting of catheter

Dangers of alcohol poisoning:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Severe hypothermia
  • Fits and seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Choking on vomit
  • Stop breathing

Also:

  • Accidents are more likely to occur
  • Loss of self-control and engaging in risk taking behaviour
  • Driving whilst under the influence causing danger to self and others

Recommended Alcohol Intake limits 

These alcohol limits have been carefully set by scientists and medical professionals analysing the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)  this is the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream.

In the UK it is recommended no more than 14 units are consumed per week and these should be spread over the course of the week. As binge drinking is dangerous and puts pressure on the body affecting health in the long term.

For example, 14 units per week is equivalent to 6 pints of beer or 6 medium size glasses of wine (175ml glass) and are encouraged to be consumed over 3 days.

Tips to avoid getting drunk:

  • Eat whilst drinking
  • Limit drinks to one per hour
  • Alternate glass of alcohol with glass of water
  • Take smaller measures

What is the body metabolising?

The body is metabolising ethyl alcohol. Comprised of ethanol a grain fermentation also known as grain alcohol.

It is the only way ethanol or ethyl alcohol can be safely consumed.

There are many grains used to create alcohol such as: wheat, corn, rice or rye.

The fermentation and distillation of grain alcohols will produce a different type of alcohol such as: gin, wine, beer, whisky etc. depending on the grain used.

There are many different processes followed to create alcohol that is safe for drinking.

The processing of different alcohols will also produce different percentages in the alcohol levels with spirits generally producing the highest percentage level of alcohol due to distillation after fermentation.

Alcohol by Volume ABV general amounts:

  • Beer 4.5 %
  • Wine 11.6 %
  • Spirits 37 %

The length of time alcohol stays in your system depends on a number of different variables. However the process of metabolising alcohol can-not be speeded up. The body processes one standard drink at a time – almost like a queue waiting for their turn to go.

This happens regardless of age, weight or gender. Each body processes one standard drink at a time through the liver.

With this said there are ways to help the queue becoming – too long – by only drinking one drink per hour, alternating alcoholic drink with glass of water, not binge drinking, drinking the 14 recommended units spaced out over the course of the week.

And ways in which the body can speed up the elimination of toxins thereafter such as drinking Green Tea, eating green vegetables and lots of fruit, staying hydrated and even working out.

The main recommendation to aid the elimination of alcohol from your system is to drink in moderation but again the same rules apply. For urine it takes 12-24 hours to leave the bodies system, breath 24 hours and hair 90 days.


About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Pete has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. To read more about Pete visit his LinkedIn profile.