How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

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How long does alcohol stay in your system?

This depends on your body system and the type of test used to check how much alcohol is in your system. In most cases, the blood alcohol level will vary and the tests start to show from about six hours. 

Here's a look at the most common blood alcohol concentrations;

  • Breathalyzer test - gives a test of between 12 and 24 hours.
  • Urine tests - between 12 and 24 hours.
  • Saliva tests - between 12 and 24 hours.
  • Hair follicle drug test - this tests up to 90 days.

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 pop culture, although alcohol poisoning has become a great concern as well.

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

However, having a few drinks can end up causing addiction and alcohol abuse can occur due to overuse. If there is an onset of alcohol dependence seek professional medical advice from an from a certified addiction professional or substance abuse clinic near you, in order to help eliminate alcohol disorder from your life.

In this regard, there are many factors affecting how long alcohol will stay in your system.

It is important to know how long alcohol remains in the system for numerous reasons. As having a high blood alcohol concentration affects your functioning and decision making. Alcohol impairs your reasoning as well.

In some cases, penalties can occur such as arrests and job losses for anyone whose blood detect alcohol use.

The body's alcohol metabolism and how the body processes alcohol takes different rates and the contributing factors to the length of time it takes to stay in your system will differ, plus the amount of alcohol abuse your body has experienced.

Alcohol detection times

Factors that contribute to how alcohol metabolism takes place:

The factors contributing to how the body processes alcohol will include;

  • The amount of alcohol poisoning in your body.
  • The percentage of blood alcohol level.
  • Your body weight and body fat content.
  • Whether you have other substance abuse issues.
  • How many alcoholic beverages you have taken.
  • The type of alcohol taken, such as distilled spirits, clear alcohol, etc.
  • Gender
  • Food consumed
  • Medications
  • Age
  • Liver disease
  • The strength of your digestive system, including the stomach and small intestines.

Alcohol metabolites

The amount of alcohol metabolites affects the ability of the liver to metabolize alcohol as the liver will need to work hard to process alcohol.

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 of how the body processes alcohol could be carried out for each type of alcohol consumed considering in each case the percentage and amount of alcohol.

Body fat generally determines how long alcohol stays in your body, and 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 stay and how your body processes alcohol because men will have a higher alcohol metabolism compared to women. This is due to the enzyme responsible for this process to occur known as Alcohol Dehydrogenase ADH.

How does alcohol affect men and women?

Men have an active form of ADH in the liver and stomach while females have practically none. ADH in larger amounts can impact how the body metabolize alcohol which is quicker. When a woman absorb alcohol in the same measure as a man will have a higher blood alcohol levels than the man.

Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption on an empty stomach, will cause the processing alcohol time to shorten and in about one hour, an alcohol test will show a high blood alcohol content.

Does food affect alcohol metabolism?

Yes. The type of food consumed is important when looking at how long does alcohol stay in the body, and it is an important to measure alcohol absorption and metabolism.

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.

How about medication?

Medications can play a part in how fast alcohol metabolized in the small intestines and liver. Disease control and Medicine performs many different roles and functions in the body. Upon receiving medication, the doctor may offer professional treatment advice that may include informing you not to exercise alcohol abstinence when taking these medicine.

For example, alcohol overdose with Opiate medication can be very dangerous if taken it can make the patient sleepy and drowsy. Addiction medicine is actually extremely dangerous when combined with alcohol abuse.

Additionally, drinking alcohol with Aspirin can cause some stomach problems or internal bleeding. If this happens, contact treatment providers immediately.

Age and alcoholism

Age affects how the body will process alcohol, and how long does alcohol stay in the body. The ability to metabolize alcohol when older is a little difficult, and the blood alcohol content is always high, even when you've had a standard drink.

This is because, the body stores less water and dehydration is higher, and the alcohol will draw water from the body.

With age, your vital organs also get weaker alcohol passes through the intestines and liver at a slower rate. Alcohol processing will take time, and any remaining alcohol in your body will actually stay in the small intestine for a longer time. Tests detect alcohol faster in this case as well.

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

Alcohol complications

According to the national institute, 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.

And this is also dependent on exactly how long alcohol addiction has been a part of your life. The body absorbs alcohol at a slower rate when your body is compromised and this causes more alcohol to remain in your body, leading to many more disorders.

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

These scars inhibit the liver's function.

If you start to notice that just having a standard drink or excess alcohol causes some problems to your body, you should consult licensed medical professionals or other qualified healthcare provider to provide medical advice.

Mental health services administration is also necessary in understanding how your body can process alcohol and in answering how long does alcohol stay in your body.

According to the national institute, (1) mental health disorder is a serious condition that is caused by excessive alcohol use.

What is blood alcohol concentration BAC?

BAC (2) refers to the percentage of alcohol in your blood vessels after either a blood test or a urine test. A BAC of about 0.10% shows that your blood had one part of alcohol for every 1000 parts of your blood. For example, when your alcohol hits 0.08% in the US, this shows your are highly intoxicated.

How does the body metabolize alcohol?

As soon as you consume alcohol, your body starts alcohol processing. This also includes the process of elimination from the body. Elimination can occur through breath, sweating, small intestine and urination.

Moving from the mouth down into the lining of the stomach and small intestine 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 by police or treatment centers can detect alcohol over a shorter time frame – about 24 hours. Police Officers may use Breath Tests (3) for roadside detection. The legal limit for driving is below 0.02.

An interesting fact is that alcohol in your system can be detected in your hair for 90 days.

Alcohol poisoning 

Alcohol abuse 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 can be detected in the human body if it is in excess.

Poisoning from alcohol in your system 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 Poisoning from alcohol include:

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

Some types of hospital treatment for poisoning from alcohol:

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

Dangers of poisoning from alcohol:

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


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

Recommended alcohol intake limits 

These alcohol limits according to your body composition have been carefully set by scientists and medical professionals analyzing the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)  this is the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. (4)

In the UK treatment providers and treatment centers recommend 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. When you consume more than that, alcohol can be detected in excess.

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 to control your alcohol content.

Being dependent on alcohol is almost a half life. And there's nothing worse than this. Living a half life will limit you in this life.

What is the body metabolising?

The body is metabolizing ethyl alcohol. Comprised of ethanol a grain fermentation also known as grain alcohol. (5) 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:

Here are the most common ABV amounts (6)

  • 12 ounces of beer, or one bottle at 5% ABV.
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7% ABV.
  • 5 ounces of wine at 12% ABV.
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, or one shot, at 40% ABV.
  • 8-9 ounces of malt liquor at 7% ABV.

The length of time alcohol stays in your system depends on a number of different variables. However the process of metabolizing alcohol can-not be sped 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.

Contact our treatment providers today for help with addiction and be medically reviewed. Do this for your loved one as well.

Last Updated: December 3, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter 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. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.