The body processes alcohol at an average rate of one standard drink every hour. That being said, there are several factors that dictate how long alcohol stays in your system. For example, a person’s age, weight, overall health, and even biological sex can all influence how long they feel the effects of alcohol and process it in their body.
One major issue is that many people underestimate how much they have drunk because they don’t use measurements to determine a standard drink. A standard drink is equivalent to one 12-oz beer, a 5-oz glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of liquor. When a person consumes more than this, their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may increase to a point of intoxication, and it will take some time for alcohol to leave the body.
Understanding How Alcohol is Processed in the Body
When people drink alcoholic beverages, they enter the digestive system and travel to the small intestine and stomach. The stomach is responsible for absorbing about 20% of alcohol while the rest is absorbed in the small intestine. Once absorbed, alcohol moves into the bloodstream, impacting virtually every bodily system by producing intoxicating effects.
Over time, alcohol is processed through the bloodstream and most of it ends up in the liver. The liver’s responsibility is to metabolize alcohol. A healthy liver will process approximately one standard drink every hour. However, if someone drinks more than one standard drink per hour, the liver becomes oversaturated, causing excess alcohol to build up in the blood and body tissue until the liver is able to metabolize it.
While the body is highly effective at metabolizing and processing alcohol, it is possible to drink too much to the point where the liver and bodily systems can no longer handle it. This is what causes alcohol poisoning. On the other hand, people who binge drink frequently, abuse alcohol, or become addicted to it are at risk of developing serious health issues that impact the brain and liver.
What is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the measurement of the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream. In other words, someone who has had one ounce of liquor will have a BAC of 0.015%. The more you drink, the higher your BAC will become, and the longer alcohol stays in your system.
For reference, people usually begin to feel the intoxicating effects of alcohol when their BAC rises above 0.05%. When BAC reaches 0.08%, a person’s motor skills, coordination, and judgment may be significantly impaired. This is why the legal limit for driving under the influence in the United States is 0.08% or higher.
Factors That Influence How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System
Although alcohol is metabolized at a constant and steady rate, there are several factors that cause BAC levels to fluctuate from one person to the next, even if they have consumed the same amount of alcohol.
Age, Weight, and Biological Sex
Younger individuals will have a faster metabolism and better liver function than an older person. As a result, alcohol will stay in an older person’s system longer than it will a young person. Similarly, a person’s weight and body composition will also impact how long alcohol stays in their system. Individuals with higher body fat may need to drink more to get drunk, but it may also take them longer to process alcohol. Lastly, due to biological differences, women’s bodies tend to process alcohol slower than men’s bodies, causing it to stay in a woman’s system longer than a man’s.
Medications or Polydrug Use
Using certain medications or other drugs in combination with alcohol can affect how long it stays in the body. Some medications will increase the absorption rate and metabolism while others will slow it down. Medications and drugs that are known to interact with alcohol are:
- Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Ativan, or Klonopin
- Stimulants such as Adderall, cocaine, or methamphetamine
- Some diabetes medications
- Cough, cold, and flu medications
Food Consumed Prior to Drinking
Eating a healthy and adequate meal before drinking can have a major impact on the way the body absorbs and processes alcohol. Having food in the stomach will help slow down the process at which alcohol moves into the small intestine. As a result, people who have a full stomach will feel the effects of alcohol slower than someone who drinks on an empty stomach. This causes alcohol to leave the system at a slower rate as well.
Exactly How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Although everyone’s body processes alcohol in the same way, the above-listed factors will influence how long it stays in your system. Alcohol metabolites may remain in the system even after the intoxicating effects wear off as the metabolites are stored in the blood, urine, and hair. In addition, depending on the type of drug test used, alcohol can be detected in the body anywhere from 12 hours to 90 days.
On average, here is what you can expect in terms of how long alcohol stays in your urine, blood, and hair.
- Urine – there are two types of urinalysis tests that may be used to detect alcohol. One can detect alcohol for 3-5 days after drinking while the other can only detect it 10-12 hours after drinking.
- Blood – alcohol is eliminated from the bloodstream fairly quickly, however, a blood test may detect it for up to 12 hours.
- Hair – hair follicle drug tests can detect substances for a longer amount of time than other drug tests. As such, alcohol can be detected in your hair follicle for up to 90 days after drinking.
Find Help for a Drinking Problem Today
By understanding how the body processes alcohol, you can make safer decisions about your drinking habits. However, if you’ve found that your drinking is out of control and that you cannot drink in moderation, it may be time to seek help.
At Addiction Intervention, we’re dedicated to connecting you and your loved ones with the detox, treatment, and aftercare services you need. Call today to get started.