how long does alcohol stay in your system

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Last updated on August 1st, 2019 at 02:30 pm

Just because you might look or feel sober doesn’t mean that you actually are sober. If you’ve built up a tolerance to alcohol over the years, you might not realize how much alcohol is still in your body. How long does alcohol stay in your system? 

Alcohol can take a long time to work its way out of your body. It depends on a lot of factors. Your weight, how many drinks you’ve had, and even your age can impact how alcohol affects you

Read on to learn more about how this drug affects your body. 

How Is Alcohol Processed? 

First, you need to understand how your body processes alcohol. You probably already know that your liver is responsible for breaking down and processing the alcohol you introduce into your system. Before it gets there, though, it’s absorbed into your bloodstream from your stomach. 

About 20% of the alcohol you consume will go straight into your bloodstream, which is what gives you the sensations that come with feeling drunk. The remaining 80% will head to your small intestines, where it continues to be absorbed. 

If you drink too much too fast, your liver won’t be able to keep up. This is how alcohol remains in your body, lingering in places like your blood, urine, and saliva.

Alcohol can be removed from your body through sweat and breathing. This is why people often smell like the drinks they’ve consumed after a night of binge drinking. 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? 

Alcohol leaves the various parts of your body at different rates. So, while you might not be able to smell alcohol on your breath twelve hours later, it’s most likely still in your system somewhere.

Here’s how long alcohol tends to stay in each area of your body. 

Blood 

Alcohol tends to leave your blood the fastest since your liver is actively working to process and metabolize the enzymes.

How much you’ve had to drink is the easiest way to predict how long alcohol will remain in your blood. Your liver is able to process about one standard drink (a twelve-ounce beer, 1.5 ounces of liquor, etc.) per hour of alcohol.

So, if you’ve had two drinks, then it will take about two hours to completely leave your system. If you drink a lot in rapid succession, though, your liver will slow down.

For the most part, you can usually find traces of alcohol in your blood for up to six hours after drinking. 

Saliva

You hear a lot about blood alcohol content (BAC) when it comes to instances of drunk driving, but you don’t see cops drawing blood on the side of the road. This is because there are other ways to measure how much alcohol is in your blood; like through saliva.

Alcohol remains in your saliva for anywhere from 10 to 24 hours after drinking. If someone takes a cheek swab of the inside of your mouth, they can test it to see how much alcohol is still in your system. 

Urine

Urine tests are more commonly used to test for drugs like marijuana, but they can also be used to test for alcohol. 

Generally, you can still have traces of alcohol in your urine days after your last drink. In fact, it can linger for around 80 hours or three to four days. 

Whether or not this is actually detectable depends on the test. Weaker tests won’t be able to find alcohol in your system four days after your last drink. 

Hair

Like many other substances, alcohol will stay in your hair the longest. Since it grows so slowly, it will still be detectable in your hair for up to ninety days after your last drink.

Which Factors Affect the Amount of Time that Alcohol Stays in Your System? 

Everyone is built differently, and different factors can affect the presence of alcohol in the body. Here are a few well-known factors that can influence how long alcohol stays in your body:

Weight

Generally speaking, the more you weigh, the faster you will break down alcohol. That also means that the alcohol will leave your system more quickly. 

In other words, someone who weighs 120 pounds will get drunk much faster than someone who weighs 185 pounds. The lighter person will also have more alcohol in their system for a longer period of time. 

Sex

Men and women process alcohol differently. Although there are always exceptions, men tend to be able to break down alcohol faster than women— even when they’re the same weight. 

This is because hormones and body fat percentage can affect enzyme breakdown. Women also have less of the enzyme dehydrogenase, which contributes to processing alcohol. 

Age

As you age, your body’s ability to process alcohol decreases. And, the older you are, the longer alcohol will stay in your liver. 

Food

Since alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through your stomach, the food in your stomach (or lack thereof) will affect how long alcohol stays in your body. In other words, your body absorbs alcohol more slowly when you have a full stomach. 

Understanding How Alcohol Affects Your Body

How long does alcohol stay in your system?

The short answer is that it depends on a number of factors that vary from person to person. Hopefully, this guide will help you understand how alcohol affects your body, and how your personal circumstances might affect how long alcohol lingers in your system. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to alcohol, we can help. Our alcohol addiction intervention specialists can help you and your family find and receive the treatment you deserve. Find a center near you to get started.

References: 

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-blood/

Galan, N. (n.d.). How long does alcohol stay in your system? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319942.php

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-system

What happens when you drink alcohol? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alcohol.org.nz/alcohol-its-effects/about-alcohol/what-happens-when-you-drink-alcohol

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.