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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System: Blood, Urine & Breath?
Learn about how alcohol is metabolized and how long its effects last. The length of time alcohol stays in the system depends on the type of test conducted. For help with alcoholism call (888) 987-1784.
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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Edited by Dan Wagener, M.A.
Reviewed by Scot Thomas, MD
Last Updated: January 7, 2022
Alcohol is predominantly broken down by the liver, which can metabolize roughly 1 standard drink per hour for men. Factors such as age, weight, gender, and amount of food eaten can affect how fast the body can process alcohol. The rate of alcohol absorption cannot be increased by sleeping or drinking water.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Depending on the body system and test used, alcohol detection times may vary. Alcohol detection tests can measure alcohol in the blood for up to 6 hours, on the breath for 12 to 24 hours, urine for 12 to 24 hours (72 or more hours with more advanced detection methods), saliva for 12 to 24 hours, and hair for up to 90 days.
Body System Time in System
Blood Up to 6 Hours Breath 12-24 Hours
Urine 12-24 Hours; 72 Hours or more for newer test methods
Saliva 12-24 Hours Hair Up to 90 Days
To estimate of the effects of alcohol addiction on a person’s long-term physical health, check out our online calculator.
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How Is Alcohol Metabolized?
Although alcohol passes through the digestive system, it does not undergo extensive digestion within the digestive tract in the same manner as food. When it enters the upper gastrointestinal tract, a significant portion is absorbed straight into the bloodstream through the tissue lining of the stomach and small intestines. Once in the bloodstream, it is carried throughout the body and travels to the brain.1
The absorption mechanism may be slightly slowed when there is food in the stomach. Food can absorb alcohol, inhibit it from coming into contact with the stomach lining, or slow its transit from the stomach into the duodenum (the first portion of the small intestine), where it otherwise is very rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.1
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How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Kick In?
A healthy person will generally experience the effects of a drink within 15 to 45 minutes.1
Most men with minimal to no tolerance will begin to exhibit some characteristics of intoxication when their blood alcohol level (BAC) reaches 0.05%, and their ability to drive will be significantly impaired at 0.07%. At 0.10%, they will be clearly intoxicated.2
A woman who weighs 150 pounds will reach a BAC of 0.1% (intoxication) if she consumes about 4 drinks in an hour.2
How Do You Know When You’re Drunk?
The higher your BAC, the more likely you will be to display signs of intoxication, which include:3
Trouble remembering things.
Breathing problems (e.g., decreased respiratory effort, respiratory depression).
People who are drunk are also more at risk for:3
Risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex.
Suicide and homicide.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Drink Out of Your System?
Alcohol is predominantly broken down in the liver through the actions of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. On average, the liver can metabolize 1 standard drink per hour for men, or about 0.015g/100mL/hour (i.e., a reduction of blood alcohol level, or BAC, by 0.015 per hour). In addition to liver processing, about 10% of alcohol is eliminated through sweat, breath, and urine.1
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? – Cleveland Clinic
How long alcohol stays in your system depends on several factors. Learn how the body gets rid of alcohol and what affects this process.
December 3, 2021 / Digestive
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
The speed of alcohol metabolism is different for everyone
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If you’ve had a drink or two, you might be wondering just how long that alcohol will stay in your system.
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In urine, alcohol can be detected from 12 to 130 hours if a person has been drinking excessively. Phosphatidylethanol (PEth), a biomarker that reflects alcohol intake, can be detected up to 14 days in urine. Alcohol can be detected from 12 to 24 hours in the breath, as well as in saliva. And when tested in the hair, especially at the root, alcohol can be detected up to 90 days after a person has stopped drinking.
So how fast can the body break down alcohol and is it possible to “speed things up?” Hepatologist Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, explains how your body gets rid of alcohol and gives us a better idea of what affects this process.
How does the body metabolize alcohol?
The liver gets most of the attention when it comes to alcohol metabolism. But it’s not the only gear in the machine.
The stomach’s role
“When you have a drink, its first stop is the stomach,” explains Dr. Wakim-Fleming. “Some people have stomach enzymes that break down alcohol. These enzymes help divert some of the alcohol from going into your bloodstream.”
But not everyone has these enzymes, known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). “Studies have shown that women tend to have lower levels of ADH than men,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. “And people who drink regularly have lower ADH levels than people who rarely or never drink.”
If you don’t have enough ADH or ALDH, your stomach will send the alcohol directly to the small intestine. From there, it hits your bloodstream and your brain, and you start feeling its effects.
Next stop: the liver
The liver does the heavy lifting when it comes to processing alcohol. After the alcohol passes through your stomach, small intestine and bloodstream, your liver starts its cleanup. It removes about 90% of the alcohol from your blood. The rest comes out through your kidneys, lungs and skin.
How long does alcohol metabolism take?
“Alcohol metabolism time depends on the volume and strength of the drink,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. “The more you drink, the more your body has to process. And the concentration matters. Two ounces of spirits contain much more alcohol than two ounces of wine.”
One standard drink is about 14 grams of ethanol (alcohol), the amount found in:
12 ounces of regular beer with 5% ethanol (about one can of beer).
5 ounces of wine with 12% ethanol (about one glass of wine).
1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (80 proof) with 40% ethanol (about one shot).
After you start drinking, alcohol takes around 60 to 90 minutes to reach peak levels in the blood. Then, the body begins breaking it down.
The half-life of alcohol is four to five hours. A half-life is how long it takes for your body to get rid of half of it. But you need about five half-lives to get rid of alcohol completely. So, it takes about 25 hours for your body to clear all the alcohol.
Factors that affect alcohol metabolism
There is no set timeframe for how long alcohol stays in your system. The speed of elimination depends on your:Medications: Many prescription and over-the-counter meds have dangerous interactions with alcohol. Ask your doctor whether drinking is safe for you if you take any medications.Sex: Studies have shown that women take longer than men to process alcohol.Age: As we age, the speed of alcohol processing slows down.Body size: The less you weigh, the less water you have in your body. Alcohol goes into the water in your blood — but if you have less water, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will be higher. Smaller people can drink the same amount of alcohol as larger people but have a higher BAC.Health conditions: Kidney, liver and stomach conditions make it harder for your body to process alcohol.
How long can tests detect alcohol in the body?
When it comes to “passing” an alcohol test, there’s no guarantee. More sensitive or higher quality tests can pick up smaller amounts of alcohol. And because everyone metabolizes alcohol at their own rate, some people will take longer to clear it than others.
In general, this is the maximum amount of time tests can detect alcohol after you consume it:
Blood test: 12 hours.
Breath test: 24 hours.
Saliva test: 48 hours.
Urine test: five days.
Hair test: 90 days.
Can you “sober up” faster with food or coffee?
Eating food and drinking coffee changes how your body uses alcohol. But they’re not miracle cures to help you sober up.
How food changes alcohol processing
Food changes how your body processes alcohol but not how fast it can do it. “When alcohol hits an empty stomach, it will move right through, quickly heading to the small intestine and your bloodstream,” says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. “You’ll feel more intoxicated and may notice stronger toxic effects, such as an upset stomach and a hangover.”
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Learn how long alcohol can be detected in your system, and how long the effects from alcohol may last.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Body?
Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — Written by Kristeen Cherney — Updated on March 29, 2019
Alcohol is a depressant that has a short life span in the body. Once alcohol has entered your bloodstream, your body will begin to metabolize it at a rate of 20 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) per hour. That means that if your blood alcohol level were 40 mg/dL, it would take about two hours to metabolize the alcohol.
Read on to learn more about alcohol’s life cycle in the body and the important factors to consider.
How long does it take for the effects of alcohol to wear off?
Alcohol is metabolized at a constant rate, but some people may feel the effects of alcohol for longer amounts of time. That’s because blood alcohol concentrations can vary among people and situations. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol in your blood in relation to the amount of water in your blood. For example, if two people each have blood alcohol levels of 20 mg/dL, the alcohol will metabolize in about an hour in each person, but their BACs can be very different.
Numerous factors can affect BAC and how you react to alcohol, including:
drinking alcohol on an empty stomach
medications liver disease
drinking many drinks in a short period of time, which is also known as binge drinking
It’s also important to know how much alcohol is in your drink, because that will determine how long it takes to metabolize your drink. For example, some beers have a higher alcohol content, which affects how much alcohol you’re consuming from one drink.
The following are general estimates for how long it takes to metabolize different alcoholic beverages, though these times will vary depending on the amount of alcohol in the beverage:
Type of alcoholic beverage Average time to metabolize
small shot of liquor 1 hour
pint of beer 2 hours
large glass of wine 3 hours
a few drinks several hours
There are certain steps you can take to help reduce the effects of alcohol.
Food may help your body absorb alcohol.
Water can help reduce your BAC, though it will still take one hour to metabolize 20 mg/dL of alcohol.
Avoid caffeine. It’s a myth that that coffee, energy drinks, or any similar beverages alleviate intoxication quicker.Read more: Is it safe to drink alcohol while taking acetaminophen? »
How is alcohol metabolized?
When you consume alcohol, it first enters the digestive system. Alcohol isn’t digested like food and other drinks, however. About 20 percent of the alcohol from a single drink moves directly to the blood vessels. From there, it’s carried to your brain. The rest of the 80 percent goes to your small intestine, then directly to your bloodstream.
The final step of the alcohol life cycle is its removal from the body through the liver. Any issues with your liver can slow down this process.
Urine vs. breath tests
Urine tests can detect alcohol long after you’ve had your last drink. These tests look for traces of alcohol metabolites. The average urine test can detect alcohol between 12 and 48 hours after drinking. More advanced testing can measure alcohol in the urine 80 hours after you drink.
Breath tests for alcohol can detect alcohol within a shorter time frame. This is about 24 hours on average. A small machine called a breathalyzer measures your BAC. Any number above 0.02 is considered unsafe for driving or other safety-based tasks.
Alcohol can stay in your hair for up to 90 days. It can also temporarily be detected in saliva, sweat, and blood.
Test How long after drinking can it detect alcohol?
urine 12–48 hours breath 24 hours hair 90 days ADVERTISEMENT
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Breastfeeding and alcohol
There’s a misconception that tracking the amount of alcohol you drink and the time your body takes to get rid of it can help keep breast milk safe. No amount of alcohol is safe to drink when you’re breastfeeding. Babies who are exposed to alcohol are at risk for decreased motor skills and other developmental delays.
While the Mayo Clinic says that alcohol takes a few hours to clear breast milk on average, the process varies in the same way as it does for women who aren’t breastfeeding.
If you do drink alcohol while breastfeeding, consider the following ways to keep your baby safe:
breastfeed before you have a drink
pump extra milk ahead of time so that you can feed your baby with expressed milk
wait 2-3 hours after a shot or a 12-ounce glass of beer or wine before breastfeeding again
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Alcohol poisoning is an emergency medical condition. It occurs when a large amount of alcohol is consumed and your body can’t break it down quickly enough. Binge drinking is the most common cause of alcohol poisoning.