Are you wondering how long alcohol stays in your system?
If you’re like many people, you may be a bit confused about how long alcohol remains in your system. And, you may have misconceptions in your head about how to get alcohol through your system faster (spoiler alert, taking a shower doesn’t help).
In this article, we aim to uncover how alcohol is metabolized in your body as well as understanding how long it stays in different areas of your body.
How is Alcohol Metabolized?
First things first, It’s important to understand how alcohol is metabolized to get an idea for how long it stays in your system.
When you drink alcohol, it is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream from your stomach and small intestines.
In fact, blood alcohol levels start to rise within 90 seconds of consuming an alcoholic beverage.
Once alcohol is in your blood, it’s rapidly transported throughout your entire body. This is why alcohol affects so many different systems in the body.
Unlike most other things absorbed into your bloodstream, alcohol can readily pass the blood-brain barrier. This is a protective lining that usually blocks toxins from your food reaching your brain.
However, alcohol is allowed to freely pass this barrier and that’s why hence why you feel the effects of alcohol pretty quickly after a couple of drinks.
As soon as your blood alcohol levels start to rise, your liver starts work to try and break it down to use as an energy source. This process of breakdown by your liver is what most people call “metabolism”.
It’s very important to note that no two people metabolize alcohol at the same speed.
The speed at which you metabolize alcohol depends on your gender, height, weight, food intake, medication usage, use of recreational drugs, the speed at which you drink among others!
The human body is actually very effective when it comes to processing alcohol, just so as long as you don’t drink it too fast. In fact, 90 to 98 percent of alcohol that enters the body is metabolized and absorbed. The rest is secreted through sweat, urine, feces, and vomit.
How drunk you are is calculated by your blood alcohol content, also known as BAC which we’ll look at in more detail next.
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What is your blood alcohol content (BAC)?
When we talk about how much alcohol is in your system, we often talk about it in terms of BAC (blood alcohol concentration).
But, what exactly does BAC mean?
Basically, this is the percentage of alcohol that is in your bloodstream. So, if your BAC is 0.1, that would mean that your bloodstream is composed of 0.1g of alcohol for every 100ml of blood.
In most places, to be considered legally intoxicated, you’d have to have a BAC of .08%. At least that’s the legal limit for most US states and the UK.
Once you reach around 0.15%, most people will begin excessively vomiting.
Once you’re at 0.35%, you’ll likely become unconscious.
And at, 0.45%, it is lethal for about half the population.
Once you get past approximately 0.35%, it’s considered “alcohol poisoning
“. However, there isn’t a set concentration that determines this as poisoning is based on physical symptoms.
How long does alcohol stay in your system?
So, the golden question is, how long does it take to get the alcohol from your drink out of your system?
It’s important to note that alcohol can stay in different parts of your body for different amounts of time which is what we’ll cover next.
How long alcohol stays in your system depends massively on your height, age, weight and gender.
How long alcohol stays in blood
As we said earlier, everyone is different. But, on average it takes about 1 hour to process 1 standard drink.
A standard drink is considered:
8 fluid ounces of malt liquor
1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits
5 fluid ounces of wine
12 fluid ounces of regular beer
This can be quite confusing to work out. In other words, 1 standard drink is equal to:
1 shot of a spirit like whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila.
Just under 1/2 a pint of beer.
1/2 a large glass of wine.
So if you think about it, that’s not that much!
It explains why some people may feel the effects of drinking alcohol quickly. For example, a glass of wine is around 2 standard drinks which means you’ve already exceeded what your liver is able to break down fully in an hour.
Therefore, if you’ve had 5 glasses of wine last night, in theory, that’s 10 standard drinks.
So, it should take 10 hours to leave your system.
This point is extremely important because people commonly assume they are sober when they wake up in the morning after a night of drinking.
This is certainly not the case and you should avoid driving in the morning until a significant amount of time has passed.
How long alcohol stays in your Breath
As we all know, alcohol breath tests are commonly used by the police.
For the most part, alcohol can stay on your breath for a similar amount of time as it does in your blood. Which is why the breathalyzer makes sense as a tool to check if your BAC is over the limit or not.
If stopped for drinking driving, you are then usually taken for a blood test to confirm your BAC.
How long alcohol stays in Saliva
Alcohol can be detected on your saliva for 3-8 hours after you’ve had your last drink.
However, it’s important to note that saliva tests can only test for the amount of alcohol that’s present, and not how drunk you are.
How long alcohol stays in Urine
Alcohol can be detected in your urine for 12 hours to five days after you had your last drink, depending on what type of test you is used.
EtG urine tests can detect heavy alcohol drinking for a few days whereas a standard alcohol urine test can detect it much less.
How long alcohol stays in Hair
Alcohol can stay in your hair for a very long time, in some cases between 90 and 180 days.
However, you can sometimes see false positives with hair tests if you use a mouthwash that contains alcohol.
How long alcohol stays in Breast Milk
Breast milk alcohol levels are closely correlated to blood alcohol concentrations. If you’ve had a large glass of wine, that would mean that alcohol could be detected up to 2 hours after. And the more you drink the longer it will be in your milk.
Contrary to popular belief, pumping and throwing the milk away does not reduce the blood alcohol level more quickly. When you’re breastfeeding, you shouldn’t have more than one drink per day.
How long does it take to sober up?
How fast you sober up is totally unique to your own personal circumstances in terms of weight, age, gender height and rate of metabolism. We mentioned earlier that, generally speaking, this is around 1 standard drink per hour.
So to make things simpler, we’ve put some examples below.
3 glasses of wine = 6 hours
4 pints of beer = 8 hours
10 tequila shots (god help you) = 10 hours
2 glasses of wine, 1 single gin and tonic = 5 hours
3 single vodka sodas = 3 hours
Can You Speed Up the Process?
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing you can do to speed up the process of sobering up.
Taking a shower, drinking water, drinking coffee, exercising, taking a cold shower, or even vomiting don’t do anything to lower your BAC. The only thing that lowers your BAC is time, so if you feel like you’ve gone over your limit, you should stop drinking.
However, eating before a night of drinking does help slow down the alcohol absorption process. This is because when you have food in your stomach, it protects the alcohol from the stomach line and prevents it from entering the bloodstream as quickly.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter what you eat. There are all sorts of myths about lining your stomach with milk and other random things. But the truth of the matter is, as long as you have a meal before drinking, it will slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.
There is no way of speeding up how fast you sober up.
Combining alcohol with other drugs
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, it’s very important to know how much alcohol is in your system, as combining alcohol with other drugs can be very dangerous.
Here’s what can happen when you combine alcohol with different types of drugs:
Alcohol and Depressants
When alcohol and depressants are combined, a synergistic effect occurs. This can lead to dangerous and sometimes lethal consequences.
You may experience dizziness, memory loss, stumbling, and loss of sphincter control.
Alcohol and Stimulants
Combining alcohol and stimulants is especially dangerous. This is because when you combine the two, you’re not as easily able to gauge your level of intoxication.
This can easily lead to you drinking more than you should, which can result in impaired judgment, lack of coordination, blacking out, passing out, and even death.
Alcohol and Opiates
When alcohol and opiates are combined, you’re at risk of experiencing a lowered pulse, lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, unconsciousness, a coma, or death.
How long does alcohol stay in your system: The Key Takeaways
While this is a lot of information, the key thing to keep in mind is that alcohol stays in your system at different rates compared to others.
In addition, depending on which body fluid or tissue you look at, alcohol is detectable for varying amounts of time.
It’s important to drink at a pace that you feel comfortable and not feel the pressure to “keep up” with others.
You should also always be on the lookout for yourself and others for signs of alcohol poisoning. And, you should never combine alcohol with any drugs that you’ve obtained illegally, as you have no way of knowing how potent they truly are and how they’ll affect you.
If you take prescription medications, you should talk to your doctor about the effects of combining them with alcohol and how much you can safely drink.