Estimated reading time: 30 minute(s)
Despite having a legal status, alcohol remains a highly dangerous beverage whose consumption can bring on several risks of different natures. It can interact with medications and cause severe impairments in mental and physical performance. Experts have been studying the metabolism of alcohol for a long time to determine how the body breaks it down and how long it takes for the beverage to appear on a drug test. Research indicates that these time limits may vary depending on age, body mass, sex, genetics, and overall health. In general, the detectable time frames vary from 10 hours to up to 90 days.
Measuring Alcohol Content in the Body
Before understanding how long alcohol stays in the system and the different tests that measure it, it is crucial to understand how these tests detect alcohol. Most alcohol detection tests measure alcohol using a scale called blood alcohol concentration or BAC. A BAC describes the amount of alcohol present in a person’s breath or bloodstream as indicated by the amount of ethanol in grams in every 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath. Different breath, urine, and blood tests use BAC and usually display it in the form of decimals.
One standard alcoholic drink typically raises the BAC by 0.02 per person within up to 60 minutes. Remember that one standard drink is similar to:
- A can of 5% strength beer (12 fluid ounces)
- A single shot of 40% spirits, such as gin, whiskey, or rum (1.5 fluid ounces)
- A small glass of 12% strength wine (5 fluid ounces)
On average, the body can absorb a standard alcoholic drink in an hour, which drops the BAC by 0.16 percent. However, suppose you continue to drink beyond this capacity. In that case, the excessive alcohol content starts accumulating in the bloodstream as it waits for the liver to act on it in its due time. As a result, the BAC levels rise, and signs of intoxication appear.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System: Factors Affecting the Detection Times
How long does it take for alcohol to leave your body is a common question that many people who consume alcohol regularly have on their minds. While the body metabolizes alcohol at a fixed rate, some people continue to feel the effects for a much longer. These fluctuations happen because the BAC percentages may differ in different people based on the following factors:
Alcohol detection time is inversely proportional to a person’s age. For example, an older person may take more time to fully excrete an alcoholic beverage from the system, increasing the risk of liver damage and severe intoxication. Aging also lowers the water content in the body, contributing to a higher blood alcohol concentration. An older person is also more likely to take medications that affect liver health and reduce the rate at which alcohol is broken down.
Owing to physiological reasons, women metabolize alcohol differently than men, with the former keeping it in their system for longer. This difference in alcohol processing and excretion time is due to the fact that women have higher body fat percentages and comparatively lower water content than men. This means a male body automatically dilutes the alcohol content more than a female body, even if both sexes have the same body weight and height. In addition to this, hormone levels also determine a person’s ability to process and break down alcohol, and women who drink closer to menstruation end up having higher BACs. The latest research has revealed another possible reason women may take longer to process alcohol: a lack of an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which helps with alcohol metabolism in the stomach.
Having food in the stomach prior to a drinking session can greatly influence how the body processes and excretes it. Food dilutes the incoming alcohol content and reduces the emptying the stomach content into the small intestine. People with high BAC levels can be up to three times higher in a person who drinks on an empty stomach than someone who has eaten before drinking.
A person’s composition and body can also impact how fast they process alcohol. Fatty tissue with low water content cannot absorb as much alcohol as high-water muscle. As a result, people with obesity or high fatty issue content have higher BAC levels. On the other hand, a highly muscular person with short stature has a higher BAC than a tall person.
Certain medications interact with alcohol and slow down metabolism, causing alcohol processing to slow down. Other medicines reduce the rate at which the contents of the stomach empty into the small intestine, making alcohol absorption more rapid. These factors cause BAC levels to increase quickly, leading to intoxication. Medications that may interact with alcohol are as follows:
- Anti-anxiety medications, for example, Xanax
- Cough and cold medicines
- ADHD medications, such as Adderall
- Diabetes medications, for example, Chlorpropamide
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System: The Drug Tests Detection Times
As mentioned before, the body takes one hour to process one unit of alcohol on average. Based on this factor, the following are the detection times for all alcoholic beverages in a healthy average:
Alcohol Breath Test
An alcohol breath test can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours after consumption.
Alcohol Urine Test
With the latest advancements, urine sample tests can detect alcohol for up to four days following the last dose. It may take alcohol 80 hours on average to leave the system.
Alcohol Saliva Test
A saliva swab test may remain positive for alcohol for 10 to 24 hours after the last drink.
Alcohol Blood Test
Alcohol remains detectable in a blood sample for 24 hours on average. Sometimes, the results may remain positive for up to 48 hours, depending on the person. Blood testing remains one of the commonest and most accurate ways to check a BAC.
Alcohol Hair Strand Test
Hair strand tests are uncommon and rarely used to detect the presence of alcohol in the system as these tests do not indicate when exactly a person consumed alcohol and its amount. However, it remains the only test to detect alcohol consumption for up to three months following the last dose.
Speeding Up Alcohol Excretion: Tips to Follow
Whether it is an upcoming drug test or a simple precautionary measure to stay safe following a night out with friends, many people wish to know simple, handy tips to eliminate alcohol from the system more quickly. It is imperative to remember that there are no tips that can help speed up the alcohol excretion in the body as it depends on the speed at which the liver works. However, the following tips can make the experience better for you:
Drinking water before, during, and after consuming alcohol helps prevent dehydration. Moreover, taking sips of water in between drinking sessions can also prevent you from overconsuming alcohol. Add some lime or lemon to the water to boost the liver’s health and support the organ as it breaks down and excretes alcohol. Remember to stick to simple, healthy drinks and avoid anything with caffeine or sweeteners.
Drink Green Tea
Green tea is full of antioxidants and provides the body a boost in effectively flushing out alcohol and other toxins from the body. Moreover, this refreshing tea can also improve your health and make you feel fresher.
Stick to Low-Strength Drinks
The higher the alcohol strength, the greater the water loss it triggers. Moreover, stronger drinks lead to a stronger high, which can be long and difficult. So the next time you visit a pub, order a low to medium-strength drink.
Take a day off following a heavy drinking night out to let the liver process alcohol metabolites and other by-products in peace.
It goes without saying that healthy eating can help the body in many different ways. Ensure to add lots of green vegetables along with sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir to aid liver metabolism.
Stick to Moderate Exercise
While exercise does not assist in alcohol removal, it keeps a person active and in a good mood while helping them overcome fatigue and irritability. Moreover, exercising outdoors in the fresh air can also lighten the mood.
How does the body metabolize alcohol?
Despite passing through the digestive system, alcohol does not undergo extensive digestion within the body like food. As soon as the beverage reaches the upper gastrointestinal tract, most of it passes the gut lining and tissue to enter the bloodstream. The blood carries alcohol to the brain, where it exerts its sedative effects. Food in the stomach can slightly slow the alcohol’s absorption process. Moreover, food content may also absorb a certain amount of alcohol and stop it from coming in contact with the stomach lining.
How long does it take for alcohol to cause its effects?
On average, a healthy person requires 15 to 45 minutes to feel the effects of alcohol. Most men with minimal tolerance to the beverage start displaying intoxication symptoms as soon as their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) hits 0.05%. At 0.07% BAC, alcohol significantly impairs the ability to drive, whereas a clear-cut intoxication can be seen when it hits 0.10%. A female weighing 150 pounds will reach a level of alcohol intoxication with a BAC of 0.1% within an hour if she consumes four drinks back-to-back.
How can I know if I am drunk?
The higher your BAC, the more likely you will display symptoms of intoxication. These symptoms may include the following:
- Slurry speech
- Lowered inhibitions
- Trouble remembering things
- Impaired coordination
- Problems with breathing
- Difficulty in concentration
Why should I get rid of alcohol in the bloodstream?
As long as you have alcohol in your bloodstream, you are intoxicated and are at a higher risk of engaging in motor accidents, violence, homicide, suicide, and other dangerous behaviors, like unprotected sex. Hence, it is imperative to do everything in your capacity to minimize these risks, stop drinking any more alcohol, and focus on getting rid of the beverage already in your system safely.
Can I speed up how long it takes for alcohol to leave the system?
It is unlikely to speed up the process of alcohol excretion in the body. Rehydration is one tip that helps certain people recover from alcohol intoxication more quickly; however, the rate at which the liver metabolizes the beverage remains the same. No external factors can influence this process, even in the long or short term.
How accurate are alcohol urinary tests?
Urine testing for alcohol has become popular because it is cheaper and less invasive, and can give rapid results. Since an alcoholic beverage can remain in the urine in detectable amounts for up to two days following the last dose, urine testing remains a reliable way to determine if someone has had alcohol for the past few days. However, this method of testing may be slightly less accurate than other tests, such as a breathalyzer, because a person may empty their urine every few hours until the amount of alcohol drops down to a legal level before giving a sample for testing.
How long does it take the liver to process alcohol?
A healthy person’s liver processes one ounce of alcohol per hour. Consuming alcohol in higher quantities than this level can lead to system saturation, causing the beverage to accumulate in the blood and other body tissues until the liver can finally metabolize them.