First things first, if you’re wondering how long does alcohol stay in your system, know that the answer isn’t as simple as you may think. There are more than a few factors involved, including the amount of alcohol and number of drinks you have consumed.
Then there’s also the fact that alcohol tends to stay longer in some parts of your body than the others. So in other words, there may not be an exact answer to this rather highly common question.
That said, there are some effective ways of figuring out an answer to this question that’s accurate as it gets. However, it’s something that you will need to spend some time to learn about, so stick around as we discuss everything you need to know about this topic.
Some Clear Answers
Well, you will not be leaving disappointed after reading this article, as we will be sharing some exact figures with respect to the question that may have been troubling you. Of course, however, it’s always recommended to get rid of alcohol from your life for good, as there are many benefits of doing so.
If you’re finding the transition to an alcohol-free life difficult, our in-depth guide on how to quit drinking alcohol for good may turn out to be a great resource for you.
However, if you have already been drinking lately, you may still want to know about the time it will take for your system to be free of alcohol. Now, to understand that, you first need to know that the processing capacity of your liver may come into play.
On an average, a healthy liver takes about an hour to process one drink. So, if you were done having your last drink at 5:00, alcohol can easily be found in your system till 6:00. However, that’s only if you just have one drink.
But what if you have two at once? Well, in that case, the amount of time it will take you to get into the sober mode will increase significantly. For example, let’s say you had your first drink at 5:00. Now, you had the second drink at 5:30, before the first drink could be fully processed by your liver.
So, in this case, another one hour will be added to the time it will take you to not have alcohol in your system. That means that instead of 6:00, your system will only be able to rid itself of the alcohol you have made it to process by 7:00.
Needless to say, things would just worsen with respect to the time it would take you to get in the clear if you drink more. What’s more, these figures may not turn out to be accurate enough in all cases.
This is because one hour is the time it takes a healthy liver to process one drink. However, in many cases, the liver’s ability to process alcohol may deteriorate quite a bit due to regular or heavy drinking. Hence, it’s not always a given that your liver will be able to manage dealing with one drink in an hour.
Well, now that you’re aware of this important piece of information, let’s get to some more important numbers that you’re likely interested in.
The time it takes for alcohol to not show up in your urine: About 80 hours, which is probably the reason an alcohol urine test is often the preferred test by many.
The time it takes for alcohol to not show up in your blood: One hour for one drink, and it’s believed to increase in the same proportion as you consume more.
The time alcohol tends to stick around in your hair follicles: There doesn’t seem to be an exact figure here but it may turn out to be somewhere around the 3-month mark.
As for a breath test, you may test positive for alcohol usage for anywhere between 1 to 13 hours after having your last drink, depending on your BAC level, which we will be getting to later in this article.
What Happens When You Drink: Understanding the Process
Perhaps you may have never wondered how your body deals with the alcohol you drink. You may have likely come across the many reasons not to drink and the issues associated with alcohol, but the process of your body dealing with the alcohol you drink is far from a common topic.
However, this process is something you may want to get familiar with if you want to understand how the time alcohol stays in your system is determined. There’s something called the BAC charts that helps you have fairly accurate estimates of your alcohol levels, but it doesn’t talk about the time it may take you to free yourself from the influence of alcohol.
However, we do have an overview of how alcohol is dealt with by your body once it’s down your throat. The first thing that happens is the alcohol making its way to your stomach, where a small amount is broken down by your system. The rest goes to your small intestines, and then ends up getting into your bloodstream.
Here’s where the liver’s job starts. At this point the liver is tasked with metabolizing the alcohol. However, it isn’t capable of processing all the alcohol that reaches it, so it only processes whatever part of it that it can and lets the rest get distributed throughout your body.
Doesn’t the idea of alcohol getting distributed throughout your body every time you let a drink slip down your throat sound horrific? Imagine the long-term effects of such a process!
Don’t Underestimate the Influence of Alcohol
The terribly high number of driving accidents associated with alcohol are precisely a result of underestimating the influence of alcohol. Keeping track of your alcohol intake is far more complicated than you may think.
There seems to be a lot of talk about how to speed up the transition to sobriety after a drinking session and the kind of clarity you need to have before hitting your car. However, while you may agree that you shouldn’t be touching the steering wheel when the world is swimming in front of you, what about the state when you’re just feeling a little buzzed? Are you aware of how long the alcohol you just drank at the bar is going to stay in your blood?
Despite what you may feel, there are way too many cases of accidents that clearly prove that driving even when there’s just a bit of alcohol in your system may very well cost you your life. It goes without saying that it’s certainly more than enough to test positive in an alcohol test.
This is simply because alcohol doesn’t tend to leave your system as quickly as you may imagine. And on top of it, there’s also the fact that it gets distributed in your body and stays for different periods of time in different parts of your body. This makes things even trickier when it comes to determining the point where there’s no longer alcohol in your system or it’s safe for you to drive after having a drinking session.
This makes it imperative that you have an in-depth understanding of how long does alcohol stay in your system.
What Would You Term as “One” Drink?
Unfortunately, many people measure their alcohol intake based on the number of drinks they have, but they often have no idea what “one” drink exactly refers to. And guess what, this is important because every type of drink contains a certain amount of pure alcohol, and it can vary quite a bit from one type to another.
Let us share a quick example to make it clear what we are trying to get to. One beer is usually 12 fluid ounces, with its pure alcohol content being around the 5% mark. However, if you’re drinking wine, you will have to consider only 5 fluid ounces as one drink, as it contains 12% pure alcohol.
As for those shots of vodka, rum and whatnot, a single shot would be considered as one drink because their pure alcohol content is as high as about 40%. In other words, in this example, despite the significantly varying amounts of these “drinks,” they would all contain the same amount of pure alcohol.
At a bar, however, the drinks are usually served in a way that makes it easy to keep track of the amount of alcohol you have consumed. The drinks are usually standardized which helps in figuring out your total alcohol intake.
Generally speaking, one drink at a bar translates to consuming about 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Now, again, if you have one drink of wine (5 fluid ounces), your liver may be able to help you get to your sobriety levels in about an hour. However, if you have had two shots of vodka, one after the other, it would take at least about a couple hours to retain to the said levels.
The reason this is easy to get this wrong is because most people seem to think that every type of alcohol is the same. Of course, a breathalyzer can never tell you about the type of drink you have consumed.
Understanding BAC and Liver Metabolism Rate
Although keeping a track of the alcohol content in the body is often something measured only by guessing by most people that drink, there are actually tried and proven ways of measuring it fairly accurately. Their accuracy is primarily a result of the fact that they also take your body type into consideration, which is a very important factor when it comes to measuring the alcohol levels in your body at any given time.
However, let’s first understand the concept it’s based around. The blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, simply refers to how much of your bloodstream contains pure alcohol.
In other words, the number you get as your BAC level reflects the part of your bloodstream that is now home to pure alcohol. So, for instance, if your BAC turns out to be .10, it means that pure alcohol now makes up 0.1% of your bloodstream. That might seem like a tiny figure, but it can bring you more trouble than you may think.
Now, let us find out what the BAC levels mean in terms of your intoxication.
- If you have just had a drinking session, you’re BAC level is likely going to be high. However, most people would start getting a feeling of relaxation once it’s down to about 0.04.
- As far as the legal requirements are concerned, anything over 0.08 is very likely to get you in legal trouble in most states. That’s not say that anything under that is going to be completely safe, especially given that even a BAC level of just .02 can greatly affect your driving.
- A BAC of .12 is likely to trigger vomiting.
- If your BAC goes up to .30, it may result in some serious consequences, with a common one being the loss of consciousness.
- The same goes for a BAC level of .40, although at this level you will be giving yourself a really hard time.
- A BAC level of .45 is often associated with fatal consequences, and you may even be lucky to survive if it hits those levels.
That said, as mentioned earlier, the BAC levels can provide a complete picture only when your body type, too, is taken into consideration. The basic concept here is that the more you weigh, the lower your BAC level is going to be compared to those that weigh less than you. To make it easier for you to understand, a person weighing 100 pounds is likely to have a BAC of .04 at just one drink, while a person weighing 240 pounds would have half that BAC (.02) at one drink.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s easier for people that weigh more to get away with more drinks than people consuming alcohol that weigh less. This is because you weighing more also makes even the otherwise relatively low BAC levels more dangerous for you.
To give it some context, a person weighing 100 pounds would have their driving skills significantly affected at a BAC of .08. However, a person weighing 240 pounds may find themselves struggling to drive safely at a BAC of just .03.
Things get even worse when it comes to women, as a woman’s body tends to have more water content and is less tolerant towards alcohol. Again, to talk some numbers, a woman weighing 90 pounds wouldn’t be considered fit to drive at a BAC of .05, while a woman weighing 240 pounds may experience her driving ability taking a huge hit at a BAC of .04.
Understanding Different Alcohol Tests
Well, now that you’re (hopefully) much more knowledgeable about understanding and measuring the alcohol levels in your blood, let’s get to a few different types of alcohol tests. It’s important to note that there are several reasons for which you may be made to take an alcohol test, and the type of test taken may also depend on the reason it’s being taken for. Also, apart from the type of tests we discussed above, the presence of alcohol in your body can also be detected using your saliva, sweat and even breath.
The reasons for an alcohol test may range from a police investigation to getting treated at an alcohol treatment program. If you’re being tested for your intoxication in a medical setting, you may be made to take an alcohol blood test. When an alcohol test is to be taken for legal purposes, it would likely be a breath test.
Now, something you may want to understand here is that regardless of the part of your body that is being used for the test, there are primarily two chemicals that the test will try to detect in your system: Ethanol or EtG.
The Ethanol Test
The liver usually manages to metabolize as much as 92-98% of the alcohol you consume. However, the rest 2-8% is flushed out from the body in the form of urine, sweat and even breath. Ethanol is essentially just beverage alcohol that could be detected in your urine for up to an hour or two from the time alcohol leaves from your body.
Ethanol Alcohol Urine Test
An ethanol alcohol urine test can sometimes not detect the alcohol in your system. This is because the process of your body filtering out the alcohol into the bladder can take some time, which may make an alcohol urine test ineffective if it’s done when this process still hasn’t been completed.
To be a little precise, it may take up to two hours for your urine to be effectively used to detect alcohol in your system. However, once you get into the “detectable” range, your urine would be able to reveal your alcohol levels for significantly longer.
Generally, one ounce of pure alcohol can be detected within 1.5 hours of you drinking it. As the BAC level goes up, however, so does the time the alcohol can be detected in your system.