Knowing how long alcohol (ethanol) remains in your system is important for avoiding dangerous interactions with medications as well as impairments in your physical and mental performance. While alcohol is not considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it is illegal to sell or serve to anyone under the age of 21 in the United States.
The metabolism of alcohol has been studied in detail, but many factors determine how long alcohol shows up on a drug test and takes to be eliminated from your body. Depending on the type of test used as well as your age, body mass, genetics, sex, and overall health, alcohol is detectable from 10 hours to 90 days.
When misused, alcohol can do as much (or even more) overall harm as many illegal drugs. People who misuse alcohol also risk developing physical and psychological dependence and alcohol use disorder.
8 Facts About Drinking Alcohol
How Long Does It Take to Feel Effects?
You can start to feel the effects of alcohol in a matter of minutes. When ingested, alcohol is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into your bloodstream before it travels to the nervous system (brain and spinal cord). As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol impairs the communication of messages in your brain, altering your perceptions, emotions, movement, and senses.
In small amounts, you might feel more relaxed and open or less anxious, but the more you drink, the more intoxicated you’ll begin to feel. For some, this can mean being more talkative or very friendly and others may begin to behave with anger or aggression.
Other signs of alcohol intoxication include:
- Loss of inhibitions
- Impaired walking (ataxia)
- Losing coordination
- Slurred speech
- Slowed reaction time
- Poor judgment (such as driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex)
Alcohol Intoxication as Described in the DSM-5
How Long Does Alcohol Last?
The half-life of ethanol is about 4 to 5 hours, which means it takes that long to eliminate half of the alcohol ingested from the bloodstream.For most people, alcohol is absorbed into the system more rapidly than it is metabolized.
For a person weighing 150 pounds, for example, one standard drink will increase their blood-alcohol concentration by about 0.02%, but the body can only remove about 0.016% per hour on average. Therefore, even if you consume only one drink per hour, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will continue to increase. If you drink more than one per hour, it rises much more rapidly.
The body metabolizes alcohol by oxidizing the ethanol to acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is broken down into acetic acid and then to carbon dioxide and water. Most of the alcohol you consume is metabolized in the liver, but about 5% of the alcohol you drink is excreted by the body through sweat, breath, urine, feces, and saliva.
Determining exactly how long alcohol is detectable in the body depends on many variables, including which kind of drug test is being used. Alcohol can be detected for a shorter time with some testsbut can be visible for up to threemonths in others.
The following is an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which alcohol can be detected by various testing methods.
Alcohol can be detected in your breathvia a breathalyzer test for up to 24 hours.
Alcohol can be detected in urine for three to five days via ethyl glucuronide (EtG) metabolite or 10 to 12 hours via the traditional method.
Alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours.
A saliva test can be positive for alcohol from 24 to 48 hours.
Like many other drugs, alcohol can be detected with a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days.
The EtG test can produce a positive test from the mere exposure to alcohol that's present in many daily household products such as cooking extract, mouth wash, cleaning products, cosmetics, and hair dye. As such, it's a less reliable test for alcohol consumption. If you take a breath or saliva test shortly after using alcohol-containing mouthwash or cough medicine, it may detect the residue of the alcohol in your mouth and create a false positive as well.
Factors That Affect Detection Time
The timetable for detecting alcohol in the body is also dependent upon variables such as metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity, health conditions, and other factors, making it almost impossible to determine an exact time alcohol will show up on a drug test. Some of those factors include the following.
Just as family history plays a role in the development of an alcohol use disorder, how quickly the body processes and excretes alcohol also has a genetic link.
Since women tend to have proportionally more body fat and less body water than men, alcohol tends to linger in their systems longer than men.
Again, the more fat you have, the longer the alcohol will stay in your body.
Studies have found that people of East Asian descent are more likely to have trouble metabolizing alcohol since they don’t produce enough of a key enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol in the liver. Instead, a toxic byproduct of alcohol builds up in the blood and liver, dilates blood vessels, and causes flushing (redness and heat) in the face and neck as well as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, and nausea. This reaction is known colloquially as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow.”
As you get older, your liver works more slowly, so it takes longer to excrete alcohol. Many aging adults also take medication that can affect liver function, slowing the process further.
Roughly 20% of the ethanol in liquor is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and the rest from the small intestine. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer it takes to be absorbed and the slower the rate of intoxication. Eating before drinking, and continuing to snack while you consume alcohol, will slow the absorption and reduce its impact, but prolong the detection period.
Certain medications can interfere with how alcohol is absorbed in the body and some may even enhance the effects and increase intoxication. Always be honest with your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you consume. Medications known to interact with alcohol include:
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Allergy medications
- Diabetes medications
How frequently and how fast you drink, as well as the alcohol content in your beverage, can all influence how long ethanol stays in your system. For example, if you engage in binge drinking—five or more drinks for men or four for women during a single drinking session—it can take many hours for the alcohol to completely clear from your system.
It is possible for yoursystem to still have enough alcohol in it the next morning that you could fail a urine or blood test for driving under the influence. You would definitely have a problem trying to pass a test that is designed to detect the presence of any alcohol.
How to Get Alcohol Out of Your System
Regardless of how fast your body absorbs alcohol, it eliminates it at the average rate of 0.016 BAC per hour. Nothing you do will speed up the elimination process, including drinking coffee, drinking water, taking a shower, or even vomiting.
If you know that you are going to have to take a breath, blood, or urine test for the presence of alcohol in your system, the only way you can lower your blood alcohol content results is to delay taking the test as long as possible after your last drink, because only time will reduce your BAC.
The following table shows the length of time it takes for your body to eliminate alcohol at varying BAC levels.
|Average Time Needed for Alcohol to Clear Your System|
|BAC Level||Hours Until 0 BAC|
The above times reflect the metabolism rate of a healthy, functioning liver. If you are a heavy or long-time drinker, your liver may require more time to eliminate alcohol from your body.
Symptoms of Overdose
Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time can result in alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of six people per day die of acute alcohol poisoning. Drinking too much alcohol, or combining alcohol with other drugs or medication, can cause the areas of your brain that support your breathing, heart rate, and other basic life-supporting functions to begin to shut down.
- Extreme sleepiness or loss of consciousness
- Slow heart rate
- No gag reflex, which prevents choking when vomiting
- Clammy pale, or blue-tinged skin
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Breathing slowly or irregularly (less than eight times a minute or 10 seconds or more between any two breaths)
- Vomiting while unconscious (doesn't wake up during or after vomiting)
If someone you care about is experiencing any of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, call 911 and keep your friend safe until help arrives.
If you've been drinking heavily and/or regularly, suddenly stopping or cutting back on alcohol can cause physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. The severity will depend on how long you've been using alcohol and how much you normally drink. In severe cases, you can experience a possibly life-threating type of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens (or DTs), which can occur from two days to up to a week after your last drink.
When you're ready to quit or reduce the harm alcohol is causing to your health and life, there are many resources to help. Start by talking to your primary care physician. Many people also turn to support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These groups, whether in-person or online, can help you feel supported and less alone as you navigate recovery.
You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free, confidential resources and referrals to support groups and trusted treatment facilities
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Buddy T
Buddy Tis an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.
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Alcohol absorbs into the system in as little as ten minutes, but its peak effects come between 30-90 minutes after ingestion. However, factors like age, weight, and sex all play a part in modifying alcohol's effects.How do you know if your body is alcohol Dependant? ›
Signs of alcohol dependence include: not being able to function without alcohol - for example, not being able to do your job or carry out daily tasks. drinking has become an important, or the most important, thing in life. continuing to drink despite negative consequences for you or your loved ones.How long does it take for one drink to be eliminated from a person's body? ›
On average the body can eliminate 0.015% BAC per hour, so depending on the person and type of alcohol, they may have a BAC of 0.02% – 0.03% at a rate of 1 drink per hour. That means, the body can take one to two hours to metabolize the alcohol consumed in that hour.What makes alcohol leave your system faster? ›
Get Food In Your Body
Eating may be the most important way to flush alcohol out of your system. The toxins in alcohol can cause low blood sugar and even crashes, so it's important to balance it out by eating. If you think you're too nauseous to eat, you can try something light like crackers or bread.
Urine tests can detect alcohol in your system much longer after you've consumed alcohol. On average, a urine test could detect alcohol between 12 to 48 hours after drinking. Some advanced urine tests can detect alcohol even 80 hours after you've had a drink. Alcohol can stay in your hair for a period of up to 90 days.How long will 2 beers show up on a breathalyzer? ›
Because alcohol metabolism is different for everyone, there is no single answer as to how long a breathalyzer can detect alcohol in a person's system, but in general, a breathalyzer can first detect alcohol in a person's system about 15 minutes after it has been consumed and up to 24 hours later.How many drinks is considered alcohol dependence? ›
For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.What are the 4 types of drinker? ›
- Social drinking. To date, nearly all the research on drinking motives has been done on teens and young adults. ...
- Drinking to conform. ...
- Drinking for enhancement. ...
- Drinking to cope.
Key points. While under the influence you'll probably act differently, but that doesn't mean drinking reveals who you really are. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, leading you to act more impulsively and care less about how others adversely regard your behavior.How long does it take a standard drink to leave your system? ›
On average it takes at least one hour for your body to clear one small alcoholic drink. For some people it can take longer. That is, at least one hour to clear a middy of beer, or a small (100ml) glass of wine, or a standard nip of spirits. There is no way to speed up the rate your body breaks down alcohol.
The advice from the police is clear: avoid alcohol altogether if you plan to drive. Because there is no way to speed up how long your body takes to process any alcohol in your system, there's no fail-safe way to guarantee all the alcohol you have drunk will be gone by the time you wake up the next day.What eliminates alcohol from the bloodstream? ›
More than 90% of alcohol is eliminated by the liver; 2-5% is excreted unchanged in urine, sweat, or breath.How far back does a 10 panel urine test go? ›
How Far Back Does A 10-panel Urine Test Go?
|Substance||Detection Time Frame|
|Barbiturates||24 hours to 3 weeks|
|Benzodiazepines||Up to six weeks for extended use|
The alcohol content in the body can be easily detected via a urine test. With alcohol remaining present in one's system for up to two days after consumption, a urine test can provide crucial insight into how much alcohol has been consumed over an extended period.Can you fail an alcohol test from one drink? ›
Technically, all you need is one drink to fail an EtG test, but it depends on a number of factors like how much alcohol is in the drink. EtG is ethyl glucuronide, which is a byproduct of ethanol and a compound (chemical) called glucuronide made in the liver.Will one drink show up on urine test? ›
In urine tests, there does not have to be excessive alcohol consumption to capture results. Ethanol can be detected within an hour of about one drink. Then, it remains detectable for a maximum of 12 hours after consumption.
A breathalyzer can detect alcohol on the breath for up to 24 hours. The amount of time that alcohol stays detectable on the breath depends on the individual and the quantity of alcohol consumed. The detection time varies with a person's metabolism of alcohol, which is affected by many factors, including weight and age.Can you fail a breathalyzer 24 hours after drinking? ›
Because there is residual alcohol left in the body that is not fully metabolized, breathalyzer tests are able to detect alcohol in a person's system for up to 24 hours after consumption.How long does it take to get to 0.00 BAC? ›
The only thing that sobers you up is time. After a big night out you may still be over your legal alcohol limit for much of the next day. After a heavy night of drinking, it can take more than 18 hours for your blood alcohol concentration to get back to zero.Can someone drink everyday and not be an alcoholic? ›
Myth: I don't drink every day OR I only drink wine or beer, so I can't be an alcoholic. Fact: Alcoholism is NOT defined by what you drink, when you drink it, or even how much you drink. It's the EFFECTS of your drinking that define a problem.
“This study shows that, contrary to popular opinion, most people who drink too much are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics,” said Robert Brewer, M.D., M.S.P.H., Alcohol Program Lead at CDC and one of the report's authors.What is considered a heavy drinker? ›
For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.What do you call a person who drinks alcohol everyday? ›
Alcohol use disorder (sometimes called alcoholism) is a medical condition. It involves heavy or frequent alcohol drinking even when it causes problems, emotional distress or physical harm. A combination of medications, behavioral therapy and support can help you or a loved one recover. Living With.What do you call someone who loves alcohol? ›
A bibulous person, however, is someone who likes to drink alcohol.What is a secret drinker? ›
Many people aren't aware their partner, friend or family member is drinking too much. Secret drinking is a warning sign that someone has a problem with alcohol when a social lubricant slips into a destructive habit. If you're worried that you, or someone you know, is secretly drinking, there is help available.When I drink I become a different person? ›
In fact, the study suggests that the idea that you turn into a “different person” when you drink is a myth. The psychologists stated that it's simply possible people expect to behave differently when they're drunk, and therefore psychologically influence their own behaviour.Do guys mean what they say when drunk? ›
But, the most important question here is - do drunk people mean what they say? The simple answer to that is, yes, they do. Alcohol is not a mind-altering substance, like some others. It doesn't put in an alternate state of mind where we hallucinate, or experience extreme moods.When someone is drunk does the truth come out? ›
Alcohol stifles reasoning skills and contemplating repercussions. As a result, people are more likely to tell the truth while intoxicated, offering up brutally honest, unfiltered opinions. And without the fear of consequences, alcohol can give people the courage to do or say things they ordinarily wouldn't entertain.How many hours does it take for 7 drinks to leave your system? ›
How Long Will It Take for Alcohol to Leave Your Body? The body generally processes approximately one standard drink per hour.Will alcohol be out of my system in 8 hours? ›
Blood: Alcohol is eliminated from the bloodstream at about 0.015 per hour. Alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours. Urine: Alcohol can be detected in urine for up 3 to 5 days via the ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test or 10 to 12 hours via the traditional method.
So when is it safe to drive again? As a rough guide, it's around three hours if you drink one large glass of wine (250ml/three units), about two hours to break down a weak pint of beer, cider or lager (3.6% - few drinks are this weak any more), or three hours to break down higher-strength lager, beer or cider (5.2%).Can I drink 4 hours before driving? ›
Usually, you are safe to use the one-hour per drink rule. So, if you have two glasses of wine, you should wait two hours before driving. When you do an hour per drink, your body has time to overcome the other factors listed above, and hopefully, you have a safe enough BAC to drive.How many drinks should you not drive after? ›
While one to two drinks will usually keep you below the legal limit, any amount of alcohol CAN impact your ability to drive safely, and in ways you may not even realize.How does a person's body eliminate 95% of the alcohol? ›
Metabolism is simply a process of chemical change and approximately 90-95% of alcohol metabolism occurs in the liver at the hands of an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase. The body uses several different metabolic pathways in its oxidation of alcohol to acetaldehyde to acetic acid to carbon dioxide and water.Can you dilute alcohol by drinking water? ›
If a person is drunk and wants to sober up, they may consume food if they can keep it down, and they should drink water. Water helps to dilute the alcohol in the body while food helps to slow down the body's alcohol absorption.How do you not flush out alcohol? ›
The best way to prevent flushing is to drink less alcohol. Choosing drinks with lower alcohol content and drinking water are also helpful ways to manage this reaction. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about how to manage your reaction to alcohol.How far back does a labcorp urine test go? ›
In general, the detection time is longest in hair, followed by urine and oral fluid. Drugs in hair may be detectable for up to 90 days, whereas drugs in urine are generally detectable for one to seven days (or longer in chronic users) and in oral fluid from five to 48 hours.What shows up on drug test urine? ›
It requires a sample of your urine (pee). Urine drug tests are most commonly used to detect alcohol, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, opiates/opioids, cocaine and marijuana (THC).How common is a negative dilute drug test? ›
Reasons For A Dilute Specimen
According to literature, about five percent of specimens meet dilute criteria3. Occurrence of dilute specimens can be attributed to multiple reasons, a few of which are highlighted below.
Stomach. You absorb 20 per cent of alcohol into your bloodstream through your stomach and the rest into your bloodstream through your small intestine. Drinking a small amount of alcohol stimulates your appetite because it increases the flow of stomach juices.
Effects kick in within about 10 minutes or so, depending on the strength of your drink and how fast you drink it. Can stay in your system for several hours - hangover next day. Binge drinking can lead to injuries from falls, accidents or assaults. Long-term effects include damage to the brain, body and organs.Do heavy drinkers metabolize alcohol faster? ›
The rate of alcohol metabolism is remarkably constant. Heavy drinkers metabolize alcohol faster than light drinkers or non-drinkers. However, the rate of alcohol metabolism drops substantially in advance liver disease. While the rate of alcohol metabolism is constant, the rate of alcohol absorption can vary.What are good benefits of alcohol? ›
Not many would believe it, but alcohol consumption can boost your heart health, reducing risk of severe cardiovascular diseases and dying from heart ailments. Until and unless you drink well within your limits, you're less likely to have a heart attack and a stroke.What are 3 ways alcohol affects the body long term? ›
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.How can I reduce the effects of alcohol fast? ›
- Coffee. ...
- Cold showers. ...
- Eating and drinking. ...
- Sleep. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Carbon or charcoal capsules.
Alcohol can remain on your breath for up to 12 to 24 hours after consuming your last drink.