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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How long does alcohol stay in your system? Read on to learn more about potential side effects and treatment options for alcohol use.

What Defines a Drink?

How much is a standard drink? This number can vary depending on your gender and what type of alcohol you’re drinking. Having a beer, for example, does not mean you have had a standard drink. The alcohol content of different kinds of wine or beer can vary greatly. Most regular beers contain 5% alcohol, and some light beers contain less than that.

It is important you understand how much alcohol is in your drink at all times. This will help you measure your intake and avoid overdrinking.  One “standard” drink or alcoholic drink in the United States of America has approximately 14 grams of undiluted alcohol. This amount of alcohol is found in 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, 5 ounces of wine, and 12 ounces of regular beer.1

How Does Gender Impact Drinking?

In order to avoid binge drinking, men are advised to not have any more than five drinks in two hours. For women, this number is four. Alcohol tends to affect women more quickly than it does men, due to overall body mass and how alcohol enters the bloodstream. 

Is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol can have a significant impact on parts of the human brain that perform intricate functions. Alcohol releases dopamine in the brain, resulting in euphoria and happiness while ingesting alcohol. However, this feeling can quickly cause dependence, as many people continue to drink to create this feeling. This, in turn, can lead to addiction as well.

Statistics on Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is also known as alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and it kills an estimated 95,000 people each year. Approximately 65% of these figures are men. Tobacco is the first-leading cause followed by poor diet and physical inactivity.

Alcohol-related deaths among men account for 7.7% of all global deaths, compared to 2.6% of all deaths among women. In 2016, total alcohol consumption per capita among male and female drinkers worldwide was 19.4 liters of undiluted alcohol for males and 7.0 liters for females.2

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

In most cases, alcohol can stay in a person’s system for between six to seventy-two hours. However, this is dependent on some factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, genetic and biological factors, along with what type of test is used to detect alcohol.

Instruments such as breathalyzers can be used in an alcohol test to detect if a person has alcohol in their system.


A blood test shows the presence of alcohol in your blood for about six hours since you last drank alcohol.


This equipment can detect alcohol for about twelve to fourteen hours after alcohol consumption.


An alcohol urine test can detect alcohol using your urine for about twelve to fourteen hours after alcohol ingestion. This can be more than seventy-two hours with enhanced detection methods. An example is the ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test. This test searches for ethyl glucuronide, which is one of the products from the breakdown of ethanol. Ethanol is present in all alcoholic beverages.


A saliva test can show the presence of alcohol in one’s saliva for about twelve to fourteen hours since alcohol was consumed.


Hair follicles are known to absorb traces of alcohol. With this test, alcohol can be found for about 90 days after alcohol consumption after undergoing an alcohol test.

How is Alcohol Metabolized?

The liver is the main organ in charge of breaking down and metabolizing alcohol. It can metabolize the alcohol present in one standard drink in roughly one hour. However, many factors, some of which are weight, body type, and age, affect how well and quickly the liver can handle alcohol metabolization.

While ingested alcohol goes through the digestive system just as food does, it does not go through the same digestive process. When alcohol enters the upper gastrointestinal tract, most of it gets absorbed through the tissue lining of the small intestines and the stomach. Once it gets into the bloodstream, the blood carries it to the brain. 

How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Kick In?

While alcohol starts working at various times for different people, in most cases, a healthy person will feel the effects of a drink within 15-45 minutes. As soon as an individual takes in the first drink, the alcohol starts to work towards their bloodstream.

Signs of Being Drunk

There are various ways to determine if someone is drunk. As a person drinks more and more, the visible signs of intoxication, along with the dangerous physical effects, worsen. Some of the signs and symptoms include:3

  • Doing or saying things one would normally not do
  • Impaired balance
  • Decreased limb coordination
  • Inability to perform complicated tasks (such as driving a vehicle)
  • Speech comes slurred, loud, and/or fast
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Reduced reasoning ability
  • Excessive sweating
  • Inability to walk properly
  • Glassy eyes
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Slower pupil response time
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Memory loss (short- and long-term)
  • Complete mental confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Reduced breathing rate
  • Lower blood pressure

It’s important to note the signs of being drunk, as if you drink too much alcohol, you may require immediate medical attention.

Factors that Affect Alcohol Detection

There are various ways to detect the presence of alcohol. The measure of alcohol content in a body is referred to as blood alcohol content. Blood alcohol content (BAC) refers to the quantity of alcohol present in the bloodstream. In a breath alcohol testing instrument or equipment, the concentration of alcohol measured is directly proportional to the concentration of alcohol in the blood.

Body Fat

Studies have shown that Individuals with less body fat are less likely to be affected by a specific quantity of alcohol. This means the more fat present in a body, the lower the rate of absorption by the body. Fat and water are not compatible, and since fat does not absorb alcohol, these people usually have a longer period of alcohol present in the bloodstream.


The female body breaks down alcohol slower than the male human body. This is because the female body produces less dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach and small intestine. Normal female hormone levels also affect the body’s capacity to process alcohol.

Also, since women have a tendency to possess more body fat and, consequently less water, this implies that women would always have a higher body alcohol level compared to men after drinking similar levels of alcohol.


For older people, alcohol stays longer in the liver before it is metabolized or transported to the bloodstream. Having alcohol stay in the liver for such a long while damages it, and this also increases the length of time a person is drunk.

Also, as a person ages, water levels in the body reduce, leading to higher blood alcohol levels. Older people are also more likely to take medicine, which impacts the liver’s activities as well. All of these point to the fact that age affects the body’s ability to process alcohol efficiently.


Genetic makeup can affect how long alcohol stays in the system. This happens on the scale of ethnic population and the general population of a region as a whole.4

Food Consumption

When someone has eaten recently, the absorption rate and process for alcohol is slower than usual. This is because food absorbs alcohol in the stomach. This prevents the alcohol from going too quickly to the stomach’s lining, or getting into the duodenum, where it undergoes rapid absorption into the bloodstream.

Use of Other Substances

The use of medicine inhibits the alcohol absorption process in the body. Other than medicine, many other substances, such as illicit drugs, also influence the rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream by the body.

The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can have severe implications on an individual. It can lead to health issues, long-lasting illness, and sometimes death. Alcohol addiction also affects overall behavior, directly leading to events such as violence and accidents. There are two major effects of alcohol abuse, which are alcohol poisoning and alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

Alcohol poisoning is the act of drinking toxic quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time. This condition can be severe and should be reported to a hospital once detected.

Below are some symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Hypothermia
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Pale skin
  • Deep and uneven breathing

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal refers to a situation whereby an individual tries to reduce the quantity of alcohol ingested after taking a large quantity for a long period of time. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from minor to severe and often depends on how much and how long one drank.

Some of the possible symptoms include: 

  • Shaky hands
  • Sweating
  • Unease
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Sleeplessness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy sweating
  • Fever

Myths About How to Get Alcohol Out of Your System

There are many myths about what works for getting alcohol out of one’s system quickly. Two common myths will be detailed below.5

These options are designed to address the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of addiction and support patients on their journey to recovery.

Stay Hydrated and Make Sure You Eat

Eating meals, drinking water, and coffee do not make you more sober as quickly as you might think. Taking a walk in the fresh air and taking a cold shower are also not ways to get less intoxicated overall.  While these acts can help one stay awake and feel better in moments of intoxication, they cannot actually get you sober. To truly get sober, all one can do is wait. It’s still good to drink water and eat food in order to get something else in the stomach besides alcohol, however.

“Sleeping It Off”

Lying down is probably the last thing a very drunk person should do. This is because vomiting in a supine position could cause suffocation and death. If there is a need for the intoxicated individual to lie down, it is recommended the person lies on their side. If vomiting should occur, it will be easier to handle that way.

Achieve Sobriety at San Diego Detox

With all the misconceptions about alcohol consumption, it is important to reach out to medical professionals if you or a loved one is experiencing addiction.

At San Diego Detox, we can help you achieve long-lasting, sustainable wellness and sobriety. Our compassionate, professional staff will help you along the detoxification process and equip you with the necessary tools and techniques to prepare you for a fulfilling life without the grapples of substance misuse.