It’s Not Safe to Drive: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System

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As nearly a quarter of people binge drink at least once a month, there are some people who can’t afford to have alcohol stick around in their system.

If you need to get sober quick or are wondering how long does alcohol stay in your system, you can’t make generalizations. It really depends on your body and a ton of other factors.

Here is everything you need to know about how alcohol stays in your system.

Understanding Detection Times

The length of time that alcohol is detectable in the body varies wildly. Detectability is also determined by the type of test being used to detect alcohol. In some tests, you have just a few hours to detect alcohol, but for others, it could be found for several months.

In your breath, alcohol could be found for a full 24 hours. Even if you’ve brushed your teeth and had a lot to eat, alcohol is detectable with the right equipment. Using a high-quality breathalyzer, you can find alcohol for up to 24 hours, if the drinker has been on a binge.

When running a urine test, there are about 10-12 hours to find it with a traditional test. However, if you use EGT, you could find it up to three to five days later. When testing someone who is trying to quit using alcohol altogether, this method can reveal people who have been hiding their abuse.

With hair follicle tests, you can find 90 days of use of just about any substance. This is a powerful test that helps to reveal long-term trends of usage.

Blood and saliva can be tested but only give from 12 hours to a few days of use. It’s much harder to get results from these types of tests.

On top of all of this, you have to factor in metabolism, body mass, and any physical activity the person has been through. There are so many ways to change your detectability.

Getting to Know How Alcohol Is Absorbed

The reason you can test for alcohol at all is that it’s absorbed much faster than its metabolized. Alcohol builds up in your system and then stays there for a while.

The average 150-pound person can have one standard drink and see their blood-alcohol concentration changed around .02%. However, your body can only remove around .016% per hour. That means that extra .004% sticks around and adds up to cause intoxication.

Hour after hour of steady drinking, even with eating and hydration happening at the same time, the blood-alcohol concentration changes. It increases and rises rapidly when you drink more than one per hour. 

Alcohol absorption is going to be impacted by so many different factors. It changes based on how much you did or didn’t eat before you started drinking. Your body weight, gender, and age all come into play when considering how alcohol is absorbed.

There are even some mixers that cause you to keep alcohol in the body longer than others. Body fat changes how much alcohol is stored at a time, so leaner people burn it off faster.

How It’s Removed

Your body removes alcohol from your body by oxidizing the ethanol from it. The ethanol is turned to acetaldehyde then to acetic acid, then carbon dioxide and water. This is a complex process and takes time for the body to complete.

Only 5% of the alcohol that you’ve ingested is then excreted through your urine, feces, saliva, sweat, and breath. The majority of it goes through your liver.

Your liver has only the capacity to process a certain amount of alcohol per hour. Because it can only process around .016% of the alcohol in your system every hour, then it holds on to the rest. This is why people who drink a lot end up with fatty livers, because of the stress put on the liver.

The rate of your metabolism is going to have to do with the size of your liver and how well it functions day to day. Some people even have genetic variations in their enzyme systems that break down alcohol differently than other people. The bottom line is, however, that you have to be patient with your body.

It Can’t Be Rushed

No matter how fast your body processes food and drink, you can’t get it to burn off alcohol much faster than the normal rate. You’ll see movies where people try to drink lots of coffee, drink lots of water, take a shower, or even try to vomit alcohol up. It’s just not going to help.

If you need to take a test, it’s going to be found in your system. If you’re thinking of getting behind the wheel and just rolling the window down, that’s not going to work. Time is the only thing you have on your side when it comes to sobering up or getting the alcohol out of your system.

There are a lot of factors that control how you process alcohol. Your body will process alcohol slower based on your body fat or how much you had to eat before or during your drinking. Drinks before dinner hit you much harder than the drink that you have with your dinner.

You’re also going to be impacted by how fast you consumed the alcohol. People like to drink shots because consuming it fast like that accelerates your drunkenness. This is great when you’re partying but not when you’re trying to sober up or worse, pass a test.

Check out this guide to how long alcohol stays in your urine for more details.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

The answer to the questions of how long does alcohol stay in your system comes down to your body and your diet. What you eat and how you treat your body determines your ability to get drunk faster and process alcohol quicker. It also determines how long it stays in your system.

If alcohol has made it into your pain management regimen, check out our guide for some alternatives.