Recovery Blog How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

When using alcohol, it is very important to know how long the substance stays in your system. Alcohol can impair your judgment, affecting your ability to safely drive, use equipment and make important decisions. Driving while intoxicated can also carry heavy legal penalties. By knowing how long alcohol affects you, you can plan ahead and avoid potentially dangerous situations.

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How Long Does Alcohol Take To Kick In?

The time it takes for alcohol to have an effect depends on a variety of factors and will be different for everyone. However, alcohol can take effect in as soon as five to 10 minutes. The time it takes for alcohol to enter your bloodstream will depend on:

  • The concentration of the alcohol that you are drinking
  • Whether you have eaten recently
  • Your weight
  • Your gender
  • Your genetics
  • Your overall health

The effects of alcohol will normally peak within 30 to 90 minutes of using it.

Alcohol Half-Life

The half-life of a substance is the time it takes for the body to break down one half of the substance in the bloodstream. The concept of a half-life only applies in certain situations, and it does not apply to alcohol. The chemistry of alcohol causes it to decrease at a constant rate until it is eliminated. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will normally decrease at a steady rate of 0.015/hour in most individuals.

How Long Does It Take to Sober Up From Alcohol?

The time it takes you to sober up from alcohol depends entirely on how much alcohol you have used. A standard drink will raise your BAC by about 0.02, although this will be different for each individual. A drink’s effects on BAC will peak after about 60 to 90 minutes. After your BAC peaks, you should allow about an hour and a half per drink before you should expect to become sober.

The length of time it takes to become sober will be different for each individual. It depends on many different factors, including your gender, weight, health and how much alcohol you typically use. You may begin to feel sober once your BAC drops below 0.02.

How Long After Drinking Can You Drive?

Because driving while intoxicated is both dangerous and illegal, people who use alcohol often wonder how long they should wait to drive after drinking. The answer to this question depends on several factors, but the primary factor is the number of drinks you have used. Because alcohol is metabolized at a constant rate, each drink adds to the time it will take before you are below the legal limit to drive.

Legal Alcohol Limit

The legal alcohol limit to drive can theoretically change at any time if new legislation is created. For quite some time, however, the limit in the U.S. has been a BAC of 0.08. This will normally take three to five drinks for most people to reach, but different people may have different responses affecting how quickly they reach the 0.08 limit. 

BAC Levels and Effects

Different BAC levels will have different physical effects, and these effects become more pronounced as the BAC is higher. This is why there is a legal limit to how high of a BAC you can drive with. While different levels of BAC cause different effects, these effects are not particularly predictable. You should never try to determine your BAC or whether you are safe to drive based on how you feel.

Some of the effects that are likely to be experienced at different BACs include:

  • 0.02–0.04: Relaxation, mood elevation and slight decrease in inhibition.
  • 0.04–0.06: Lower inhibitions, feeling of warmth, euphoria and some minor cognitive and memory effects.
  • 0.06–0.10: Slight decrease in balance and sensory perception. Speech may begin to be affected. Judgment, self-control and reasoning may all become impaired.
  • 0.10–0.13: Speech will be noticeably slurred; judgment and reasoning become significantly affected. Movements become very uncoordinated.
  • 0.13–0.16: Lack of physical control, blurred vision and very slurred speech. Euphoric feelings may begin to be replaced with a sense of uneasiness.
  • 0.16–0.20: Nausea and vomiting may occur. A sense of uneasiness and unwellness becomes very strong; walking and talking become difficult.
  • 0.20–0.25: Help is necessary to walk, total confusion is present, blackouts may occur.
  • 0.25–0.40: Unconsciousness may occur, the risk of fatal alcohol poisoning increases.
  • 0–40+: Coma and eventual death become likely.

How Long Does It Take Alcohol To Leave Your System?

Alcohol is technically only in your system as long as it remains in your bloodstream. While alcohol may not affect you once it is no longer in your blood, it is still often present in body fluids or tissues and may be detectable after you are sober.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Breath?

Most methods of breath testing for alcohol actually focus on testing alcohol metabolites — chemicals that are made when alcohol is broken down in the body. These chemicals can still be present once all the alcohol has been broken down, allowing alcohol to be detected for a short period of time after it has been completely eliminated. Alcohol can be detected in your breath for up to 24 hours after drinking.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?

Alcohol is eliminated in part through the kidneys, which allows it to be found in your urine. Most urine tests can only detect alcohol up to 48 hours after drinking; however, there are advanced tests that could detect alcohol in your urine up to 80 hours after drinking.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?

The length of time that alcohol is in your blood depends on how much you have used. A single drink may only be present for as little as three hours, while a night of binge drinking could result in alcohol remaining in your blood for up to 24 hours. It would be very uncommon to find alcohol in your blood after 24 hours, even with heavy alcohol use.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Saliva?

Alcohol can be found in your saliva for about 12 to 24 hours after drinking. While there are saliva tests for alcohol, this method of testing for alcohol is relatively uncommon. Breath, urine and blood tests are much more commonly used.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Hair?

All hair-based drug tests typically provide information on whether a certain substance was used within the last 90 days. While a hair test can indicate if you have used alcohol or not, it cannot be used to determine how much alcohol you have used within the last 90 days or during a specific period within that time frame.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breast Milk?

Alcohol does enter breast milk and can be passed on to a baby if you drink right before breastfeeding. The length of time that alcohol remains in breast milk depends on how many drinks were used, as each drink adds two to three hours to the amount of time.

Factors Affecting How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System

There are many factors affecting the length of time that alcohol stays in your system. Most of these factors either affect how alcohol is absorbed by the body or how the body breaks it down once it is in the bloodstream. Factors affecting how long alcohol stays in your system include:

  • Gender: Women normally have less of the enzymes needed to metabolize alcohol than men. This makes it easier for women to become drunk and makes alcohol last longer.
  • Recent meal: When you have recently eaten, your digestive system will absorb alcohol more slowly due to having other things to digest simultaneously.
  • Weight: Someone who weighs more will have more volume to absorb alcohol, leading to a lower concentration than that of someone who weighs less.
  • Medications: Many medications can affect how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol, increasing the length of time that it stays in your system.
  • Health: Your health, especially your liver and kidney health, can affect how quickly your body can break down alcohol.
  • Genetics: Your unique genetic makeup can affect how well the enzymes that metabolize alcohol work and how many of those enzymes there are. This can affect how long alcohol stays in your body.

How To Flush Alcohol Out of Your System

Your body will metabolize alcohol at a specific rate, and there is not much you can do to speed up that process. The speed at which alcohol is removed from your system depends primarily on the enzymes in your body that break alcohol down, and you cannot speed them up. However, there are some things you can do to remove barriers that could slow down the process.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Around 60% of the human body is water, making hydration an important part of every process in the body. Alcohol depletes water in your body, removing more fluid than an alcoholic beverage you drink can replace. Staying hydrated will enable your body to metabolize alcohol as quickly as it can.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Diet plays an essential role in overall health and can impact parts of the body that play an important role in metabolizing alcohol, such as the liver. While eating healthily after a night of drinking may not make a huge difference in how fast you sober up, maintaining a balanced diet in the long term can help make a difference.

Avoid Working Out

Working out can help your body to feel more alert, reducing the feeling of intoxication. However, working out will not make you sober faster. There is a misconception that you can “sweat it out,” but sweating does not make you get rid of alcohol faster. It can actually make you more dehydrated, ultimately worsening the after-effects of drinking. Working out while intoxicated can also increase your risk of injury.

Get Some Rest

Resting can help your body to conserve energy and direct more of it toward metabolizing alcohol. This is where the concept of ”sleeping it off” comes from. Ultimately, sleeping it off and staying hydrated may be the best things that you can do to give your body the time it needs to get alcohol out of your system.

Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

If you use alcohol regularly and your body has become dependent on it, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal is the most dangerous type of withdrawal that you can go through, as it can potentially cause seizures or a deadly condition called delirium tremens. Because of the dangers of alcohol withdrawal, you should consult with a doctor before stopping alcohol cold turkey.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal describes the symptoms someone experiences as receptors in their brain adjust to the absence of alcohol after prolonged use. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Anxiousness
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion

Someone who is having severe confusion, seizures, hallucinations or fever should seek immediate emergency care, as these can be signs of severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox refers to the process of going through physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms until they are gone. While detox may be done at home on your own, this can be dangerous. Medically supervised alcohol detox is a safer way to detox and involves supervision from a doctor. This can take place in an outpatient setting, which involves attending routine medical appointments, or in an inpatient setting, which involves staying in a medical facility during detox. The type of medically supervised detox will normally depend on how severe the withdrawal symptoms become.

Alcoholism Treatment

Alcoholism, also called alcohol use disorder, occurs when alcohol use becomes compulsive. Alcoholism may be present in someone who finds themselves thinking about alcohol frequently, using alcohol even though they did not intend to or trying to stop alcohol use without succeeding. 

At The Recovery Village Columbus, we understand how alcoholism affects people and  can help those struggling with alcohol achieve lasting sobriety. If you or someone you care about is struggling to stop using alcohol, our experts are ready to help. Contact us today to learn how we can help you start your journey to a healthier, alcohol-free future.

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.