How long does alcohol stay in your system? Well, that depends on multiple factors. Alcohol is broken down by the liver. The liver can break down about one drink an hour for men. But, factors such as age, gender, weight, and how much food in the system affect how long alcohol stays in the body. 

Also, how an alcohol test is performed affects how long it shows alcohol in the system. For instance, alcohol stays in the blood for 6 hours. At the same time, alcohol can show up in urine, saliva, and breath for 12 to 24 hours. If the hair is tested for alcohol, it can show positive for 90 days. 

How Does the Body Process Alcohol?

Although alcohol travels through the digestive system, it isn’t digested the same as food. When alcohol enters the G.I. tract, most of the alcohol is absorbed into the stomach and intestinal lining. Once alcohol is in the blood, it travels through the body and the brain. 

The absorption of alcohol may be slowed if a person has eaten. Food absorbs some of the alcohol. But, this is only a slight slow down. 

How Long Does it Take to Feel the Effects of Alcohol?

A healthy person typically feels the effects of one drink within 15 to 45 minutes. Alcohol affects men and women differently. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women have higher alcohol levels when both genders drink equal amounts. Also, women feel the effects quicker, and they last longer. So the answer to how long does alcohol stays in your system depends significantly on gender. 

How to Know if You’re Drunk

The higher your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the more you will show signs of being drunk. The signs include:

  • Lower inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Confusion
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Trouble focusing
  • Breathing problems

When a person gets drunk, they increase the risk of:

  • Driving drunk causing an accident or even death
  • Risky behaviors such as unprotected sex
  • Violent behaviors
  • Suicide

How Long Does it Take to Get Alcohol Out of Your System?

Alcohol is mostly broken down in the liver. The liver can typically metabolize one drink per hour. But, that is only lowering the BAC by 0.015 per hour. Also, ten percent of alcohol is expelled through sweat, breath, and urine. 

A standard drink is:

  • 1.5 oz of distilled liquor – gin, rum, vodka, tequila, whiskey
  • 5 oz of wine
  • 12 oz of regular beer
  • 8-9 oz of malt liquor

Many factors play a part in how long it takes for alcohol to leave the body. These include:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Metabolism
  • Amount of food on the system
  • Type of alcohol
  • Medications in the system

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Blood?

If a person is being tested for alcohol, sometimes a blood test is performed. If a person drank the night before, they might wonder, how long does alcohol stay in the blood?  Alcohol can stay in the blood for up to 6 hours. Of course, this is dependant on the many factors discussed above. 

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Urine?

A standard test for alcohol is also a urine test. As a result, the common question is, how long does alcohol stay in urine? In short, alcohol can be detected between 12 and 24 hours after drinking. But, more advanced testing can detect alcohol 80 hours after the last drink!

How Long Is Alcohol Detectable In Hair?

Some companies or even legal issues can require a hair follicle test for alcohol. Hair follicles hold alcohol the longest. Typically, alcohol is present in hair up to 90 days after the last drink.

How Long Is Alcohol Detectable on Breath?

A breathalyzer test is the quickest way to detect alcohol. A breathalyzer can be given on the scene of an accident. First, it depends on your definition of drunk. A person may think they are sober when they can walk. But, it isn’t how you feel that determines if you’re sober. 

Generally, most people consider themselves drunk when they have:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of concentration
  • Drowsiness can vary 
  • Impaired judgment

It is hard to predict how long it takes to sober up. Also, there isn’t much you can do to help sober up. 

Does Water or Coffee Help You Sober Up?

In short, the answer is no. Drinking water or coffee doesn’t sober you up faster. Neither does sleeping or taking a shower. All these things may make you feel more alert, but the alcohol is still in your system.

How Much Alcohol Can Kill You?

Alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose can be severe. When there is too much alcohol in your system, it can cause an overdose. When an overdose happens, breathing and heart rate get dangerously slowed or shut down completely. 

As your BAC rises, so does the harmful effects of drinking and the risk of overdose. 

  • 0.06% – 0.015% BAC: moderate impairment in speech, memory, attention, coordination, balance, along with driving being significantly impaired
  • 0.16% – 0.03% BAC: significant impairment in speech, memory, attention, balance, reaction time, decision-making, judgment, vomiting, blackouts, along with driving being dangerous
  • 0.31% – 0.45% BAC: risk of life-threatening overdose, death is possible from suppression of breathing, heart rate, and body temperature

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Extreme mental confusion
  • Stupor
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Clammy
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Slow heart rate
  • Slow or irregular breathing

The risk of overdose increases if you binge drink. Binge drinking is consuming four drinks or more in 2 hours for women. While in men, it is 5 drinks in 2 hours. Extreme binge drinking is drinking at least two times more than binge drinking. Drinking this fast overwhelms the liver’s ability to rid the body of alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol Use on the Body

Chronic heavy drinking can lead to many serious health issues. The following are some of the body systems affected by alcohol. 

Liver

Liver disease is one of the most severe results of alcohol use. The consistent use of alcohol can cause the liver to become inflamed or scarred. A person may develop liver cancer, cirrhosis, or hepatitis.

Digestive System

Alcohol use can eat away at the lining of the stomach and increase stomach acid. This can result in ulcers. Alcohol also changes how food is broken down and absorbed. This can lead to vitamin deficiency and possible neurological issues. In addition, alcohol can cause blood sugar issues.

Pancreas

Alcohol stimulates the pancreas to produce harmful substances causing pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. As a result, it can lead to digestive issues.

Central Nervous System (CNS)

Vitamin deficiencies from heavy drinking can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Symptoms may include confusion, learning problems, and memory difficulties. Liver disease also causes brain issues such as changes in mood and personality.

Cardiovascular (CV) Health

In 2016, alcohol-related CV diseases led to almost 600,000 global deaths. While heavy drinking is linked to high blood pressure, irregular heart rate, blood clots, and stroke. Heavy drinking can also lead to anemia. 

Psychological Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol acts as a depressant. However, under the right conditions can be a stimulant. The excitement caused by lower doses of alcohol is generally from the lack of inhibition. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is linked to many mental disorders. It may also cause major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. 

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Most people who suffer from AUD need treatment to find recovery. Medical treatments can include behavioral therapies and medication-assisted treatment. Generally, comprehensive treatment for AUD also includes medical detox, group, and family therapies. 

But, how intense of a treatment program a person needs depends on many factors. These factors include how long drinking has been a problem, co-occurring disorders, and environmental factors. Even though there are multiple treatment programs at treatment facilities, there are only two treatment types, inpatient and outpatient

Inpatient treatment offers 24/7 supervision with intense therapy. Inpatient treatment is highly structured and may include medical detox. Also, it takes away the pressures of the outside world, allowing people to focus on recovery.

Outpatient treatment offers people the ability to seek treatment while still handling their responsibilities. However, outpatient treatment offers a few different programs. These can include intensive outpatient, partial-hospitalization, and regular outpatient treatment. Furthermore, behavioral therapies offered in one program are typically available in all programs. 

Behavioral Therapies to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder

While in treatment for AUD, therapists work with individuals to address underlying issues. As a result, a person can identify and change their behaviors. These results allow individuals to build healthy coping skills and find lifelong recovery. A variety of therapies are used to treat AUD including:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps identify the feelings and events that lead to alcohol use. In CBT, individuals learn coping skills such as stress management. Individuals may get CBT in individual therapy or group therapy. 
  • Marital and family therapy can help repair and improve family relationships. Having a strong family support system in recovery is crucial. Family therapy increases lifelong recovery and healthy relationships

Most people find treatment for AUD beneficial. But, recovery from alcohol use disorder requires lifelong care. Joining a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can help support the recovery journey. 

If You Have Asked ‘How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System’ You May Need Help

If you have ever had to ask, how long does alcohol stay in your system? Or, how long does it take to sober up? You may need help. Our caring staff at Discovery Institute is waiting. We can help you decide if you need treatment and what kind you need. Maybe you are struggling with co-occurring mental disorders. Whatever the struggles are in your life with addiction, we can help you on the recovery journey. Contact us today and find out how.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.