Table of Contents
Written by Amethyst Recovery
Amethyst Recovery is a foremost authority on addiction and a trusted online source of substance abuse information. Their expert team of addiction professionals provide well researched content for people in the grip of addiction. All posts are fact checked and sourced.
Alcohol Addiction Statistics and Facts
- Approximately 16 million Americans struggled with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2015
- Delirium tremens is one of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms, with a 5% to 25% mortality rate
- An estimated 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related incidents each year
- More than 10% of children in the U.S. lived with an alcoholic parent in 2013
- 12.5% of college students reported heavy alcohol use
How long does alcohol stay in your system? While most of us are happy to guzzle down a beer or a glass of wine, we aren’t particularly familiar with how our body breaks down this substance. Alcohol is one of the most popular addictive substances in America. Most Americans are quick to grab a beer or a drink after work. Unfortunately, the easy accessibility of liquor, as well as the fact that it’s so accepted in society, means that misuse and abuse are common. Studies show that as many as 30 million Americans binge drink at least once a week. Misuse and abuse can easily lead to addiction. 1 in 8 Americans is an alcoholic. Many aren’t even aware that their drinking has become a problem.
So, why is it important to know how long does it take for your body to clear alcohol? If the body cannot clear alcohol quickly enough, the accumulation of alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can be quite dangerous. In some situations, it can even be fatal. Metabolites of alcohol can also damage your organs and body, especially if it accumulates too quickly. Those who drink too much are also likely to build a tolerance and a dependence on the drug. This can lead to addiction and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Those who take regular drug tests may also want to know whether alcohol use will show up.
Alcohol is a much more dangerous substance than what most people would like to believe. To make sure that you are giving your body ample time to recover, learn more about how alcohol is metabolized in your body. Take a more in-depth look at how long it takes your body to remove alcohol and all of its traces.
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The Metabolism Rate of Alcohol
Your liver metabolizes alcohol. Once alcohol is consumed, 20% will enter the bloodstream from the stomach. The remaining 80% will enter from the small intestine. Alcohol molecules then travel to the brain where it attaches to receptors at the central nervous system (CNS). The molecules will have a depressive effect on the system. It has a relaxing effect that causes alcoholics to slow down. Their breathing slows down, and their thinking as well.
Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, the body will start to metabolize it and break it down. The metabolism rate is approximately 20 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) every hour. This works out to be about 0.25 to 0.5 ounces each hour. That’s not a lot when you consider the fact that a standard drink has anywhere from 0.50 to 1.00 ounce of alcohol. On average, it should take your system about 1 to 2 hours to get rid of this amount of alcohol in your system. Those who down several shots or cocktails within the span of one hour should estimate that it will take them several hours to fully clear the substance from their body.
The enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol is found in the liver. It’s known as alcohol dehydrogenase. While this enzyme is already fairly effective by itself, another enzyme known as cytochrome P450 will kick in and take on some of the metabolic work of the body becomes overwhelmed. The brain produces cytochrome P450. Both of these enzymes can have a damaging effect on your tissues.
Measuring BAC in a Blood Alcohol Test
As was touched on, BAC is a term that stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration.
The following are what you might expect at different BACs:
- 01-0.03: There might be very few if any visible effects of alcohol beyond possible mood elevation.
- 04-0.06: At this point, someone might seem relaxed, and they might have mild impairment regarding reasoning.
- 07-0.09: This BAC is when people become impaired in terms of their speech, vision, and coordination. You can’t drive or bike if your BAC is at this level.
- 10-0.12: This is a point when someone is likely to be experiencing significant impairment, and they may have slurred speech, problems with motor function and a lack of judgment.
Once someone goes beyond 0.12, they’re likely to be very significantly impaired. They may need help walking, and nausea or vomiting may occur. From 0.35-0.0 a person may experience loss of consciousness. At the point of 0.40 and above, someone may go into a coma or may experience respiratory failure and death as a result.
Factors that Affect the Metabolic Rate of Alcohol
The liver breaks down alcohol at varying rates. While we do have an approximate timeline that we can follow, the actual metabolic rate of alcohol will differ from person to person. Some people simply have a faster metabolism, whereas others may have a slower one. The various factors that affect the metabolism rate of alcohol include:
- Body fat content and ratio; the body stores excess alcohol in fatty tissues before releasing it slowly back into the bloodstream
- Age; as a person ages, their body becomes less efficient in metabolizing alcohol
- Ethnicity; some races have genes that are more efficient at breaking down alcohol
- Overall health; a healthy liver will break down alcohol much more quickly
- Polydrug abuse; different drugs will have a different effect on alcohol based on its molecular interactions
- Whether food was consumed prior to or during drinking, and the fat content of the food
- The amount of alcohol consumed; it takes the body longer to break down a larger quantity of alcohol
Once a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level rises above 0.055, the body stores the extra liquor in blood and fatty tissues. Alcohol is then slowly released back into the body. As a result, alcohol stays in the body for a much longer period of time. Alcohol also moves very slowly in body fat.
To get an accurate measure of how long alcohol is stored in the body for, use an alcohol test. Most of the time, the alcohol and drug rehab center will measure the rate at which alcohol is being metabolized before recommending any type of addiction treatment. The results will tell them how long alcohol can stay in your system. The testing can give the professionals a better idea of how your body metabolizes alcohol and how alcohol abuse affects the body.
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How Long Can Alcohol Tests Detect Alcohol For?
Although alcohol doesn’t usually stay in your system for a long time, it is still detectable by alcohol tests for various days after your last drink. This is because the alcohol tests look for the metabolites instead of the parent compound. It takes your body even longer to break down the metabolites and clear them from your system. Alcohol is detectable even when your blood has a low alcohol concentration. There are many different types of alcohol tests that can be used. Each test has its own defining features and advantages over the other tests. Some of the most common tests include urine tests, saliva tests, blood tests and hair tests.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?
BAC is a measure of the concentration of alcohol in your blood, and it can be used to determine your alcohol usage. It’s estimated that for the average person, alcohol is eliminated from their system at a rage of 0.015 per hour.
If you took a blood alcohol test and your level was measured at 0.08, it would take an estimated 5 ½ hours for the alcohol to be eliminated from your system.
If someone drinks a lot of alcohol and they do so without first eating, they may have a high concentration of alcohol in their blood even the next day.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?
There are a wide variety of urine tests that can be used to gauge alcohol usage, and the type of test can play a role in how long alcohol can be detected. There are certain sensitive urine tests that might be able to detect alcohol for up to four days after the last time someone had a drink.
Urine tests, also known as EtG tests, look for ethyl glucuronide. This compound is a byproduct that’s produced when the liver metabolizes ethanol. Urine tests are fairly reliable. Using these tests, alcohol is detectable for up to 80 hours if the individual being tested is a heavy drinker. These tests can easily detect alcohol abuse among those who struggle with alcoholism.
Unlike some of the other tests, urine tests are non-invasive. The urine sample can be collected immediately to prevent any contamination, and the test is easy to administer. Simply dip the test in the urine sample and wait for a couple of minutes. Testing is possible at home, although some treatment centers rely on these tests as well. The test results can only determine whether alcohol was consumed. It cannot provide further insight as to the amount of alcohol consumed.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Breath?
When many people think about alcohol tests, they think about breathalyzers. These are often what you’ll see when someone is pulled over and suspected of driving under the influence.
A breathalyzer can detect alcohol in the system of the user for up to 24 hours after someone has their last drink.
In saliva, alcohol might show up for anywhere from 10 to 24 hours after a person has their last drink.
Breath tests are also known as breathalyzers. They are popular among law enforcement officers, and are often used to determine whether a person’s blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit when driving. After all, a person who has too high of a BAC is legally considered to be impaired. These tests can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours after consumption.
Breath tests offer immediate results. If you’ve ever breathed into a breathalyzer on the side of the road, you’ll know. Within minutes, you’ll get a better idea of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you were drinking alcohol earlier in the night, these tests will find out. These tests are difficult to beat and offer a non-invasive way of getting results. They’re also fairly cheap and inexpensive. Each machine needs to be calibrated before the testing to ensure accurate results.
Saliva tests are also another popular option. These tests can detect traces of alcohol for up to 10 to 24 hours after the last drink. The detection window will depend on the amount of alcohol consumed. These tests are fairly popular because they are also another non-invasive way of getting results.
This type of testing relies on a saliva sample. Two different types of samples will work. The first is a saliva swab test. Doctors take a swab of the inside of your mouth. It’s quick, easy and painless. The other involves spit. The former is always a better option because it’s easy for food contaminants to make their way into a spit sample.
For a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of alcohol consumption, try a hair test. These tests can detect alcohol for up to 90 days after it was last consumed. The metabolites get trapped in the hair. Hair tests not only tell you the amount of alcohol consumed, but it also gives you a good idea of when the alcohol was consumed as well. It can also tell you whether the person took other drugs during the same time period. These tests offer a lot of information about a person’s drug addiction and alcohol addiction. This type of testing is fairly expensive, as it will require professional testing at a lab.
To do a hair test, you’ll need to collect 1.5 inches of hair closest to the hair follicles. Every 0.5 inches represent 30 days, so 1.5 inches will give you a detailed look at the past 90 days. For accurate results, about 40 to 50 strands of hair are needed.
Seek Alcoholism Treatment to Lead a Healthier Life
Many Americans are high-functioning alcoholics. They continue to go to school or to work and will still fulfill their familial responsibilities at home. These people abuse different types of alcohol and drink varying amounts. If you believe that you or a loved one has a drinking problem, it’s a good idea to speak with an addiction specialist. You definitely don’t want the problem to get even more out of hand. After all, alcoholism comes with many serious side effects.
Here, at Amethyst Recovery, we offer a wide range of treatment options. Our residential treatment allows patients to go through alcohol detox to ease withdrawal symptoms. Patients also receive behavioral therapy to work on themselves. The treatment also looks at whether patients are struggling with a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.
Don’t deal with any form of substance abuse alone. It’s not only difficult, but it can also be very dangerous. Alcohol abuse treatment increases your chances at a successful recovery.
Breastfeeding and Alcohol in Your System
Breastfeeding mothers may wonder how long alcohol can be detected in their system because they don’t want to pass it to their nursing baby. It can still take several hours to process alcohol and the idea of “pump and dump” is a misconception.
Some mothers believe they can drink and then pump the breastmilk out before nursing their baby. In reality, as long as alcohol is circulating in your bloodstream, it can be expressed in your breastmilk.
Why Would You Take a Blood Alcohol Test?
There are different reasons you might have to take a blood alcohol test. The most frequent reason is in legal situations if an officer believes you might be driving while under the influence.
Some companies might also do alcohol tests for employment or safety purposes, or you might do one for a life insurance company to get coverage.
If someone goes to the hospital and shows signs of heavy drinking, they may be given a blood alcohol test also.
Summing Up – How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected in Your System?
There are individual differences in everyone that can cause differences in how long alcohol can be detected in their system. In general, however, a urine test might show alcohol use up to four days after someone had the last drink. The window of detection for blood alcohol tests and breathalyzer tests is shorter.
It’s important to be safe when drinking and to avoid binge drinking. Binge drinking can cause the concentration of alcohol to spike in your bloodstream, leading to intoxication and possible alcohol poisoning.
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