How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Factors such as age, weight, gender, and amount of food eaten can affect how long alcohol can stay in your system.

  • Blood: Up to 24 hours
  • Breath: 12-24 Hours
  • Urine: 12-80 Hours
  • Saliva: 12-24 Hours
  • Hair: 90 Days

Alcohol Intoxication

Shortly after having a drink, about 20% of the alcohol travels into blood vessels on the way to the stomach and then to the brain. The rest travels into the small intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. The point at which blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is highest before it begins to be metabolized is called the peak BAC.

The rate of intoxication for each person may depend upon individual factors. Alcohol is broken down at about the same rate for everyone, assuming they have a healthy liver. Other factors that may affect the rate of intoxication include the following:

  • Age and sex
  • Ethnicity
  • Body fat percentage
  • Rate of alcohol use
  • Amount and fat content of food in GI tract
  • Presence of other substances in the body

NOTE: One standard drink of alcohol is considered to be 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1 oz. of liquor/spirits.

More specifically, factors that influence BAC:

  • Weight – the heavier you are, the more water is in your body, and the more the alcohol gets diluted.
  • Sex – alcohol consumption doesn’t impact men and women in the same way. Men have a higher amount of a stomach enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol, so they process it more rapidly. Women usually have less water and more fat. Female hormonal changes can affect BAC.

The number of drinks, their strength, and how fast they were consumed.

How much food was eaten and of what content. High-protein food hinders the processing of alcohol.

Testing for Alcohol

Alcohol tests may be performed for many reasons, including field sobriety testing, pre-employment screening, workplace testing, or probation or parole. Blood testing for alcohol is the most dependable and accurate method currently available. Unlike urine tests, a blood test can determine a person’s precise BAC at the time the test is conducted.

The most commonly employed test for the presence of alcohol, however, is a breath test, also known as a breathalyzer. This method is not as accurate or reliable as a blood test, but it is useful for ascertaining whether a person has been drinking and can estimate BAC. The breathalyzer is the standard sobriety test used by law enforcement in the United States because it is easily administered, much less invasive than a blood test, and the results are instantaneous.

Effects of Alcohol

The effects of alcohol typically begin as pleasant and rewarding, which is the primary reason why people enjoy drinking it. Nevertheless, there are many short- and long-term side effects and very few, if any, positive long-term effects of alcohol use. Alcohol’s short-term impact on the body is determined by a person’s BAC.

Short-term effects include the following:

At 0.03–0.12% BAC:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Reduced attention span
  • Flushed face or skin
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Reduced ability to execute good judgment

At 0.09–0.25% BAC:

  • Sedation
  • Memory loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensory impairments
  • Impaired balance and equilibrium
  • Reduced comprehension and reaction speed

At 0.25–0.40% BAC:

  • Amnesia
  • Staggered movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Incontinence
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Transient consciousness or unconsciousness

At 0.35–0.8% BAC:

  • Loss of pupillary light reflex
  • Profound respiratory depression
  • Very weak or slow heart rate
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma
  • Death

Other Alcohol Effects

Once a person’s BAC reaches 0.40% or above, life-threatening occur in many cases. Depending on a person’s tolerance, when this level is reached, coma or death may be forthcoming. If someone you know is suffering from severe alcohol poisoning, please call 911 immediately. Do not let them “sleep it off” and do not leave them alone until medical help arrives.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Severely impaired coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures (fairly uncommon)
  • Stupor or unresponsiveness
  • Reduced body temperature
  • Paleness or bluing of the skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severely depressed breathing

Long-term effects of excessive alcohol use include the following:

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Hypertension
  • Anemia
  • Interrupted brain development
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • Loss of brain cells
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Memory loss
  • Reduced attention span
  • Reduced sperm count
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Cirrhosis

Moreover, chronic alcohol abuse increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, breast, and esophageal and gastrointestinal system.

Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

The more and more often a person drinks alcohol, the higher their tolerance will become. Tolerance is an altered state that is produced in response to excessive alcohol use. It occurs because the body compensates for its presence by dedicating more enzymes to break it down more efficiently. This reaction leads to a diminished response to alcohol as a result of repeated exposure.

Tolerance is a defense mechanism employed by the body because alcohol is essentially a poison. In fact, it can effectively reduce a person’s risk of alcohol poisoning. While tolerance does not always coincide with dependence, the development of a high tolerance is a hallmark sign of severe alcoholism.

Alcohol dependence is hallmarked by the brain’s need for alcohol to function normally, as well as the onset of withdrawal symptoms when the person tries to quit. These symptoms can vary in intensity from mild to severe, and, in extreme circumstances, result in life-threatening complications and death.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include the following:

  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Racing heart or palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Impaired mental function
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens

Alcohol addiction includes both tolerance and dependence, and also one more element: compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the occurrence of negative consequences. That is, those who are addicted to alcohol will regularly obsess over the procurement of alcohol and its consumption. They will also do so even though it destructive to their lives, including their health, relationships, and financial and legal troubles that come about.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious and often devastating disease that can result in a myriad of health problems, financial and legal trouble, and put enormous strain on interpersonal relationships. The longer that active alcoholism remains untreated, the higher the chance that these difficulties, as well as others, will occur.

Alcoholism is a lifelong disease, and, unfortunately, there is no one simple cure that works for everyone. Almost no one who is an alcoholic will ever be able to return to ‘normal’ drinking or fully recover their lives when engaging in any form of alcohol use.

Fortunately, alcoholism is very treatable. Modern treatment approaches employ services clinically proven to be effective. These services may include psychotherapy, counseling, group support, and medication-assisted treatment.

Harmony Recovery Center offers these services in both partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. We provide clients with the tools, resources, and support they need to experience a full recovery and enjoy long-lasting healthy lives.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, please contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options. We are dedicated to helping people escape the clutches of addiction so they can look forward to a fulfilling future free from drugs and alcohol!

Related: Benefits of Not Drinking Alcohol

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