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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Some may ask, how long does alcohol stay in your system? Read on to learn how long you may feel the effects of alcohol.

How the Body Processes Alcohol

Alcohol is metabolized through the digestive system. However, alcohol isn’t a core nutrient, so it does not get digested in the same way as food.

Alcohol addiction is a serious problem in the United States. Unfortunately, people can accidentally ingest more alcohol than they can handle and become drunk or addicted to alcohol if they don’t know how long alcohol remains in their systems. Understanding how long alcohol stays in your system is vital to drinking responsibly and minimizing moments of impaired judgment.1

how long does alcohol stay in your system

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Alcohol in the Body

Alcohol enters the body's upper gastrointestinal tract and is then absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the tissue lining of the intestines and the stomach. Alcohol is metabolized more quickly when you have an empty stomach vs. if you have eaten recently. Food inhibits the body’s ability to absorb alcohol or contact the stomach lining.

Regardless, a healthy individual usually experiences the effects of alcohol within 15 to 45 minutes of ingesting it.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

The total amount of alcohol in an individual's bloodstream is called the Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC. This is expressed as a percentage of alcohol/ethanol in blood based on units of mass of alcohol per volume.2

For example, one ounce of alcohol induces a BAC of 0.15% in most individuals. The negative effects of alcohol begin to increase if an individual’s BAC goes above 0.05%. At 0.08% to 0.09%, many of the symptoms of alcohol impairment begin to show at this point, such as slurred speech or difficulty maintaining balance. Remember, driving a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or more is illegal in the US.

How Do You Know When You’re Drunk?

There are many symptoms associated with alcohol absorption. People can tell when they are drunk if they experience symptoms such as:

  • Lowered inhibitions, such as being more “socially gregarious” than normal or undertaking risky behavior that would otherwise be avoided
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination, which can make walking or other motor tasks difficult
  • General confusion about one’s status, location, or the time
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks or sentences
  • Difficulty breathing

Depending on the individual, drunkenness may bring on one or many of the above symptoms. Everyone reacts differently to alcohol.

Factors that Influence Alcohol Processing

Many different biological factors influence how quickly the body absorbs and processes alcohol. Because of this, certain people can “safely” consume alcohol more than others. Some of the most common factors that influence alcohol processing include:


Certain medications may alter the body’s metabolism and impact alcohol processing. This can slow down how quickly the body absorbs alcohol or result in the reverse effect. Medications that interact with alcohol include but are not limited to cold and/or cough medicines, ADHD medications such as Adderall, and antianxiety medications like Xanax.

Body Size

The larger a person is, the more alcohol they must consume to feel negative effects (since they have more blood and mass per unit). However, individuals with more body fat usually have a higher BAC since fatty tissue does not absorb alcohol like muscle tissue. The reverse is true for very muscular individuals.

Food Consumption

Those who consume food before consuming alcohol may absorb it more quickly.


Men and women metabolize alcohol differently. In general, alcohol stays in a woman’s system for longer, so they are more at risk of suffering the negative effects of alcohol consumption than men (assuming two equally sized individuals consume the same amount of alcohol).


The older one is, the longer alcohol remains in their liver before going into the bloodstream or being metabolized.

Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test?

Alcohol shows up on many common drug tests that can be mandated by employers or ordered by law enforcement officers. Depending on the test administered, alcohol can be detected many days after consumption.3 

Alcohol can be detected as follows:

  • Breath Tests: 24 hours after consumption.
  • Saliva Tests: 48 hours after consumption.
  • Blood Tests: 12 hours after consumption.
  • Urine Tests: Five days after consumption.
  • Hair Tests: 90 days after consumption.

Risks of Alcohol Abuse

Those diagnosed with schizophrenia may find their symptoms exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption. The same is true for individuals who have received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.

Furthermore, alcohol abuse makes personality disorders more likely to appear, particularly in at-risk individuals. Drinking at an early age or drinking with a family history of alcohol use disorder may increase one's likelihood of developing alcohol dependence or addiction. This is also true for those with a history of trauma; alcohol can numb emotional pain and lead to dependence or addiction.

Symptoms of an Overdose

Alcohol overdosing is very serious and can lead to severe injury or death if not treated. Everyone must understand the symptoms of alcohol overdose to keep themselves and others safe.

Common symptoms of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Walking around or acting in a stupor
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Profound or severe mental confusion
  • Clammy skin, or a bluish or pale skin color
  • Vomiting
  • A slowed heart rate
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature

False Positives in Alcohol Testing

While alcohol testing is important for workplaces and law enforcement, some tests can return false positives for certain absorbed products. These products include breath sprays, mouthwashes, hair dyes, aftershave, antiperspirants, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers. If you know you are due to take an alcohol test soon, avoid these products, so you aren't penalized for a false negative.4

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Find Out More About Alcohol Addiction at Boardwalk Recovery

Alcohol addiction should never be overcome alone. Whether you or a loved one suffers from alcohol addiction, remember that you can get the resources you need at Boardwalk Recovery. With our assistance, you can learn more about alcohol addiction and discover the best ways to stop it from affecting your life. Contact us today.
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