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How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System

After a night on the town, drinking and spending some much-needed time with friends, it is time to head home. You did some heavy drinking earlier in the evening but haven’t had a drink for about an hour or so. Plus, you switched to water and you are feeling pretty good about driving home. Little do you know that there is still quite a bit of alcohol in your system.

You get stopped by an officer for having a brake light out. After exchanging niceties and giving him your information, he tells you he can smell alcohol on your breath. You explain how the evening went and are honest about drinking. After a few minutes, he decides to give you a breathalyzer test. You agree and to your surprise, you blow a .12. How is that possible? You feel completely fine and have no idea how this happened.

Between 2019 and 2021, 39,951 OVI crashes occurred in Ohio. SUN Behavioral Health Columbus believes in providing education to our community about substance use, including alcohol, to help prevent more of these instances from happening. So how long does alcohol stay in your system? Let’s explore this and more about alcohol.

What Is a Standard Drink?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a standard drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits such as vodka or tequila

There are variations of alcohol meaning some beers, wines, and spirits contain more or less than the average percent alcohol. This is the standard guide when discussing how much alcohol each drink contains.

How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol

When alcohol is consumed, it is absorbed through the tissue lining of the stomach and small intestine where it enters the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it is distributed throughout the entire body. Alcohol will first affect the brain and kidneys before heading to the liver where a majority of processing occurs. The full effects of alcohol can be felt in about 15-45 minutes on average.

Alcohol and the Liver

Once the alcohol has made it to the liver, detoxification begins. The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol using an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). During this process, ADH turns alcohol into acetaldehyde. Then, with the help of another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, it is turned into acetate. The acetate is then turned into carbon dioxide and water with the help of other tissues.

Acetaldehyde is a known carcinogen and very toxic. While only in the liver for a short time, this substance can cause damage over time. Prolonged, heavy drinking increases the risks of certain conditions such as liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver disease due to having more acetaldehyde in the body over time.

Factors That Affect the Rate That Alcohol Is Processed

Many factors affect the rate of alcohol processing. Here are some of the most common:

Food intake – when food is in the stomach, it blocks alcohol from reaching both the small intestine and the stomach lining. This slows alcohol effects since it has no way of being absorbed.

Weight – those who weigh less will be more affected by alcohol. However, the higher percentage of body fat a person has will increase their BAC over someone with a lower body fat percentage. This is because alcohol gets stored in fat while waiting to be processed.

Gender – women produce less aldehyde dehydrogenase. This enzyme aids the liver in breaking down alcohol. Also, hormone levels can affect the processing of alcohol. Women are more likely to experience higher blood alcohol concentrations around the time of menstruation.

Strength and rate of consumption – concentration of alcohol in the body will increase more the faster you drink. The higher the amount of alcohol per gram, or strength, of the drink will also increase the concentration of alcohol.

Medications – certain medications such as antidepressants and antihistamines should not be mixed with alcohol. They can amplify the effects or cause negative and life-threatening side effects.

How Is Alcohol Measured in the Body?

The standard measurement of alcohol in the body is determined by the blood alcohol content (BAC). BAC is measured per 100 mL of blood. A BAC of .08 for example means that there is .08% alcohol by volume in your blood.  The ratio of breath alcohol to blood alcohol is 2100:1, meaning a breathalyzer will measure as grams per 210 Liters of breath.

BAC can continue to rise even after you stop drinking alcohol depending on how much was consumed. While the liver is working to detoxify, alcohol is still coming in through the bloodstream. The liver can only keep up with so much at a time making binge drinking more dangerous. On average, the liver can process one standard drink in an hour.

There is no way to make the detoxification process go faster. While water and sleep can help you feel better, the liver cannot increase the amount of alcohol it can process at a time.

How Long Is Alcohol Detected in Your Urine?

Most urine tests can detect alcohol for 12 hours. More advanced tests can detect alcohol 24 to 48 hours after consumption and even up to 80 hours. These tests look for alcohol metabolites in the urine.

How Long Is Alcohol Detected in Your Hair?

Alcohol can be detected in your hair up to 90 days after consumption. These tests cannot determine a BAC however, they only confirm that the person has consumed alcohol within the last 90 days.

How Long Is Alcohol Detected in Your Saliva?

Similar to urine, alcohol can be detected in saliva 12 to 24 hours after consumption. Saliva tests are used to determine the most recent substance use that has been taken orally.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breast Milk?

Alcohol can be detected in breast milk 30 to 60 minutes after the first drink. For one alcoholic beverage, the length of time in breastmilk is 2-3 hours, for two beverages is 4-5 hours, and for three beverages 6-8 hours. The general rule of thumb is to have extra breast milk pumped before consuming alcohol and wait two hours per drink before feeding again.

The amount of alcohol present in breast milk is the same as in the mother’s bloodstream. Therefore, you cannot drink and immediately pump to reduce the alcohol in the milk.

What Is Alcoholism?

Having a night out with friends on the weekend does not mean you have an alcohol use disorder. There is a progression of alcoholism that starts with pre and early stages and continues to the middle and end stages. In end-stage alcoholism, the person’s life is affected not just physically but mentally as well. Lost jobs, friendships, and family over alcohol are common. Physical symptoms can include irregular heartbeat, trembling, headaches, and nausea/gastrointestinal issues.

If you drink alcohol for prolonged periods, withdrawal symptoms can occur. These make it hard to go without a drink and can affect your day-to-day life. Withdrawal symptoms can be serious with alcohol use disorder. These include:

  • Trembling
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Agitation
  • Seizures

Getting Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder at SUN Columbus

For those who drink alcohol on a daily basis, most will need help to stop. At SUN Behavioral Health Columbus, we have a full treatment program starting with a medically managed alcohol detox programs. Our staff will keep you comfortable and manage withdrawal symptoms. After detox, our patients transition to the next steps of treatment.

Inpatient Treatment

Our inpatient program consists of daily therapy and mental health assessments to find out the root causes of alcoholism. The main therapies we focus on at SUN Columbus are cognitive behavioral, group, and recreational. We also promote wellness to teach stress management techniques and healthy coping skills.

Outpatient and PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program)

PHP at our facility is for those who come for the whole day and receive therapy and medication management then spend the rest of their day and night at home. Outpatient offers the same but only for a few hours a day, five days a week. Both programs are designed to build on progress made during your inpatient stay. Our staff works with you to decide which program is best for you to continue your recovery from alcohol use disorder.

SUN Behavioral Health Columbus strives to educate our community and bring resources to those in need. If you or someone you love is living with alcohol use disorder, reach out to us today. Our staff is always here to help. Call us at 614-706-2786.


Frequently Ask Questions

How do you know when you are drunk?

Being drunk will feel different for everyone depending on weight, tolerance, and rate of consumption. The full effects of alcohol can be felt within 15-45 minutes.

How long after drinking can you drive?

It takes a full hour to process one standard drink. Therefore, an hour after one drink would be safe to drive. However, some variables can affect this amount of time. If ever you question driving home, it is safest to get a ride instead.

When should you seek medical help for alcoholism?

If you are experiencing any signs of alcohol poisoning, do not wait to seek medical attention. If you find yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms or if alcohol is affecting your life negatively, seek medical help.

Get Help Today!

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