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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How long does alcohol stay in your system, and how is alcohol processed out of your system? Find out here.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Most alcohol elimination processes occur in your liver; however, the stomach helps break down alcohol and keep some of it from going into your bloodstream. Various alcohol drug tests will test positive for alcohol between 25 and 130 hours after your last drink.1 

How Does the Body Metabolize Alcohol?

While the liver is often considered the organ primarily responsible for getting alcohol out of your system, it’s not alone in its work. When you drink, the first place alcohol goes is your stomach. Many people have specific enzymes in their stomach called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). These enzymes are responsible for breaking down alcohol, limiting how much goes directly into your bloodstream.2 

Alcohol Responses in The Body

But not everyone has these enzymes, and women typically have lower levels than men. Without sufficient levels of ADH and ALDH in your stomach, alcohol effectively bypasses your stomach. It goes directly to your small intestine, where it’s released to your bloodstream and your brain. At this point, you will begin to "feel" the effects of alcohol.

After the stomach, alcohol travels to the liver, the organ primarily responsible for doing the work necessary to clean your system from alcohol. The liver typically removes about 90% of the alcohol from your blood. The remaining 10% is filtered through the kidneys, skin, and lungs which is why you can sometimes smell alcohol in your urine or sweat.

Factors that Determine Alcohol Half-Life

The amount of time alcohol stays in your system will vary. As previously noted, factors that affect detection time (alcohol processing time) vary based on the strength of the alcohol and how much you drink. Other factors, including gender and characteristics unique to the person (height, weight, etc.), also impact alcohol metabolism times. Despite certain individual factors, some elements don’t change in most cases.

Half-Life of Alcohol

When you first start to drink, it can take between one hour and 90 minutes for the alcohol in your system to reach peak levels. At this point, the body begins to process and break it down. The half-life of alcohol is approximately four to five hours, regardless of the type of alcohol consumed. Alcohol half-life is the term used to define how long it takes for your body to get rid of half of the alcohol in your system. But, alcohol half-life only applies (technically) to the first half of alcohol in your body. While the half-life of alcohol is up to five hours, it takes approximately five half-lives — or 25 hours — for your liver and other organs to clean your system from alcohol altogether.3 

Alcohol Testing Methods

The three most common alcohol drug tests are urine, breath, and blood. Alcohol drug tests check for your BAC or blood alcohol content. In the United States, you’re considered intoxicated if your BAC is 0.08% or higher.4 

Breath Tests

One of the most used methods of detecting alcohol in the body is breath tests. These tests are a quick and easy way to test levels of alcohol in your system. A breath test can detect the presence of alcohol in your system for 24 hours after your last drink.

Blood Tests

Another type of alcohol drug test is a blood test. Alcohol blood tests are often more accurate than breath or urine tests and can detect alcohol for up to 12 hours. Urine tests are often used when other methods aren’t available. Alcohol in urine remains present for up to five days. Because urine alcohol levels are detectable for so long, these tests are often used to detect alcohol in the body during addiction treatment aftercare programs.

Saliva and Hair Tests

Two other methods for detecting alcohol in the body are saliva alcohol tests and hair testing for alcohol.

Saliva tests can detect alcohol in the system up to 48 hours after your last drink. Hair tests are effective for up to 3 months or 90 days, making hair testing another excellent alcohol drug test method for continued abstinence testing.

Factors Affecting Alcohol Detection

  • Gender, body fat composition, and, for biological females, the status of your menstruation cycle
  • Age
  • Type of alcohol and amount consumed
  • Whether you’re drinking on a full or empty stomach

  • Your alcohol tolerance

  • Your overall physical and mental health

How Much Alcohol Will Kill You?

How To Get Alcohol Out of Your System?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System

When To Pursue Help and Sobriety

False Positives in Testing

  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Cleaning products
  • Breath sprays
  • Mouthwashes
  • Aftershaves
  • Cosmetics

  • Foods that contain trace amounts of alcohol

  • Hair dyes

  • Antiperspirants

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