How Long Alcohol Stays in the System Depends on the Individual (2023)

Knowing how long alcohol (ethanol) remains in your system is important for avoiding dangerous interactions with medications as well as impairments in your physical and mental performance. While alcohol is not considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it is illegal to sell or serve to anyone under the age of 21 in the United States.

The metabolism of alcohol has been studied in detail, but many factors determine how long alcohol shows up on a drug test and takes to be eliminated from your body. Depending on the type of test used as well as your age, body mass, genetics, sex, and overall health, alcohol is detectable from 10 hours to 90 days.

When misused, alcohol can do as much (or even more) overall harm as many illegal drugs. People who misuse alcohol also risk developing physical and psychological dependence and alcohol use disorder.

How Long Alcohol Stays in the System Depends on the Individual (1)

8 Facts About Drinking Alcohol

How Long Does It Take to Feel Effects?

You can start to feel the effects of alcohol in a matter of minutes. When ingested, alcohol is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into your bloodstream before it travels to the nervous system (brain and spinal cord). As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol impairs the communication of messages in your brain, altering your perceptions, emotions, movement, and senses.

In small amounts, you might feel more relaxed and open or less anxious, but the more you drink, the more intoxicated you’ll begin to feel. For some, this can mean being more talkative or very friendly and others may begin to behave with anger or aggression.

Other signs of alcohol intoxication include:

  • Euphoria
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Impaired walking (ataxia)
  • Losing coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Poor judgment (such as driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex)

Description of Alcohol Intoxication in the DSM-5

How Long Does Alcohol Last?

The half-life of ethanol is about 4 to 5 hours, which means it takes that long to eliminate half of the alcohol ingested from the bloodstream.For most people, alcohol is absorbed into the system more rapidly than it is metabolized.

For a person weighing 150 pounds, for example, one standard drink will increase their blood-alcohol concentration by about 0.02%, but the body can only remove about 0.016% per hour on average. Therefore, even if you consume only one drink per hour, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will continue to increase. If you drink more than one per hour, it rises much more rapidly.

The body metabolizes alcohol by oxidizing the ethanol to acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is broken down into acetic acid and then to carbon dioxide and water. Most of the alcohol you consume is metabolized in the liver, but about 5% of the alcohol you drink is excreted by the body through sweat, breath, urine, feces, and saliva.

Determining exactly how long alcohol is detectable in the body depends on many variables, including which kind of drug test is being used. Alcohol can be detected for a shorter time with some testsbut can be visible for up to threemonths in others.

The following is an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which alcohol can be detected by various testing methods.

Breath

Alcohol can be detected in your breathvia a breathalyzer test for up to 24 hours.

(Video) How long does alcohol stay in your system?

Urine

Alcohol can be detected in urine for three to five days via ethyl glucuronide (EtG) metabolite or 10 to 12 hours via the traditional method.

Blood

Alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours.

Saliva

A saliva test can be positive for alcohol from 24 to 48 hours.

Hair

Like many other drugs, alcohol can be detected with a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days.

False Positives

The EtG test can produce a positive test from the mere exposure to alcohol that's present in many daily household products such as cooking extract, mouth wash, cleaning products, cosmetics, and hair dye. As such, it's a less reliable test for alcohol consumption. If you take a breath or saliva test shortly after using alcohol-containing mouthwash or cough medicine, it may detect the residue of the alcohol in your mouth and create a false positive as well.

Factors That Affect Detection Time

The timetable for detecting alcohol in the body is also dependent upon variables such as metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity, health conditions, and other factors, making it almost impossible to determine an exact time alcohol will show up on a drug test. Some of those factors include the following.

Genetics

Just as family history plays a role in the development of an alcohol use disorder, how quickly the body processes and excretes alcohol also has a genetic link.

Sex

Since women tend to have proportionally more body fat and less body water than men, alcohol tends to linger in their systems longer than men.

Body Fat

Again, the more fat you have, the longer the alcohol will stay in your body.

Ethnicity

Studies have found that people of East Asian descent are more likely to have trouble metabolizing alcohol since they don’t produce enough of a key enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol in the liver. Instead, a toxic byproduct of alcohol builds up in the blood and liver, dilates blood vessels, and causes flushing (redness and heat) in the face and neck as well as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, and nausea. This reaction is known colloquially as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow.”

Age

As you get older, your liver works more slowly, so it takes longer to excrete alcohol. Many aging adults also take medication that can affect liver function, slowing the process further.

Food Consumption

Roughly 20% of the ethanol in liquor is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and the rest from the small intestine. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer it takes to be absorbed and the slower the rate of intoxication. Eating before drinking, and continuing to snack while you consume alcohol, will slow the absorption and reduce its impact, but prolong the detection period.

Medications

Certain medications can interfere with how alcohol is absorbed in the body and some may even enhance the effects and increase intoxication. Always be honest with your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you consume. Medications known to interact with alcohol include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Antibiotics
  • Allergy medications
  • Diabetes medications

Use

How frequently and how fast you drink, as well as the alcohol content in your beverage, can all influence how long ethanol stays in your system. For example, if you engage in binge drinking—five or more drinks for men or four for women during a single drinking session—it can take many hours for the alcohol to completely clear from your system.

It is possible for yoursystem to still have enough alcohol in it the next morning that you could fail a urine or blood test for driving under the influence. You would definitely have a problem trying to pass a test that is designed to detect the presence of any alcohol.

How to Get Alcohol Out of Your System

Regardless of how fast your body absorbs alcohol, it eliminates it at the average rate of 0.016 BAC per hour. Nothing you do will speed up the elimination process, including drinking coffee, drinking water, taking a shower, or even vomiting.

If you know that you are going to have to take a breath, blood, or urine test for the presence of alcohol in your system, the only way you can lower your blood alcohol content results is to delay taking the test as long as possible after your last drink, because only time will reduce your BAC.

The following table shows the length of time it takes for your body to eliminate alcohol at varying BAC levels.

(Video) How Long Does It Take Alcohol To Leave Your System For A Drug Test?

Average Time Needed for Alcohol to Clear Your System
BAC LevelHours Until 0 BAC
0.016

1

0.053.75
0.085
0.106.25
0.1610
0.2012.5
0.2415

The above times reflect the metabolism rate of a healthy, functioning liver. If you are a heavy or long-time drinker, your liver may require more time to eliminate alcohol from your body.

Symptoms of Overdose

Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time can result in alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of six people per day die of acute alcohol poisoning. Drinking too much alcohol, or combining alcohol with other drugs or medication, can cause the areas of your brain that support your breathing, heart rate, and other basic life-supporting functions to begin to shut down.

  • Confusion
  • Extreme sleepiness or loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • No gag reflex, which prevents choking when vomiting
  • Clammy pale, or blue-tinged skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Breathing slowly or irregularly (less than eight times a minute or 10 seconds or more between any two breaths)
  • Vomiting while unconscious (doesn't wake up during or after vomiting)

If someone you care about is experiencing any of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, call 911 and keep your friend safe until help arrives.

Getting Help

If you've been drinking heavily and/or regularly, suddenly stopping or cutting back on alcohol can cause physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. The severity will depend on how long you've been using alcohol and how much you normally drink. In severe cases, you can experience a possibly life-threating type of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens (or DTs), which can occur from two days to up to a week after your last drink.

When you're ready to quit or reduce the harm alcohol is causing to your health and life, there are many resources to help. Start by talking to your primary care physician. Many people also turn to support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These groups, whether in-person or online, can help you feel supported and less alone as you navigate recovery.

You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free, confidential resources and referrals to support groups and trusted treatment facilities

What to Expect From Alcohol Withdrawal

6 Sources

(Video) How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Taylor B, Rehm J. The relationship between alcohol consumption and fatal motor vehicle injury: high risk at low alcohol levels. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012;36(10):1827-34. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01785.x

  2. Ferré S, O'Brien MC. Alcohol and caffeine: The perfect storm. J Caffeine Res. 2011;1(3):153-162. doi:10.1089/jcr.2011.0017

  3. Stornetta A, Guidolin V, Balbo S. Alcohol-derived acetaldehyde exposure in the oral cavity. Cancers (Basel). 2018;10(1):20. doi:10.3390/cancers10010020

  4. Hadland SE, Levy S. Objective testing: Urine and other drug tests. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2016;25(3):549-65. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2016.02.005

  5. Stewart SH, Koch DG, Willner IR, Randall PK, Reuben A. Hair ethyl glucuronide is highly sensitive and specific for detecting moderate-to-heavy drinking in patients with liver disease. Alcohol Alcohol. 2013;48(1):83-7. doi:10.1093/alcalc/ags109

  6. Fillmore MT, Jude R. Defining "binge" drinking as five drinks per occasion or drinking to a .08% BAC: which is more sensitive to risk? Am J Addict. 2011;20(5):468-75. doi:10.1111/j.1521-0391.2011.00156.x

Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy Tis an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.

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FAQs

How long does it take for the effects of alcohol to be shown on an individual? ›

It takes 30 minutes to feel the effects of alcohol.

It may take an hour to metabolize a drink, but it takes approximately thirty minutes before you feel alcohol's effects. This is a good gauge for pacing yourself. Drinking more than one drink every 30 minutes means you are probably drinking too much, too fast.

Will alcohol be out of my system in 7 days? ›

Alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours. Urine: Alcohol can be detected in urine for up 3 to 5 days via the ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test or 10 to 12 hours via the traditional method. Hair: Similar to other drugs, alcohol can be detected in a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days.

How far back can alcohol be detected in your urine? ›

Alcohol detection tests can measure alcohol in the blood for up to 6 hours, on the breath for 12 to 24 hours, urine for 12 to 24 hours (72 or more hours with more advanced detection methods), saliva for 12 to 24 hours, and hair for up to 90 days.

Will a sip of alcohol show up on a urine test? ›

Even after drinking a small amount of alcohol, there is enough EtG or EtS to be detected in a urine sample.

Can you pass a alcohol test in 24 hours? ›

Urine tests can detect alcohol in your system much longer after you've consumed alcohol. On average, a urine test could detect alcohol between 12 to 48 hours after drinking. Some advanced urine tests can detect alcohol even 80 hours after you've had a drink. Alcohol can stay in your hair for a period of up to 90 days.

How do you metabolize alcohol faster? ›

Five Simple Ways To Speed the Metabolism of Alcohol for Better Performance & Health
  1. Tip #1: Eat Probiotic Foods. ...
  2. Use It. ...
  3. Tip #2: Drink Green Tea. ...
  4. Use It. ...
  5. #3: Pound Water with Citrus—Avoid Artificially Sweetened Beverages. ...
  6. Use It. ...
  7. #4: Eat Asparagus, Green Veggies & Fruit. ...
  8. Use It.

Can you fail a drug test for alcohol? ›

Alcohol can be detected in urine within less than 60 minutes after consumption, and its maximum concentration is reached after 5.5 hours. Depending on the amount of alcohol, the detection period when using urine is from 24-80 hours after consumption. Ethyl glucuronide (EtG) in urine can be detected for up to 5 days.

How long does it take for 1 standard drink to leave your system? ›

On average it takes at least one hour for your body to clear one small alcoholic drink. For some people it can take longer. That is, at least one hour to clear a middy of beer, or a small (100ml) glass of wine, or a standard nip of spirits.

Is alcohol on a 12 panel drug test? ›

As you likely noticed, alcohol is technically not one of the substances testified for in the 12-Panel Drug Screen. That does not mean, however, that you want alcohol in your system when you take your drug screen.

How is an alcohol test? ›

A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This process usually takes less than five minutes.

How much alcohol does it take to test positive for EtG? ›

An EtG-I cutoff of 100 ng/mL is most likely to detect heavy drinking for up to five days and any drinking during the previous two days. Cutoffs of ≥ 500 ng/mL are likely to only detect heavy drinking during the previous day.

Can I pass an EtG test after 1 beer? ›

Will One Drink Show Up on an EtG Test? Yes, one drink can show up on an EtG test. Other factors like how often you urinate before the test and how soon after drinking you take the test also play roles. One drink will probably show up on an EtG test if you drank it that day.

How Long Will 2 beers show up on a Breathalyzer? ›

Because alcohol metabolism is different for everyone, there is no single answer as to how long a breathalyzer can detect alcohol in a person's system, but in general, a breathalyzer can first detect alcohol in a person's system about 15 minutes after it has been consumed and up to 24 hours later.

How long does drunk effect last? ›

Generally speaking, it takes about 6 hours for the effects of being drunk to wear off. If you count the hangover/detoxification period that happens after drinking alcohol, the effects may last longer. For most people, one drink leads to a . 02 blood alcohol level.

Can a sip of alcohol affect you? ›

When the first sip of alcohol is taken, it races to your brain within the next thirty seconds. Alcohol slows down the chemicals and pathways that help your brain send messages. This causes reflexes to slow and reduces the ability to balance.

What alcohol gets you drunk fastest? ›

Hard liquors can get you drunk faster than beer or wine, as they have a higher alcohol content. Doing shots can be particularly useful, as you'll be absorbing high alcohol products very fast. Vodka in particular has been shown to increase the speed of intoxication.

How long can a single episode of drinking suppress your immune system? ›

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) warns that a single episode of drinking can suppress the immune system for up to 24 hours.

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