How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Body System?

Last Updated: April 9, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Around the world, alcoholic beverages are consumed in a variety of social settings. The occasional drink with family, friends, or colleagues is an accepted way to socialize and celebrate. More than 17 million Americans suffer from a dependence on alcoholic drinks, characterized by compulsive drinking, progressive tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms when access to drinks is stopped. The truth is, alcohol is a highly addictive substance which, when abused, can lead to social, professional, legal, and financial difficulties. What makes alcohol addictive? How long does alcohol stay in the body? Read on to find out what happens when someone takes the first sip of an alcoholic drink.

Alcohol in The System: What Does It Do?

When an alcoholic drink enters the human body, it has an impact on a number of organ systems. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholic drinks interfere with the functioning of the brain, liver, pancreas, and immune system. Research has shown that excessive drinking can increase the risk of some types of malignancies, such as cancers of the throat, mouth, food pipe, and liver. The effects of alcoholic drinks on the human body depend on how long alcohol stays in the system.
In the brain, alcoholic drinks disrupt behavior and mood by interfering with the communication pathways. Prolonged drinking can lead to high blood pressure and heart damage, including a weakened heart muscle and an irregular heartbeat. Heavy drinkers can damage their liver which may become inflamed or show changes such as steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. The toxic substances in alcoholic beverages can lead to inflammation of the pancreas and impaired digestion.
Excessive drinking is also associated with compromised immunity and an increased likelihood of contracting infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. How long does alcohol stay in the system? Studies have shown that binge drinking can impair the body’s ability to fight infections even 24 hours after alcoholic drinks are consumed.
In addition to the short-term effects of alcohol, some of the long-term effects on the body include:

  • Shrinking in the size of the brain with the prolonged use
  • Memory blackouts
  • Physical dependence leading to strained interpersonal relationships and poor performance in school or at work
  • Cardiovascular disease from chronic heavy drinking
  • Chronic inflammation of the pancreas
  • Infertility with prolonged use
  • Erectile dysfunction in men with alcohol abuse disorder
  • Complications of diabetes
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
  • Changes in behavior, hallucinations, or slurred speech
  •  Lung infections
  • Stomach distress with bloating, ulcers, and gas
  • Breast cancer in women who drink excessively
  • Birth defects in pregnant women who consume alcoholic beverages
  • Osteoporosis (thinning of bones) in heavy drinkers
  • Muscle cramps and fatigue

Metabolism of Alcoholic Drinks: How Long is Alcohol in Body System?

Some people are at greater risk than others of developing the adverse health effects associated with consuming alcoholic beverages. Not everyone who drinks develops problems. And some people drink more than others and still remain relatively healthy. This is because there is a great deal of individual variation in how alcohol is metabolized in the body.
Alcohol metabolism refers to how the body breaks down and eliminates alcoholic drinks. Therefore, how long alcohol stays in the system varies from person to person. It is determined by both genetic and environmental factors.
The two key enzymes involved in the chemical breakdown of alcohol are ADH and ALDH. Some of the byproducts of this chemical process are highly toxic and have been shown to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). After a number of steps, the body finally converts the alcoholic beverage into water and carbon dioxide, which can be easily flushed out.

The Genetics of Metabolism: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in The Body?

How long alcohol stays in body system varies. Irrespective of the number of drinks consumed, the body can only handle a certain amount of alcohol per hour. Genetic factors that affect alcohol metabolism include body mass and liver size.
Different people carry different versions of key enzymes. This means some people break down alcoholic beverages faster than others. This affects how long alcohol is in the system. Some people carry a more efficient version of the enzymes that metabolize alcoholic drinks. These people are relatively protected and tend to have a lower incidence of alcohol-related problems.

How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected in The System?

The biggest factor that determines how long alcohol stays in the system is the number of drinks consumed. The liver can only metabolize a certain number of alcoholic drinks in a given time period. Anything in excess of what can be metabolized by the liver is stored in the blood and tissues, which serve as reservoirs. When repeated too often or over a prolonged period of time, it leads to permanent organ damage.
The digestion of alcoholic beverages in the stomach and small intestine and movement into the bloodstream affects how long alcohol is in the body. People with slower absorption rates take longer to become intoxicated. Alcoholic beverages enter the liver from the bloodstream, where they are broken down for easy elimination. People with liver disease are slower to metabolize alcoholic drinks.

Staying Sober: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in the System for a Urine Test?

A healthy liver can metabolize one drink per hour. This means that if the first drink is consumed at 8 o’clock, one must wait until 9 o’clock to consume another drink. If another alcoholic beverage is ingested at 8:30, the liver will take longer to metabolize it, and the person must wait until 10 o’clock to avoid becoming intoxicated.
How long does alcohol stay in the system in the urine? There is a time lag between the first sip of a drink and a positive urine test for ethanol. It takes about 2 hours for the kidneys to filter the ethanol from the bloodstream to the urine in the bladder. Once present in the bladder, alcohol can be detected for about 1.5 hours. When blood levels are high, it is estimated that alcoholic beverages can be detected in the urine up to 12 hours after they are consumed.

BAC: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in The System for a Blood Test?

The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the percentage of pure alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. It determines how intoxicated a person is. A BAC of 0.10 indicates that 0.1 percent of the person’s blood is alcohol.
On average, the liver can metabolize 1 ounce of an alcoholic beverage in 1 hour. This produces a BAC of about 0.015. It takes approximately 10 hours for this to clear from the bloodstream. This means, the more a person drinks, the longer the alcohol stays in the system.

  • BAC 0.02: Driving may be impaired
  • BAC 0.04: Feeling of relaxation
  • BAC 0.08: Legal limit for safe driving in most states
  • BAC 0.12: Symptoms such as vomiting
  • BAC 0.40: Loss of consciousness
  • BAC 0.45: Usually fatal

Breathalyzer: How Long Will Alcohol Stay in The System?

About nine-tenths of an alcoholic beverage consumed by a person is metabolized (broken down chemically). However, about one-tenth leaves the body through the sweat and breath. Interestingly, alcohol can be present in the hair follicles for up to 3 months.
The body can metabolize alcoholic beverages at a rate of 0.015 BAC per hour. So, if a person’s BAC is 0.08 (which is the legal limit for driving), it will take more than 5 hours to eliminate the drink entirely. A breathalyzer measures the blood alcohol concentration from a sample of the person’s breath. A breathalyzer test can be positive for up to 12 hours after an alcoholic drink is consumed.
How to get rid of alcohol in the system fast? It is a misconception that drinking black coffee can eliminate alcoholic beverages faster. To cleanse the body of alcohol, drinking lots of water, eating healthy, and exercising is recommended.

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Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 9th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


Leave a comment

  • pelayo riera
    my wife is a heavy drinker.she drank a half gallon of vodka last night.i did a breathalizer test at 7pm today and she showed .1 how long does alcohol stay in her system? i want to start her on antabuse.
    • Ashley
      What do you think causes her to drink? If she needs someone to talk to maybe I can help?
  • Robby
    Can alcohol cause you to have severe rashes if your a heavy drinker
  • Full bottle
    What the f**k have I done to myself. I was a person with dignity and respect. Now people look at me and say things like are you still breathing. Laughing at me. I was a prince who turned out to be a pauper! F**k the booze! I want my dignity and respect back! I am going to be a cold turkey for however long it takes! Crowned prince again. F**k you my so called freinds!
    • Slimkeith
      I hear you. I’ve been there. I used to be a very heavy drinker and it took me to some dark places. It takes a little bit of time but not as long as you’d think to get back the respect of other people. What takes longest is to start liking and respecting yourself sober again! Hang in there. I went to AA but it’s not for everyone. If you go, find a nice man or woman-not someone militant and CALL them! People there like to help because in helping someone else we help ourselves. Funny how that works. It’s time to get your inner prince back! Best of luck.
      • Brenda
        Hi my son has been drinking the doctor has given him chlordiazpoxide to take craving away as he needs to have an antidepressant like sertreline do you know how long hs body will take to be alcohol free so he can have sertreline Thankyou Brenda
    • Yukon James
      People are cruel and I call them plastic Friends,I know how you feel about how people talk about and say things they shouldn’t.
    • Chuck
      Good for you that’s what I did 10 years ago best thing I ever did I found that my so called friends were the biggest Barrier made me feel like I wasn’t fun to be with because I quit I have new friends now that don’t drink and we all have fun stick with it it’s your life In a couple years you’ll look back and think of all the time you wasted drinking alcohol
    • Wanda Lake
      I’m so sorry this has happened to you but it happened to me too. I started drinking a little every day just to calm my anxiety. Before I knew it I had to have a drink to keep my hands from shaking and my insides as well! I’m tapering off right now and it’s not been easy. I was up to about a fifth of bourbon a day . I’m down to half a pint now. Yey!! I’m almost off of this stuff! Be careful when you try to stop drinking. It is dangerous to go “cold turkey”! Taper off slowly or go to a treatment center. Alcohol withdrawal is brutal. Your blood pressure goes up and down. You can have seizures and hallucinations. Please be careful. I’m proud of you for wanting your self respect back! May God be with you! You can do this!!
  • Lonely Nana
    i’m so tired of drinking just one , just one , one for a buzz, to relax, . The next thing you know , I’m texting the grown kids with non sense . I know the know i’m drinking . I feel like such such a fat drunk!lost a all my respect to myself. I hate this secret there’s don’t know. I want this to stop . I’m so sad an discussed
    • SlimKeith
      Hey Nana: I just replied to someone above. I don’t know if you’ll see this. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. There’s a certain kind of lonliness that people who drink have. We’ve all said, “I”m only going to have one or two drinks tonight” only to say screw it and finish off the bottle. Then we beat ourselves up and wonder how we got there-Again. It’s a brutal cycle. There are programs you can join. I joined AA. For what it’s worth, I”m 55, an attractive woman, tall and slenderc, college educated-the meetings are full of very nice women, some work, some stay home-we’re all very normal looking! It’s not skid row bums. Nobody has to know you’re there. Try it for a week and see what you think. The first time everyone is so nervous it’s hard to tell what it’s like. Hang in there. Life can get better.
  • Hanshu
    Last night i ll drink 100 ml wiskey so aftet 24 hours is my immigration medical test if in medical test show alchol in my system then they cancel my visa so how i get rid of alchol fast in just fee hours
  • Lonely
    I have to have alcohol test in a couple of weeks before i can regain my licence. How long does it take to free myself days, weeks? Tests can be done on urine, breath and hair i believe. i am worried sick. Since confined to house i immediately myself drinking more. Can’t get out without vehicle because of medical issues Crohns decease so a bus is no good to go out. i am on my Trying AA tonight own without any family. Scared and lonely
  • Catherine Lowry
    Can you get rid of booze out your hair if you dye it?
  • George
    I have come to a point that I must stop drinking, I have been a binge drinking for at least 20 years and have been to Aa and other places the longest I have stopped for is six months. I know I need to stop for good as it will destroy everything around me
  • Matw
    I drank not even a quarter of a mix drink will I pass my breathalyzer at7:30am? I stopped drinking at 12:30
    • Jen
  • fanny
    I drank 5 of 750ml of beers from 5pm yesterday can a breathalizer detect alcohol tonight at 21h00
  • Angela curry
    I drank 2 and half pints of 4%lager shandy and had a breathalyised and the result was 1.09 and after 20 mins 0.96. Is this because i didn’t eat all day and is this high.
  • Lynsey Jimenez
    Hi, I’m just wondering is it possible to smell like beer (beer breath) after a man has three days without drinking? My husband is been a chronic beer drinker for years… and yes… the drinking was getting worse. So he is telling me he has three days without drinking beer, but his breath smells like beer. Is that normal? Or is he lying and he is hiding his drinking. He also doesn’t seem to be having any withdrawals. What do you think?
  • jessa
    There is a drug out now called now called naltrexone and it curbs your desire to drink even if you drink you won’t get drunk it is also prescribed for people addicted to more severe drugs and they will die if they do the drugs on naltrexone. I have used it and I highly recommend it you have to get your doctor to prescribe if for you. It is a great aid I don’t know why it isn’t free to everyone.
  • Karina Luna
    I drank 3oz of crown at 6pm will I pass my breathalyzer at 11:50?