The length of time that alcohol stays in your system depends on a range of unique factors that are different for each individual. Despite this, it can be noted that we all process alcohol at a rate of around one standard drink per hour.
A big concern that many drinkers have is ‘how long does alcohol stay in your system?’. It does take some time for the body to metabloize and rid itself of alcohol completely, and if you are worried about how long alcohol is detectable in the body, then this largely depends on the kind of drug test being used. This post will explore how the body processes alcohol, factors that influence this, and how long different drug tests can detect alcohol after your last drink.
How The Body Processes Alcohol
When it comes to how the body processes alcohol, the majority of alcohol metabolism takes place in the liver. This is why poor liver health is commonly recognised in heavy and excessive drinkers. However, different types of alcoholic beverages break down differently in the body.
After alcohol consumption, alcohol passes through the body until it reaches the stomach and small intestines. This is where metabolism begins. Around 20% is alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and the remaining 20% of the alcohol is absorbed in the small intestine, here it directly enters the bloodstream where it is quickly transported to different systems around the body.
There are some people who have stomach enzymes that help in breaking down the alcohol. These are called alcohol dehydrogenase and help divert the alcohol from entering the bloodstream. If you don’t have much of this enzyme, then it is directly sent to the small intestine and the rest of the body.
The liver is where most of the work is done. The liver actually removes around 90% of the alcohol from your blood.
The body is pretty successful when it comes to processing alcohol; in fact, around 90-98% of all alcohol consumed is metabolised, and the rest of the alcohol is then removed through urine, sweat, vomit, and feces. However, if alcohol is consumed too quickly, then it causes alcohol poisoning. Simply put, this is when we are drinking at a much quicker rate than what our bodies can metabolize, causing our basic mental, physical and emotional functions to no longer work.
How Long Does Alcohol Metabolism Take?
Alcohol processing is surprisingly consistent for the majority of people; on average it typically takes about one hour for the body to metabolize one standard drink. However, if a person has a higher tolerance to alcohol they will eliminate alcohol at a much quicker rate. Once the alcohol reaches its peak levels within the blood, the body will begin to break it down.
Obviously, the more that you drink the longer alcohol remains in the body. One standard drink, which is noted as 12 ounces of regular beer, will increase an adult’s blood alcohol content to somewhere between 0.02 and 0.03. However, personal factors will influence the effect that one drink has on the overall percentage of alcohol in your blood.
According to the U.K. National Health Service, it takes about one hour for the body to break down a short of liquor and around two hours to break down a standard pint of beer.
Factors That Affect Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels refer to the measurement used to detect the percentage of alcohol that is in the blood. There is a range of factors that influence blood alcohol concentrations levels; genetic, environmental, physical, and mental health factors all control metabolism.
The most common way to measure how much remaining alcohol is in the system is through a person’s blood alcohol concentration.
When a person’s blood alcohol levels go above 0.05 to 0.55% then the negative effects of alcohol start to slowly increase; the initial pleasantry of feeling calm and relaxed turns into irritability and depression. When levels 0.08 to 0.09% then motor skills start to become impaired, additionally due to the excess alcohol that remains in the body, an individual may begin to vomit as the body is unable to metabolise the alcohol at a quick enough rate.
In the U.K., a 0.08% blood alcohol content is considered legally intoxicated and driving is prohibited at this point.
Although alcohol metabolism happens at a constant rate, there are some people who may feel the effects for longer. There are a variety of factors that influence a person’s blood-alcohol content, such as how much alcohol has been drunk.
Alcohol is actually metabolized differently in women than it is in men and therefore alcohol will stay in a woman’s system for longer. Women have less of the dehydrogenase enzyme that breaks down alcohol located in their stomachs. This means that a woman will reach a higher blood alcohol level despite drinking the same amount of alcohol as a man.
Hormone levels have also been found to affect BAC. If a woman consumes the same amount of alcohol as they typically would just before their menstruation, they will experience higher levels of BAC.
Women typically have a lower percentage of body water and a higher percentage of body fat compared to men. This means that a man’s body will be able to dilute the alcohol more than a woman is able to.
As mentioned above, the amount of water in the body affects the amount of alcohol entering the blood. The less a person weighs, the less water they have; therefore, a smaller person will get drunk quicker and have a higher BAC when consuming the same amount of alcohol as someone larger than them.
If a person has an overall healthy body, they will process alcohol quicker – specifically, if an individual has a healthy liver. If someone is partaking in alcohol abuse it is likely that they will have a weaker liver, meaning they will have difficulty processing the alcohol.
If a person has an empty stomach prior to drinking then they will feel the effects of alcohol more quickly. Whereas if a person has food in their stomach, then this has a powerful influence on how quickly the body can absorb alcohol. If a person does not drink alcohol before eating, they will hit their peak blood alcohol level around 30 minutes to two hours after their last drink.
How Long Can Tests Detect Alcohol?
You may have to undergo a drug test, whether it is work-related or not, and may be wondering ‘how long does alcohol stay in your system?’ As we now know, we all process alcohol at different rates, which may affect how long tests can detect alcohol in your system. Nevertheless, there is a standard time estimated for each type of test:
- Urine tests – 12-48 hours
- Blood test – up to 12 hours
- Breathe tests – up to 24 hours
- Hair tests – up to 90 days
The act of excessive alcohol consumption can be a sign of alcohol misuse and, in some cases, alcohol use disorder (AUD). We all have a few drinks from time to time but when someone’s drinking is uncontrollable and is causing negative consequences to their life, they may have an alcohol addiction.
If you believe you or a loved one has an alcohol use disorder, it is best to seek professional medical advice. There is a range of treatment options that can help you to live a happy and healthy future.
If you believe you have an alcohol use disorder then there are a range of addiction treatment options that are available to support you in your journey to recovery. Depending on whether your experience is in short-term or long-term alcohol abuse, then treatment will vary. Treatments may include addiction medicine alongside behavioral therapies, the combination has been found to be the most effective.
Despite the severity, everyone has the option to select from outpatient or inpatient treatment options. Inpatient treatment, often referred to as residential treatment, includes the client living in a controlled environment where they receive 24-hour medical and emotional support. On the other hand, outpatient treatment is a less intense version of an inpatient program and allows clients to live in their homes whilst visiting the treatment center for therapy throughout the week.
Treatment at Addcounsel
We understand that a substance abuse disorder of any kind can take its toll on your day-to-day life. We offer expert private treatment delivered by our team of compassionate and highly skilled licensed medical professionals.
Long-term addiction can cause a variety of physical, psychological, and behavioral problems, therefore we have developed a ‘whole person’ approach to treatment to ensure we are dealing not just with the symptoms, but with the underlying causes and any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be present.
Some of our treatment options include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Family systems therapy
- Interpersonal development
- Self-esteem and resilience building
Please contact us today to find out more.