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FAQ: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Alcohol is one of the most common substances used in America. According to a study in 2015, 86.5% of Americans over the age of 18 drank alcohol sometime in their life. It's not unusual for Americans to drink a glass of wine or even a bottle of beer with their dinner.

Moderate alcohol use offers some clear health benefits. For example, some studies show that it can result in a decreased risk of heart attacks. Excessive consumption, however, is damaging to the body.

Alcohol is processed quite quickly within your body. It gets cleared out of your system within 12 to 24 hours. However, you still might feel the effects of alcohol for up to four days after the initial binge.

Although your body has cleared the alcohol from your system, there are still metabolites lingering around. These metabolites are still detectable in your urine, saliva, hair and blood. This article will look at how long alcohol and its metabolites stay in your body, as well as the mechanisms involved with metabolizing alcohol.

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How Alcohol Is Broken Down in the Body

Since alcohol is a liquid, it doesn't need to be digested to be absorbed and processed by the body. Once consumed, 20% of the liquor gets absorbed by the blood vessels in the stomach. This is scientifically known as the first-pass metabolism pathway (FPM pathway). The blood vessels in the small intestine absorb the remaining 80%.

Alcohol absorption into the bloodstream slows down if there's food in the stomach. The food absorbs some of the alcohol, and also disrupts the absorption process. This means that it will take longer for the liquor to enter the bloodstream, and travel all over the body.

Any other trace amounts of metabolites will leave the body through bodily fluids, like sweat, urine and saliva.

Any liquor that enters the bloodstream will be carried to the liver. This is where enzymes that can break down the alcohol molecules are produced. Alcohol that enters the bloodstream will also enter the brain. The brain also produces an enzyme to break down the alcohol.

The rate of which each person's liver metabolizes liquor is a bit different. Healthy livers will metabolize alcohol at different rates. There are also other factors at play.

Factors that affect how quickly booze is cleared from the body include your:

  • Age
  • Body fat content
  • Ethnicity
  • Health, especially the medications you're taking

The rate of which you knock down the beers, and the amount of food you've eaten before or during drinking will also have an effect. If you've eaten food, the fat content of the food will also factor into the equation.

While your liver will get rid of the liquor at a constant rate, the process and rate of metabolism changes if you drink more alcohol than your liver can metabolize. If your blood alcohol level rises above 0.055, your blood and fatty tissues will absorb the extra liquor. This causes your body to store the alcohol for a much period of time.

If you consume too much alcohol in one sitting, there’s a good chance you’ll get alcohol poisoning. This can lead to seizures, vomiting, slurred speech and loss of consciousness.

In worst-case scenarios, alcohol poisoning can lead to fatal complications like cardiac arrests, brain damage and seizures.

Your liver works diligently to metabolize and clear alcohol as efficiently as possible.

In general, it can metabolize anywhere from 0.25 to 0.5 ounces each hour. Standard alcoholic beverages contain anywhere from 0.50 to 1.00 ounce of alcohol. This means that it takes an average of 1 to 2 hours for the body to get rid of the alcohol in your system.

A standard beer contains approximately 12 ounces of liquid, and has an alcohol content of 5%. That works out to 0.60 ounces of liquor. This means that you should be able to clear a beer from your body in a little over an hour. At most, it should only take 2.5 hours.

The alcohol content in other beverages will vary. As a result, it will take your body some type to clear the alcohol. As an estimate, it takes about:

  • 1 hour to metabolize one shot of liquor
  • 1 to 2 hours to metabolize a cocktail
  • 2 hours to metabolize a pint of beer
  • 3 hours to metabolize a glass of wine

The more you drink, the longer it takes for your body to clear the alcohol. If you're concerned with the amount of time that it will take for your system to clear the alcohol, make sure to ask the bartender or waitress about the alcohol content of each drink.

Although the alcohol is completely cleared from your system and no longer has an effect on you, it may still be detectable.

In most situations, alcohol can be detected in your urine for u to 12 to 48 hours after your last drink. The more you drink, the more likely that traces of alcohol will be detectable in your urine. Some of the more advanced urine tests out there can detect alcohol for up to 80 hours after your last drink. These tests are quite advanced, and not usually available to the general public.

Other than in urine, alcohol can also be detectable in your breath using a breathalyzer or in your saliva through a saliva swab. If you're breathing into a breathalyzer, keep in mind that the alcohol can be detected for up to 24 hours after your last drink. If a saliva swab is taken, traces of alcohol can be detected for 10 to 24 hours later.

Hair drug tests are some of the most in-depth tests. These tests can detect alcohol use for up to 90 days later. It can provide insight on the amount of liquor consumed during certain periods of time.

The Enzymes Involved in Breaking Down Alcohol

Alcohol is broken down by two enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase and cytochrome P450. Alcohol dehydrogenase is produced in the liver, and cytochrome P450 is an enzyme found in your brain.

How Long Alcohol Stays in the System

The largest metabolic pathway for alcohol is through the liver, and involves alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme binds with ethanol molecules in the alcohol to produce a substance known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a very reactive byproduct that is also toxic. In high concentrations, this molecule damages your tissues and can be addictive. In fact, alcoholism is caused by prolonged exposure to acetaldehyde.

Getting rid of acetaldehyde makes the liver cells vulnerable to attacks. They can be damaged by free radicals, acetaldehyde and even other metabolites of alcohol.

Another significant enzyme that removes alcohol from your body is cytochrome P450. This enzyme is predominantly found in areas of the body where there's not a lot of alcohol dehydrogenase. It is only activated when an excessive amount of alcohol is consumed. Consider it as the back-up plan.

To break down the ethanol in alcohol, cytochrome P450 produces byproducts that are pretty toxic. These byproducts include superoxide anions, hydroxyl radicals and hyroxyethyl molecules. These molecules also make the tissues susceptible to damages.

The Effects of Metabolizing Alcohol

The various metabolic pathways involved with clearing alcohol from your liver can cause:

  • Hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen
  • The production of toxic byproducts
  • Tissue damage

Years of drinking can cause a massive toll on the condition and health of your liver. In fact, many alcoholics will struggle with alcohol-induced liver diseases.

There are three main types of alcohol-induced liver diseases. They include fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis. Heavy drinkers will graduate from one to the other until it's too late.

Fatty liver is the earliest stage of the disease. It's basically when large amounts of fatty tissues accumulate in the liver. This basically hinders the liver's ability to function. If you have a fatty liver, you might experience some abdominal comfort. In most cases, there are little to no symptoms involved with this disease.

Fortunately, this condition is reversible. If you stop drinking, your liver will slowly heal itself with time. Soon enough, it will become healthy once again.

If you continue to drink, the fatty liver will develop into alcoholic hepatitis. This is the second stage of the disease, and is characterized by swelling of the liver. Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Tenderness
  • Vomiting

Alcoholic hepatitis can last for years. Thankfully, the damage is also reversible if you quit drinking. However, it'll take years for the liver to heal itself.

Alcoholics who don't take action to quit drinking will develop alcoholic cirrhosis. This is the final stage of the alcohol-induced liver disease. Drinkers with this disease will have permanently damaged their liver to the point where they have scar tissue everywhere in their liver. This disease affects around 10% to 20% of heavy drinkers, and is usually caused by an upwards of 10 years of drinking.

The symptoms for alcoholic cirrhosis is much more severe. Even worse, the damage is irreversible. Some symptoms associated with this disease include:

  • An enlarged spleen
  • Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
  • High blood pressure
  • Internal bleeding
  • Mood changes and behavioral changes

In worst-case scenarios, alcoholic cirrhosis can be life threatening. It can cause an array of other unwanted symptoms, and can affect the health of other vital organs.

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The Effects of Metabolizing Alcohol

The good news is that unless the disease progresses to the final stage, your liver can heal itself if you quit drinking. Take a look at our treatment programs to find out what might work best for you. We offer both residential programs and intensive outpatient programs.

Besides quitting the bottle, there are also many other things that you can do to repair your liver. Some common recommendations include:

  • Drinking more water. By drinking more water, you are flushing your liver and getting rid of toxins and impurities. It also hydrates your body, and keeps you in better spirits.
  • Eating a healthier diet. Stop eating junk food and foods with processed sugars, and try adding more leafy greens to your diet. Broccoli and carrots are both excellent options.

Repairing your liver won't happen overnight. Instead, the process takes quite some time. It'll require patience and discipline.

Our medical professionals can set you on the right track during treatment. Not only can we perform an assessment on the health and condition of your liver, but we can also help you build good habits that will save your liver.

In worst-case scenarios, heavy drinkers may need a liver transplant. Let's work to prevent that from ever happening to you.

Drink Responsibly

The length of time that the alcohol will stay in your system depends on various factors. The most significant one being the amount of alcohol you've drunk.

Drink responsibly and in moderation. Avoid binge drinking and heavy drinking. Limit your alcohol intake to only a few drinks each week to keep your liver happy and healthy. 

If you're drinking when out with friends or when out for a dinner, make sure that you take it slow. Check to confirm the alcohol content of each beverage that you drink, and time it carefully. Don't drink and drive. It's dangerous to not only yourself, but to others that are on the road as well. 

If you find that your alcohol consumption is getting way out of hand, contact us as soon as possible. We can help free you from the shackles of alcoholism, so that you can take control over your life once again. 

We have the resources necessary to ensure that you'll detox in a safe environment and as comfortably as possible. If you're an alcoholic who is quitting the bottle, make sure to do it under professional supervision. Alcohol detox can be deadly without it.

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Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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