At Serene Beginnings Treatment Center, we know there’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information about alcohol consumption, abuse and dependency. The answers to questions such as, “How long does alcohol stay in your system?” are often vague and non-definitive. Here we will discuss what happens when you drink alcohol, how long it takes to metabolize and the effects it causes.

It might be surprising to find out the length of time that alcohol can continue to affect you and how it can impact your mental and physical health. If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, we encourage you to reach out to us so we can inform you about appropriate treatment options and how our programs can assist you in getting sober.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Body?

The metabolism of alcohol in the body depends on many factors, and though it may be processed, the after-effects can continue to last for some time.

The short-term cycle of intoxication depends on many factors, but on average, it takes about an hour to eliminate a standard drink. However, alcohol can be detected in the bloodstream, hair follicles and urine for much longer lengths of time:

  • Blood: Alcohol in the blood may be detected for up to 12 hours following your last drink. If a blood test is administered, the results will indicate your blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) which is the percent of alcohol remaining. In general, alcohol is eliminated from the bloodstream at a rate of around 0.015% per hour.
  • Hair: Alcohol can be detected in your hair follicles. Typically, it’s present up to 90 days after your last drink.
  • Urine: Alcohol may be detected in your urine for up to five days when using the ethyl glucuronide test (EtG). It is detectable for up to 12 hours when using traditional testing methods.

So, just because you may no longer feel the effects of alcohol once it leaves your blood, doesn’t mean it won’t be detected for a considerable amount of time after your last drink.

How Does the Body Process Alcohol?

The human body processes alcohol in a straightforward way, but because each body is different, the rate at which alcohol is moved and metabolized may vary.

When you take a drink and swallow it, alcohol travels to the stomach and small intestine. There, around 20% of the alcohol is absorbed into the stomach. The other 80% of the alcohol moves on to the small intestine. From the small intestine, the alcohol directly enters the bloodstream, where it begins affecting you.

When alcohol enters the blood, it moves quickly throughout the body. The majority of alcohol eventually goes to the liver, where it’s metabolized and eliminated through your urine. The liver can usually eliminate around a single standard drink from your body each hour. If you drink more than the liver can eliminate in an hour, the excess alcohol builds up in the blood. Too much alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning.

Around 90% to 98% of all alcohol taken into the body is absorbed and has to be metabolized by the liver. The rest is expelled through other means, such as vomit, urine or sweat. Drinking water, caffeine or other drinks will not help you move the alcohol out of your system any faster since it still has to be processed by the liver, regardless of the quantity of liquid you consume.

What Factors Impact How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System?

The time it takes for alcohol to get out of your system varies based on several personal factors. Here are a few components that affect alcohol metabolism:

  • Your age, because older people take longer to metabolize alcohol in general
  • Your biological sex, because alcohol is metabolized differently between men and women
  • The amount of food you ate with alcohol because food affects absorption rates
  • The size and composition of your body, since people with more body fat usually have higher blood alcohol levels.
  • Any medications you’re currently taking that may interact with the alcohol

Do You Know the Size of a Standard Drink?

While you may say you’ve only had one drink, the likelihood is you’ve had more. A single standard drink is far different from the jumbo drinks you may order at a restaurant or the large glass of wine you may pour for yourself at home. 

A standard serving of alcohol is:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer at 5% alcohol
  • 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor at 7% alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine at 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof, distilled spirits at 40% alcohol per drink

Contact Serene Beginnings If You’re Struggling with Alcohol Abuse

It’s challenging to live with alcohol abuse. You may not want to drink but suffer from significant symptoms of withdrawal when you try to stop. The professionals at Serene Beginnings know how hard it is to work through dependency and addiction issues. We would love to talk to you about how we can help you break out of the cycle of alcohol abuse. Call us today to speak with one of our helpful admissions staff at 855-947-0552. We are here for you with flexible addiction treatment programs that can help you get sober.