How Long Alcohol Is in Your System?

alcohol test

How Long Does Alcohol Remain in Your System?

Alcohol rises to its peak level between 60 and 90 minutes after you have taken your first drink. After this occurs, the body begins to start breaking the alcohol down.

The half-life of a substance is the amount of time that it takes your body to relieve itself of half of that substance. Alcohol has a half-life of four or five hours, but alcohol will not be entirely out of your body until after five half-lives have expired. Therefore, your body needs at least 25 hours to remove the alcohol from your system.

How Does the Body Metabolize Alcohol?

Alcohol is not exactly metabolized within the digestive system. Of course, it does go into the gastrointestinal tract, but a significant amount will be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. It finds its way into the bloodstream by passing through the stomach’s lining and the small intestines. After it is in the bloodstream, it moves throughout the body and makes its way to the brain.

If you have food in your stomach, the body may not be able to metabolize alcohol as quickly as it can without the food. Food prevents this by absorbing the alcohol and keeping it from reaching the stomach’s lining. It can also slow the alcohol down so that it doesn’t reach the first part of the small intestine as quickly. When it does make its way into the small intestine, the bloodstream can absorb it very quickly.

When Can Tests Start to Detect Alcohol in the Body?

If you are concerned about how long alcohol will remain in your system because you need to take a test, the answer may be a little different.

Hair

A hair follicle drug test can detect the presence of alcohol for as long as 90 days.

Urine

The ethyl glucuronide can detect alcohol for at least three days and as long as five days.

Blood

A blood alcohol test can detect alcohol for up to 12 hours.

How Does the Body Process Alcohol?

The body processes alcohol in a straightforward manner, so the length of time that alcohol remains in your system will depend more on the amount of alcohol that you drink and how quickly your body processes it. The body metabolizes alcohol faster than it processes any other substance that you consume.

After you take a sip of alcohol, it travels to the stomach and then to the small intestine. About 20% of this drink will be absorbed through the stomach, but the remaining 80% will be absorbed through the small intestine. After that, it goes into the bloodstream, and it quickly travels throughout the body. This is how alcohol affects so many different parts of the body.

A majority of the alcohol travels to the liver, and this is where it is metabolized. The liver is able to process one ounce of alcohol in 60 minutes. When someone drinks more than one ounce of alcohol, the system will become saturated. The excess alcohol has to move back into the bloodstream and other portions of the body until the liver can process this excess alcohol. This can be dangerous because, if your body needs to move alcohol into your bloodstream repeatedly, it can damage your brain and other bodily tissues.

Because the alcohol that you drink spends the most time in the liver, the liver is the most affected organ when people drink. If you are drinking large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time, the liver is more likely than other bodily systems to be damaged by this behavior.

The liver contains two enzymes that process alcohol. The enzymes break the ethyl alcohol down into Acetaldehyde so that it can break the alcohol down even further into substances that can be easily absorbed by the body. If you are a social drinker, the alcohol that you consume will be broken down by dehydrogenase in the stomach and converted into energy. If you are a heavy drinker, you have Cytochrome P450 2E1, and it is extremely active within your liver. When Cytochrome P450 2E1 breaks down alcohol, it reduces your energy levels.

Your body can effectively metabolize the alcohol that you drink if you are not drinking so fast that you cause yourself to experience alcohol poisoning. Between 90% and 98% of the alcohol that you drink will be absorbed and metabolized, and the rest will be released in your feces, vomit, urine and sweat.

The Meaning of “Blood Alcohol Concentration” or BAC.

In order to measure the amount of alcohol that you drink, medical personnel measure your “blood alcohol concentration” levels. It is expressed as a percentage, and it is the percentage of alcohol that your blood contains at any given moment. If your BAC was measured and was determined to be 0.1, this would mean that the alcohol in your blood is equal to 0.1%. If a test shows that your BAC is equal to 0.08%, you would be determined to be legally drunk.

When someone measures a BAC that is equal to 0.45%, it is fatal in about 50% of the people in the world. With a BAC of 0.15%, the body is unable to metabolize alcohol as fast as it needs to do so, so the person begins to vomit due to excess alcohol in the body. In most cases, people will pass out after their BAC levels reach approximately 0.35%. However, if drinkers decide to engage in binge drinking, they may have a lethal amount of alcohol in their bloodstreams before they become unconscious. Most likely, this would be the result of alcohol poisoning.

What Are the Factors that Determine How Alcohol Is Processed?

Several factors determine how quickly your body will metabolize alcohol, and they include the following:

Additives

Some additives can decrease the time that it takes to metabolize alcohol. Examples are sports drinks and beverages that contain caffeine. Other beverages may increase the time that the body needs to metabolize alcohol, and these include fruit juices or water.

Full Stomach

You can slow the time down that it takes to metabolize alcohol by eating food before you begin drinking. Food will have the effect of diluting the alcohol, and it also increases the amount of time that the stomach needs to send the contents to the small intestine. Remember that this is where the body absorbs alcohol very quickly. If you fail to eat before you begin to drink, your BAC will be three times higher at its peak than someone who has eaten a meal first. You can slow down the amount of time your body takes to metabolize alcohol by eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and eating snacks while you enjoy your alcoholic beverages. This encourages activity between the enzymes in your liver and slows down your metabolic rate.

Genes

Sometimes, people’s genes can cause their digestive systems to process alcohol faster than others, but it happens the other way as well. Some people’s digestive systems process alcohol more slowly because of their genes.

Health

If you are in good health, your body will process alcohol faster than someone who is suffering from medical conditions. This is especially true if the liver is damaged because a damaged liver has a much harder time metabolizing alcohol than a healthy liver.

Body

Your body will process alcohol quickly or not based on its composition and its size. If you have low-water fatty tissue, your body cannot effectively process alcohol, but someone with high-water muscle tissue can. Therefore, if you have a high amount of body fat, you are going to have a higher BAC. If you are shorter but are also very muscular, your BAC levels will be higher than a taller person’s levels.

Age

If you are older, alcohol will remain in your liver longer than it will be in a younger person’s liver. Since it is not moving into the bloodstream and being metabolized, alcohol has more time to keep you feeling intoxicated, and it increases the amount of time that it can damage the liver. Because the amount of water that you have in your body decreases with age, this will ensure that you have a higher BAC level. Lastly, you may be taking medication, and this will also slow down the rate at which your body can process alcohol.

Gender

A man’s body metabolizes alcohol differently than a woman’s body for several physiological reasons. Besides that, alcohol remains in a woman’s body longer than it stays in a man’s body. This occurs because women tend to have more body fat than men do, and they also have a lower amount of body water. With more water, a man’s body can dilute alcohol more than a woman’s body can, and it doesn’t matter if the man and woman are the same height and weight.

Hormone levels also influence how quickly a person’s body can metabolize alcohol. For example, if a woman drinks alcohol right before menstruation begins, her BAC levels will be higher. In addition to that, women have lower levels of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, so they do not have as much of this enzyme to process alcohol in the stomach.

If you or a loved one are ready to get help for your alcohol use disorder, contact us at Long Island Treatment Center.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Long Island Treatment Center


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