How long does alcohol stay in your system?

Most of the things that us humans consume such as food, medicines and other drugs, require a certain amount of time to be broken down and digested by our body’s system. Alcohol on the other hand barely needs to be digested. As soon as we drink alcohol, about 10-20% of it exits the body through sweat, urine or breath. The other 80% goes to the small intestines and moves around the whole body through the blood vessels.

When a person drinks alcohol, the amount of time it takes for him or her to feel the buzz, vastly differs from person to person. However, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that everyone who drinks alcohol takes almost the same amount of time to metabolize it in the absence of any additional factors.  

How does alcohol metabolize in our body?

Generally speaking, the liver metabolizes alcohol more or less at the same rate for everyone, irrespective of the person’s nationality or gender. 

The liver metabolizes about 1 ounce of alcohol per hour in general. If someone with a healthy liver drinks alcohol, their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level will rise to 0.015 for each ounce of alcohol consumed. To put it in simpler terms, if you stop drinking for one hour, 0.015 of alcohol gets metabolized and vanishes from your body.

So for example, if your BAC level is at 0.08%, then after 1 hour it would be 0.065% (0.08 minus 0.015), after 2 hours it would be 0.05% and so on. It takes about 5 hours and 30mins for the 0.08% BAC level to disappear from your system.

However, it’s important to note that this process of alcohol metabolism depends on a few additional factors such as:

  • Age
  • Rate of alcohol consumption
  • Body fat content
  • Overall Health

These factors can affect the metabolism process, which in turn affects the time required for the alcohol to exit the system. The amount of fatty foods being eaten right before or while drinking, also greatly influences the process of alcohol metabolism.

If you were wondering how long alcohol stays in your system to determine whether you can safely drive or not, a few facts will come handy.

The most important thing for you to remember is that the legal rate of blood alcohol is 0.08% in the United States. However, it doesn’t mean that you can always get away with drinking and driving. In spite of having a BAC level that’s lower than 0.08%, you could still face trouble from the law enforcement for driving under influence. Any alcohol content that’s higher than 0.00% will be detected by the breathalyzer.

How long does one alcoholic drink stay in your system?

A regular alcoholic drink as per the United States standards contains 14 grams/0.5 ounces of pure alcohol in it. This means, a regular can of beer, a glass of wine or spirit contains almost the same amount of pure alcohol.  

A healthy liver metabolizes one ounce of alcohol every hour. So one standard drink containing about 5% of pure alcohol would stay in the system for less than an hour. If you have more drinks, your body would store and gather the alcohol in the blood and tissues and slowly metabolize it.

How long does alcohol stay in your system for testing?

Alcohol being so readily available has resulted in strict rules around its consumption. It’s more or less a depressant that aids in slowing down the central nervous system. This then leads to drastic changes in the consumer’s physical body as well as mental frame of mind. As stated above, in the United States, a BAC of more than 0.08% is considered illegal for driving. Several tests have been devised to detect the presence of alcohol in people. The testing can be done through an individual’s breath, urine, blood, and hair follicles

Breathalyzer: This is a commonly used test that determines the presence and level of alcohol in an individual through the volume of ethyl alcohol in their breath. These tests are conducted quickly, simply and are also much cheaper than other forms of tests. This type of testing is generally used by the police to find out if anyone is driving while being under the influence and going over the legal limit ( 0.08 BAC).

Urine Test: Alcohol can be detected via a urine test. If the test is conducted while the alcohol is still present in the body, the test will show up as positive. If the alcohol has already left the system, the result will be negative. This test isn’t particularly used to determine the exact level of alcohol in a person’s system though. It’s only helpful in accurately determine the trace of any alcohol.

EtG urine test is a widely used form of testing. It detects the presence of Ethyl Glucuronide in an individual’s blood, which is produced when alcohol metabolizes. However, this test has recently been spoken against, since EtG stays in the urine for almost 80 hours after consumption of alcohol. Thus making it a test that’s prone to give out false positives.

Blood Test: This form of BAC testing via a blood sample gives out more accurate results as compared to the Breathalyzer and urine test, but there’s always a possibility of mistakes occurring in the lab, that causes faulty results. It showcases the amount of alcohol present in an individual’s bloodstream at a given rate of time. About 4 ml of the person’s blood is needed for the test. It’s possible to detect the alcohol in a person via this method for up to 12 hours after the individual’s last consumption of alcohol.

A good rule of thumb is that if you feel any symptoms of a buzz at all, waiting a couple of hours before driving to let the alcohol metabolize, would be a smart decision. Symptoms of alcohol impairment include loss of focus, slower reaction time, sudden drowsiness, impaired coordination and more. All of these make it extremely dangerous to drive. Most workplaces conduct random drug tests before granting employment and sometimes even after. It’s smart to steer clear of any alcoholic drinks if there are any chances of you being tested in the next 72 hours.

How long does non-alcoholic beer stay in your system?

This might seem surprising to some but there are certain non-alcoholic drinks that contain a very tiny percentage of alcohol in them. If you’re not the kind who enjoys sipping on hard drinks and prefers grabbing a non-alcoholic beer instead, there’s still a possibility that your drink contains .05% of alcohol in it. This small amount of alcohol will be detected by a Breathalyzer and will also show up in a urine test. It’s safe to avoid any driving for a few hours after drinking a nonalcoholic beverage with any amount of alcohol in it. Check the labels carefully to determine just how much alcohol you’re about to consume.

How can I easily find my BAC?

There are ways to find how much alcohol is present in your system at any given point of time. Two of the most popular ones are:

Online Calculators: These free online calculators require you to put in gender, weight, how many drinks you’ve had, the hours passed since your last drink and few other variables. While these calculators offer a good enough approximate result, these tests are nowhere close to error free. Several other factors influence the actual result and relying on these tests alone is not recommended.

Some of these calculators are

  • http://www.alcoholhelpcenter.net/program/bac_standalone.aspx
  • http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org/ 

Portable Breathalyzer: If you’re a social drinker, this portable device will prove to be a great friend. A small Breathalyzer that fits in your pocket or bag is a great investment for someone that wants to drink responsibly. While these devices do cost money as compared to the free online calculators, they are not ridiculously expensive and can be used for a long time. It’s also an incredible preventive measure that helps you avoid a DUI. The cost of the Breathalyzer depends on the kind you wish to purchase.

Do note: As mentioned earlier, 0.08% is the legal BAC level in the United States, for an adult that’s above the drinking age limit. However, the police may still stop you while driving and charge you with an offense, even If you are well below that limit. So research your state’s legal limit for driving for your exact age before hitting the road.

How to use them: The waiting time between drinking alcohol and testing using a breathalyzer, varies as per device’s specifications. Waiting for at least 20 minutes after drinking is a good enough time frame to test your BAC. Some people even take about an hour to properly process the alcohol. So the longer you wait, more accurate your results will be.

The portable breathalyzers will give you an approximate percentage of alcohol in your blood. It’s then up to you to decide whether you would like to risk driving or not.

Avoid driving if you feel even slightly impaired, even if the BAC results show that you’re much below the legal limit. Make safety your #1 priority.