How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?

As a responsible consumer of alcohol, a few questions might often cross your mind. How long does alcohol stay in system for breathalyzer? Can I drive after the alcohol is metabolized? How much can I drink and avoid detection by a breathalyzer?

To be able to correctly answer all of these questions, it’s important to first understand how alcohol is processed in our bodies and how it disappears from our systems.

Alcohol Metabolism:

The alcohol first enters our bloodstream and then leaves our bodies in two forms.10-12% is eliminated from the body via urine, sweat or breath. The liver metabolizes the remaining 80-90% of alcohol.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that almost every healthy person that drinks alcohol, metabolizes it at the same rate, irrespective of his or her age, size or nationality. The liver metabolizes 0.015% of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level every hour. To put it in simpler terms, for each hour that you spend not drinking any alcohol, 0.015% of it vanishes from your system.

A person with liver problems, however would process alcohol differently.

Even though the alcohol metabolizes at the same rate for everyone, there are still additional factors involved that influence the required time for the process to complete. A few prominent ones being:

  • The consumer’s body mass
  • The amount of fatty food in his/her stomach while drinking alcohol
  • Health problems, especially liver related
  • Type of alcohol being consumed
  • Rate at which the alcohol is being consumed.

Due to this, it is incredibly difficult to accurately know your exact BAC by merely using calculations. Without using a portable Breathalyzer or a similar device, it’s impossible to get an exact BAC rating by yourself.

How long does alcohol stay in system for breath test?

This question has multiple answers, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and at the rate at which it’s drunk. Majority of times, a breathalyzer manages to detect even tiny traces of alcohol in a person’s body for as long as 24 hours after the last consumption. To get an accurate reading of your own BAC, purchase a portable breathalyzer and divide it’s reading by the standard reading of 0.015. For example, if the reading says your BAC level is at 0.150, dividing it by 0.015 gives you 10. It will take you that many (in this case 10) hours for the alcohol to metabolize and vanish from your body.

As per the law in the United States, a BAC level of 0.08 and higher is considered to be legally impaired. Consumption of three standard drinks in one hour could easily raise a person’s BAC to 0.08%. The level will rise even faster and go way above the legal limit if the person is downing one drink after another. It takes about 5 hours and 40 mins for 0.08% of alcohol to disappear from your body. Some states have strict rules that lead to a DUI for any rate of BAC higher than 0.00%.

What can I do to metabolize alcohol quicker?

A simple answer would be – nothing. No amount of strong coffee or cold showers will do you any good in terms of quickening alcohol metabolism. It might make you feel better and help you get rid of the “buzz”, but it won’t have any effect on the metabolism process. So, give your system the time it needs to be free from the alcohol.

Can I control my BAC rate?

Once the alcohol is consumed, only natural processes can aid in the elimination of it. But there are a few things you could to do prevent your BAC level from rising through the roof.

  • Binge drinking is a definite way to increase your BAC. Avoid it and drink slowly if you would like to stay legally unimpaired.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. It leads to faster absorption of alcohol right into your bloodstream.
  • Keep your drinks to just one every hour. This gives your body the time it needs to metabolize the previous drink before drinking the next one.
  • Purchase a portable breathalyzer to know your exact BAC rate. Give yourself at least 20mins to 1hour after your last consumption before testing, for a close to accurate result.

Why does alcohol stay on your breath?

The actual smell of alcohol on your mouth after a drink doesn’t last very long. The smell that’s known as “alcohol breath” comes from somewhere else. Before the liver metabolizes the alcohol, it travels in the body through the bloodstream. Since it’s in the body, it also reaches your lungs, which in turn causes the alcohol breath. You may have noticed that breath mints can keep the smell off temporarily but it keeps coming back. As long as the alcohol is getting processed, the smell will keep lingering. Another cause of this could also be the fact that some of the alcohol gets eliminated from the body via sweat. When someone is a heavy drinker, the smell stays not only on their breath but is also coming out from their pores via sweat.

What is a breathalyzer?

The breathalyzer is one tricky device. It measures the blood alcohol content in a person’s breath. It’s a chosen form of testing by the law enforcement, simply because of its portable nature and ease of use. If your breath is detected positive for alcohol by the breathalyzer with a high rate of BAC, the police may conduct a urine/blood test at the police station, to get a more accurate result.

Generally, the portable breathalyzer uses one of these two technologies.  

  1. Electrochemical Fuel Cell
  2. Semiconductor Oxide Sensors

Sadly, a breathalyzer based on either of these technologies, only give an approximate BAC. Without a blood test, it’s very difficult to get an error free reading.

Testing via breath, urine and sweat are only good enough for a rough estimate of the person’s BAC level.

Can breathalyzers give false positives?

It’s a documented fact that massive number of people who get tested by a breathalyzer, end up getting a result that’s much higher than their real blood alcohol concentration. The person’s body temperature an/or acid reflex influences the devices that cause it to give out faulty readings. Any presence of blood in the mouth too could mess up the results. Our body produces natural compounds like ketones. These share similarities in their chemical makeup with alcohol. The breathalyzer is known to detect them as alcohol and give a wrong high reading. Breathalyzer that use semiconductor oxide sensors are known to give close to actual results but again, aren’t always free from errors.

The law in the United States dictates that drinking and driving is not illegal as long as it’s under the “impaired level”. But every state has it’s own official BAC level. Some of them are extremely low and any amount of alcohol would increase your level at least slightly and could land you in trouble if detected.

The only way to safely drink is to drink in moderation and not drive after. Alcohol tends to wait around in the blood stream for quite a while. Traces of alcohol in your bloodstream can get detected by the breathalyzer for as long as 24 hours after the last consumption. If the police has a malfunctioning device and shows your readings as higher than the legal limit, you could be charged with a DUI. Avoid this additional stress and use a designated driver instead.

Can all types of alcoholic drinks be detected by a breathalyzer?

Yes. The breathalyzer doesn’t differentiate between wine, beer and spirits. If a beverage with pure alcohol in it is being consumed, chances are that the breathalyzer will detect it.