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How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

August 30, 2022 | Dr.Amna Zubair

If you enjoy drinking every once in a while, you may have wondered at some point how long it take for alcohol to be cleared off your system. Alcohol is metabolized by our liver. It is estimated that if you have a healthy functioning liver, it will metabolize 20 mg/dl of alcohol in your blood within an hour. This estimate may vary depending on age, gender, and medical conditions. Read this article to understand the time taken for alcohol metabolism and its associated factors.

How long can alcohol be detected?

Once alcohol enters your system, it passes the lining of your stomach and small intestines to get absorbed into the bloodstream. From here, it circulates throughout your body and reaches other organs. Multiple tests can detect the presence of alcohol in your system. The validity of each test is described as follows:

  • Blood test: Alcohol can be detected in your blood from 6 to 12 hours. Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) can vary depending on how much alcohol you have had, time span, and other physiological factors. 
  • Urine test: These tests can detect alcohol metabolites in your system from 12 to 24 hours. Advanced urine tests can also detect the presence of alcohol for up to 72 hours. 
  • Breathalyzer: A small machine is used for this test to detect the presence of alcohol for about 12 to 24 hours. This test gives the fastest result for the presence of alcohol and is often used to detect alcohol in suspected cases of drunk driving. 
  • Saliva test: Alcohol can be detected in your saliva from 12 to 24 hours. 
  • Hair test: Alcohol can also be detected in the roots of the hair. This test can detect alcohol long after a person has drunk, for about 90 hours. 

How is alcohol metabolized?

When you drink an alcoholic beverage, a certain percentage of that alcohol enters directly into your bloodstream from where it travels to the brain. Much of that alcohol travels down to your stomach and small intestine. Here, alcohol crosses the digestive lining and enters your blood. If you have had food along with alcohol, this absorption process from your digestive tract to blood may get delayed.

After entering your blood, alcohol travels to your brain and liver. Because it is a depressant, you may start to have symptoms like slurred speech, sluggishness, confusion, lowered inhibition, and impaired cognition within 15 to 30 mins. This time may vary depending on your alcohol tolerance. When alcohol is taken to the liver, it gets metabolized by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. The final byproducts of alcohol metabolism are expelled via urine. A small percentage of alcohol may also be eliminated through your sweat and breath.

What are the factors that influence alcohol metabolism?

Alcohol metabolism is not the same for everyone. If you and your friend had the same amount of an alcoholic beverage, the effects and metabolism rate might be different for both of you. Major factors that influence alcohol metabolism include the following:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight or fat percentage
  • Ethnicity
  • Condition of liver 
  • Amount of alcohol taken
  • How fast is alcohol taken
  • Type of alcohol taken
  • Food taken with alcohol
  • Medications
  • Medical diseases

Any of these factors can affect the metabolism of alcohol in your body. For example, if you have an active liver disease such as hepatitis, it will take longer than usual to metabolize alcohol. This also means that alcohol stays longer in your system and can be detected using the aforementioned tests. 

Remember that if you drink too much alcohol in a short period of time, you may experience symptoms of alcohol poisoning. This happens because your liver becomes incapable of metabolizing such a huge amount of alcohol in a short time. Alcohol poisoning can cause serious complications which does not only involves your brain but other body systems as well. Any person experiencing symptoms of alcohol poisoning such as poor coordination, slow pulse, slow breathing rate, bluish or clammy skin, loss of memory, etc., should be taken immediately to emergency medical care. 

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