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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System, Blood, Urine and Saliva?

Written By
Matt Gonzales
This page features
19 Cited Research Articles

The body generally breaks down a shot of liquor in one hour, a pint of beer in two hours and a large glass of wine in three hours. Alcohol can be detected in your hair for up to 90 days and in your blood, urine, sweat, breath and saliva for up to 5 days. The detection window can vary depending on your body weight, sex and age.

Factors such as weight, sex and age affect how quickly your body absorbs or eliminates alcohol. While the length of time that alcohol remains detectable varies depending on how much and how recently you drank, the liver generally breaks down the substance at a steady rate.

Alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and liquor break down differently in each person’s body. The substance is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and the walls of the small intestines, affecting the kidneys, bladder, liver, lungs and skin.

It takes time for alcohol to leave your system. On average, it takes about one hour for the body to eliminate one standard drink.

Factors that determine how long alcohol stays in your body include liver size, body mass and the amount of alcohol consumed.

Person drinking a glass of wine

Alcohol and the body

Upon consumption, alcohol enters the stomach and intestines. Once the substance enters the capillaries surrounding the stomach and small intestines, it enters passageways that lead to the portal vein, which passes through the liver and branches out into the capillaries.

How long is alcohol detectable in your system?

Once the substance enters the bloodstream, it affects all major organs in your body, including the heart and brain. Alcohol reaches all body tissues except bone and fat.

The liver breaks down most of the alcohol, though the substance also passes through the kidneys, urine, skin and lungs.

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What Is the Metabolism Rate of Alcohol?

The body generally eliminates 0.015 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood each hour. While just about everyone breaks down alcohol at this rate, a report from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that women appear to eliminate alcohol from the blood faster than men.

If someone’s blood alcohol content is 0.08, it would take about five hours and 20 minutes for the body to metabolize the alcohol. The more you drink, the longer it takes for alcohol to leave your body.

Heavy drinking can eliminate vitamins and minerals from the body, which can lead to a hangover. Hangovers make you feel fatigued or sick because of the reduction in vitamin B.

Detecting Alcohol icon

Detecting Alcohol

Alcohol — or ethanol — can be detected through urine, breath, saliva, sweat, blood and hair. Multiple reports estimate that alcohol is detectable in the urine for anywhere from 2 hours to 24 hours. This length of time depends on how recently and how much you drank.

A 2006 publication by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that a Breathalyzer can detect alcohol in your breath up to 24 hours after drinking. Alcohol can be detected in your saliva two hours after consumption, and a hair test, called an EtG test, can detect alcohol for up to 90 days.

The Liver icon

The Liver

Ninety percent of alcohol consumed passes through the liver. The organ breaks down the alcohol into acetaldehyde, a chemical the body recognizes as toxic. Acetaldehyde metabolizes into carbon dioxide, which the body can eliminate.

In some cases, the production of acetaldehyde is insufficient. This leads to some people experiencing flushing, a sudden reddening of the skin that often occurs in the face or neck region. Flushing can lead to dizziness, nausea or vomiting.

The liver eliminates alcohol at a fixed rate. A healthy liver will eliminate one normal-sized alcoholic beverage in about one hour. So after a night of heavy drinking, your BAC may still be over the legal driving limit the next morning.

People holding up cocktails

Factors that Influence Alcohol Absorption

Genetic, environmental, and physical and mental health factors control alcohol metabolism and elevate your blood alcohol content — the percentage of alcohol in the blood.

food icon

Food

Your body absorbs alcohol more slowly when you have food in your stomach. Those who drink on an empty stomach will feel the effects of alcohol more quickly. A person who has not eaten will hit their peak blood alcohol level between 30 minutes and two hours after consumption, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.

Eating high protein foods, such as tofu or cheese, before or while drinking can slow the absorption of alcohol.

Strength of drink icon

Strength of drink

Some drinks are stronger than others. According to the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, a standard drink equals:

Liquor bottle icon 1.25 ounce 80 proof liquor
Beer icon 12 ounce Beer
Malt liquor icon 7 ounce Malt Liquor
Wine icon 4 to 5 ounce Wine
Rates of Metabolism by Drink Type
Type of Drink Average Time to Metabolize
One shot of liquor One hour
One pint of beer Two hours
250 milliliters of wine Three hours

Source: National Health Service

Drinking stronger alcoholic beverages can accelerate the absorption rate. This causes alcohol to stay in your system for longer periods of time.

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Gender and body weight icon

Biological Sex and Body Weight

Men and women break down alcohol at different rates. Women have less dehydrogenase, an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. This contributes to women reaching higher blood alcohol levels than men despite drinking the same amount of alcohol.

For example, a 140-pound man who drinks two alcoholic beverages in one hour will have a blood alcohol content of 0.038. A 140-pound woman who consumed just as many drinks in one hour has a BAC of 0.048.

Blood Alcohol Content for a 185-Pound Man
Number of Standard Drinks Duration of Drinking BAC Time Until BAC Reaches Zero
Two One Hour 0.025 About one hour
Three One Hour 0.045 Three hours
Five One Hour 0.085 Just over five hours

Source: University of Notre Dame, Division of Student Affairs

Meanwhile, a 130-pound woman will reach inebriation at a much different rate.

Blood Alcohol Content for a 130-Pound Woman
Number of Standard Drinks Duration of Drinking BAC Time Until BAC Reaches Zero
Two One Hour 0.053 Just over three hours
Three One Hour 0.088 Nearly six hours
Four Two Hours 0.106 About seven hours

Source: University of Notre Dame, Division of Student Affairs

Hormone levels also affect BAC. Women who drink their normal amount of alcohol prior to menstruation will experience higher BACs than they otherwise would.

Women also tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of water, which influences intoxication and the length of time it takes to get alcohol out of their system.

Mood icon

Mood

Your mood can affect alcohol consumption. It can also affect the way the body reacts to alcohol. Euphoric effects generally occur at a BAC of 0.02 to 0.05. Once a BAC reaches about 0.07, the drinker’s mood may worsen.

If someone battles a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, their symptoms may worsen when drinking. Stressful emotions can cause a change in the stomach’s enzymes, which affects how a person breaks down alcohol.

Age icon

Age

Age plays an integral factor in reaching intoxication. For example, senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to alcohol because of age-related changes to their bodies. Older people experience a decrease in body water, loss of muscle tissue and decreased metabolism — all of which affects alcohol absorption.

Woman passed out on couch

Intoxication and Blood Alcohol Content

When you consume more than one standard drink per hour, alcohol accumulates in your system, elevating your BAC. The higher your BAC, the more intoxicated you become.

Effects of Blood Alcohol Content
BAC Effects
0.01 to 0.12 Increased self-confidence, impulsiveness, carelessness and unpredictability
0.09 to 0.25 Impaired judgement, memory, coordination and vision
0.18 to 0.30 Slurred speech, sleepiness, confusion and mood changes
0.25 to 0.49 Impaired movement, no response to stimuli and sporadic unconsciousness
0.35 to 0.50 Unconsciousness, slowed heart rate, breathing problems, possible death

Source: Judicial Branch of California

Your nervous system can shut down if your BAC reaches 0.50, affecting breathing, heartbeat, blood circulation and digestion and resulting in death.

Common Myths About Eliminating Alcohol from the Body

While people or online sources may recommend a variety of methods they say will quickly eliminate alcohol from the body and help you pass a workplace or court-ordered alcohol test, nothing you do can speed up the process.

The only way to get sober or clear alcohol from your system is to give your liver time to break down the alcohol.

Many people believe that drinking certain liquids or engaging in physical activity can help the body metabolize alcohol more quickly. However, it is a myth that these methods are effective.

The following activities will not speed up sobriety or the elimination of alcohol from the body:

  • Exercising
  • Eating after drinking
  • Vomiting
  • Drinking coffee, energy drinks or similar beverages
  • Taking a cold shower

While these techniques create the illusion of sobriety, they have no effect on BAC. Although eating before a night of drinking will slow down alcohol absorption, it will not keep you sober as you continue to drink. Eating after a few drinks will not reduce your level of intoxication because food does not have an effect on alcohol that has already been absorbed into the bloodstream.

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