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  • Alcohol, also called ethanol, is among the most popular drugs in the world. Its effects include relaxation, trouble concentrating, and loss of coordination. 

    In general, the effects of alcohol fade within a few hours. However, the drug can be detected in your system on different tests long after you stop feeling intoxicated. 

    Tests can pick up alcohol anywhere from six hours after your last drink to 80 hours after your last drink, depending on the type of test and your drinking habits.

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

    In most cases, it takes about one hour for your liver to metabolize one standard drink. 

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. 

    However, the exact amount of time it takes for your body to metabolize alcohol can vary depending on numerous factors, such as:

    • age (younger people tend to metabolize alcohol more quickly than older people)
    • sex (men tend to metabolize alcohol more quicky than women)
    • body fat (people who weigh more tend to metabolize alcohol more quickly than people who weigh less)
    • when you last ate (people who eat while drinking tend to metabolize alcohol more quickly than people who drink on an empty stomach)
    • general health (people with liver, kidney, and stomach problems tend to metabolize alcohol more slowly)
    • whether you take medications (certain medications can slow or speed up the metabolization of alcohol)
    • the type of drink consumed (drinks with a higher alcohol content take longer to metabolize)

    How Alcohol Is Metabolized

    When you drink alcohol, your stomach and small intestine absorb the drug and transport it to your bloodstream. Your body then starts to metabolize, or process, alcohol. 

    As the alcohol metabolizes, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) goes down. BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. 

    Nearly 100% of an alcoholic beverage is metabolized in your liver by enzymes (molecules that help speed up chemical reactions in your body) called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). 

    The remaining alcohol exits your body via your urine, sweat, and breath. 

    Even after your body processes alcohol, the drug can be detected in your blood, urine, breath, saliva, and hair. 

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Blood?

    An alcohol blood test can detect alcohol consumption for up to 6 hours after your last drink

    However, if you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time (also called binge drinking), or if you metabolize alcohol more slowly than most people, it could be detected for more than 6 hours.

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Urine?

    A standard urine test for alcohol can detect the drug for 12 to 48 hours after your last drink. More advanced urine tests can detect the drug for 80 hours or more after your last drink.

    Some people think you can prevent alcohol from appearing on a urine test by drinking lots of water to dilute the alcohol. 

    However, many urine tests don’t just look for urine. They also look for metabolites (byproducts of metabolized alcohol) called ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulfate (EtS). Drinking water will not remove these metabolites from your urine.

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?

    When alcohol enters your body, some of it gets trapped in tiny air sacs in your lungs. That’s why other people may be able to smell alcohol on your breath. 

    An alcohol breath test (also called a breathalyzer test) can detect alcohol for 12 to 24 hours after your last drink. It becomes detectable in as little as 15 minutes after your first drink. 

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Saliva?

    An alcohol saliva test involves swabbing the inside of your cheek with a cotton swab. It can detect alcohol for 12 to 24 hours after your last drink

    In addition, some saliva tests can detect alcohol metabolites for up to 5 days after your last drink

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Hair?

    A hair test can detect alcohol for up to 90 days after your last drink. Because it can detect the drug longer than any other test, it’s often used to determine whether a person recovering from alcohol addiction (also called alcohol use disorder) has stayed sober. 

    If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. We offer a variety of alcohol addiction treatment services, including medical detox, mental health counseling, and support groups.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - What Is A Standard Drink?
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Blood Alcohol Level
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Overview: How Is Alcohol Metabolized by the Body?

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 16, 2022
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