Alcohol stays in your blood for about 6 to 12 hours on average. Common alcohol tests can detect recent alcohol use for up to 48 hours after your last drink. Advanced testing methods can detect alcohol use up to 90 days after your last alcoholic beverage.
Knowing how your body processes alcohol can help you practice healthier drinking habits, such as avoiding binge drinking. It can also reduce the risk of dangerous behavior after drinking alcohol, such as driving under the influence.
Factors That Affect Alcohol Metabolism
For every standard drink, it takes one hour for your body to metabolize that drink.
After one hour, your blood alcohol levels (BAC levels) are likely at their highest. Your blood alcohol concentration gradually goes down as alcohol is broken down into parts and excreted through the urine.
Other factors affect how long alcohol stays in your body, and the amount of time varies from person to person.
Alcohol is mainly broken down by the liver, where enzymes like alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase break alcohol down into metabolites or unique ingredients.
Amount Of Alcohol Consumed
On average, one standard drink of alcohol takes about 1 hour to get metabolized, or broken down, by the liver. The more alcohol you drink, the longer it will take for your liver to break it down.
People often try certain methods to sober up, like drinking water or coffee, but no method will break down alcohol faster. It is not possible to be fully sober until all the alcohol has been broken down by your liver.
Foods Or Substances
Food high in carbohydrates can affect alcohol absorption. Drinking on an empty stomach can cause irritation while eating food and drinking can slow absorption and cause blood alcohol levels (BAC levels) to rise slower.
Alcohol interacts with many common substances, like antidepressants and benzodiazepines. It is not recommended to take these substances with alcohol, because they can combine with the effects of alcohol and cause a health hazard.
Differences in body composition, like body fat, can change how efficiently your body processes alcohol.
Men tend to metabolize alcohol faster than women because they have more blood making up their total body mass on average.
Types Of Alcohol Tests
Alcohol tests look for metabolites or ingredients in the body that are signs of recent substance use. The main metabolite in alcohol is ethanol, but newer tests may also test for ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulfate.
A Breathalyzer is a breath test commonly used during traffic stops. Alcohol ends up in your lungs through your bloodstream. A breathalyzer test picks up your blood alcohol content just by breathing into it.
In the United States, it is illegal to drive with a BAC level of 0.08 or higher. Some states have harsher punishments for drivers caught with higher BAC levels. Drivers under 21 have a “zero tolerance” limit, which means any amount of alcohol in their blood is illegal.
Blood tests are more invasive than breath tests but they can be more accurate. They likely involve drawing blood with a needle and testing the sample for metabolites and can detect alcohol up to 12 hours after your last drink.
Regular blood tests may be a part of alcohol addiction treatment programs to make sure you’re not drinking while not going through treatment.
Urine tests involve testing a sample of urine for metabolites. They can detect alcohol use up to 48 hours after your last drink. Since alcohol mostly leaves the body through urine, urine tests can accurately detect alcohol longer than other short-term tests.
Like blood tests, urine tests may be done at treatment centers during alcohol use disorder rehab programs.
Alcohol metabolites can stay in your hair for up to 90 days. Hair tests for alcohol are a less common type of test, but can be used to detect many substances.
Field Sobriety Tests
U.S. law enforcement officers use standardized field sobriety tests to assess your balance, focus, and reaction time. These tests may be done before breath and blood tests. If you fail, you may be subject to further testing or taken into custody.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Alcohol addiction treatment programs may use detox programs to manage alcohol withdrawal, behavioral therapy to change unhealthy patterns of behavior, and other recovery services such as peer support groups.
To find out if our recovery options are well-suited for yourself or a loved one, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today.
Learn About Available Treatment Options
- Medical University of South Carolina — About Urine Ethylglucuronide (EtG) Testing
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Alcohol Metabolism: An Update
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — The Science of Drug Testing: How Alcohol Breath Tests Work
- National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Blood Alcohol Level
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.