American Addiction Centers: The Reality of How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System after You Drink
August 8, 2019
In an effort to educate people, American Addiction Centers (AAC) believes everyone who drinks, even socially, should have a solid grasp on how that drinking affects them. After all, drinking alcohol has been a part of human culture for millennia and the majority of those who drink can do so socially, without a high risk of shifting into problem drinking or developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).
However, even those who drink socially may be unaware of how alcohol affects them or how long it stays in their system once they’ve consumed it. This lack of awareness can lead to serious problems for anyone who consumes alcohol. With that in mind, it’s important to first understand the different levels of alcohol consumption.
Social Drinking to AUD
- Pure alcohol – 0.6 ounces
- Beer (5% alcohol) – 12 ounces
- Wine (12% alcohol) – 5 ounces
- Distilled spirits (40% alcohol) – 1.5 ounces
Low-risk level of drinking is what is commonly referred to as social drinking or moderate drinking, and is defined as follows:
- Men – no more than 4 drinks per day and 14 drinks per week
- Women – no more than 3 drinks per day and 7 drinks per week
Binge drinking is defined as drinking enough to raise blood alcohol levels to 0.08 g/dL within two hours. On average, this is reached with the following consumption:”:
- Men – 5 drinks
- Women – 4 drinks
Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking five or more days in a month. AUD is a progressive and chronic relapsing brain disease that is defined by the compulsive need to consume alcohol, a lack of control over that consumption, and a negative emotional state when not consuming.
The important thing to understand here is that binge and heavy drinking and AUD are not the only levels of drinking that can be problematic. Social drinking also has its risks.
Risks of Drinking
Over the long-term, drinking can wear away at your health because alcohol is a toxin. It can cause high blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke, increase the risk of cancer, and damage your liver. However, drinking socially, even only occasionally, comes with risks. You can still:
- Have a blackout, which happens when your brain does not record your memories for a period of time
- Develop alcohol myopia, which causes you to narrowly focus on what makes you feel good, impairing your ability to anticipate the consequences of your actions or determine when a situation is dangerous
- Misunderstand situations and miscommunicate your wants and needs
- Get alcohol poisoning by drinking past what your body can safely tolerate
- Develop a physical and/or psychological dependence on alcohol
- Get into a car and drive when your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit, which is 0.08 g/dL, or get into a car with someone else who is over the legal limit
And if you think you’re good to drive an hour after you’ve had a drink, think again. That might not be the case.
Length of Time Alcohol Stays in Your System
When you have a drink of alcohol, how that drink affects you will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- Whether you have eaten, when, and how much
- How hydrated you are
- Your body size and weight
- Your gender
- Your age
- Your metabolism
- Your health, both physical and emotional
- The type of alcohol and its strength
- Whether any medications have been taken that could react with the alcohol
Remember that binge drinking will raise your BAC to 0.08 g/dL, at which time it is illegal to drive. However, even if you don’t binge, an evening of having a few drinks can put you over the legal limit.
Alcohol is absorbed into the body, rather than simply digested. From the moment it enters your mouth, the absorption process begins via the tongue and mucosal lining in the mouth. In the stomach and only 15-45 minutes after consumption, the alcohol is absorbed through the tissue lining of the stomach right into the blood stream. This means the alcohol is absorbed into your system much more quickly than it leaves your system. Depending on how quickly you drink and what you are drinking, it can take just 30-45 minutes for your blood to reach maximum BAC.
When it comes to the alcohol leaving your system, it’s the liver’s job to break it down (metabolize it) and clean it out of the blood. This takes time and everyone’s liver performs this job at a different rate. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the average person can metabolize a half a drink per hour. So, one drink will be gone from your system in two hours.
When it comes to your BAC, which is what matters when you want to get behind the wheel of a car, here is what you need to know. Since alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream faster than it can be broken down, you can drink quickly and be very intoxicated in a short amount of time. However, no matter how quickly you become intoxicated, the average rate your BAC decreases is 0.015 g/dL per hour. That means it will take up to 6 hours for someone who has binged to have a 0.0 g/dL BAC. Keep in mind, this is an average. It might take longer for some people and less time for others.
However, your blood isn’t the only part of your body that holds on to alcohol. Here is a breakdown of how long alcohol stays in other parts of the body:
- Breath: 12-24 Hours
- Urine: 12-24 Hours
- Saliva: 12-24 Hours
- Hair: 90 Days
With all of this in mind, it is important to always be mindful not only of how much you are drinking, but how quickly, and whether you are eating or hydrating in addition to drinking. And when it comes to driving, the best course of action is simply to not do it if you have consumed any alcohol at all.