How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? Saliva, Blood, Urine & More
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- The length of time will vary between different people.
- There are many factors that affect how long alcohol will stay in your system.
- Alcohol can be detected in breath, blood, saliva, urine and hair.
- The length of time alcohol can be detected depends on where the sample being tested is taken from.
How long alcohol stays in your system depends on different factors. The rate at which alcohol is absorbed, metabolized and excreted varies from person to person. Some factors will also affect how long alcohol can be detected through different testing methods.
Alcohol Absorption, Metabolization and Excretion
How is alcohol metabolized? When a person drinks, alcohol is first absorbed through their digestive system and into their blood. It will then circulate throughout the body, including in the liver, where it will be broken down or metabolized. Once metabolized, the byproducts of alcohol are excreted in the urine.
How the Body Absorbs Alcohol
When drinking alcohol, it will enter your digestive system and be absorbed into the blood, mostly through the lining of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). There are several different factors that can affect a person’s absorption of alcohol, including their age, weight, gender, etc. The rate of alcohol absorption depends on how much alcohol you drink and how fast you drink it. Eating will slow down alcohol absorption in the stomach.
How the Body Processes Alcohol
Once in the bloodstream, alcohol will circulate through the body. In the brain, alcohol will interact with neurotransmitter receptors and give you the feeling of being drunk. It will also circulate through the liver, where it will be metabolized. Alcohol metabolism in the liver occurs with an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.
How fast alcohol metabolizes should be roughly the same between different people since it depends on how fast the enzyme can break it down. However, people can also have different variations of the enzyme that are faster or slower than normal. In general, the liver is able to process about one drink per hour. One drink is defined as:
- One shot of liquor (40% alcohol or 80 proof)
- Five fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 12 fluid ounces of beer (5% alcohol)
How the Body Excretes Alcohol
More than 90% of alcohol consumed is broken down and eliminated in the liver. Some alcohol is not broken down but is excreted in its original form in urine, breath or sweat— about 2% to 5%. Sweating out alcohol will not help to eliminate it faster.
Legal Alcohol Limit
The legal alcohol limit while driving is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08. This means that 0.08 percent of the blood is alcohol.
How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected In Your System?
There have been several tests developed to detect the presence of alcohol in your body. These tests target different processes and, as a result, have varying detection timeframes. While some tests can only provide information about recent consumption, others can indicate alcohol consumption days or even weeks prior.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Breath?
Alcohol can be excreted in the breath, which is reflective of how much alcohol is in the blood. An alcohol breath test, or breathalyzer, can detect alcohol on a person’s breath for 12 to 24 hours after drinking. The time it takes for the alcohol to no longer be detected in a person’s breath will depend on how much they drank and how fast they metabolize alcohol. There is no easy way to get alcohol off your breath; only time will decrease your blood alcohol level and how much is in your breath.
Other Alcohol Testing Methods
Besides a breathalyzer, there are other alcohol testing methods that can be used to detect alcohol in a person’s system. Some of these tests look for alcohol (ethyl alcohol directly), but others detect a metabolite of alcohol, ethyl glucuronide (EtG). The amount of time that alcohol can be detected in a person’s system depends on where it is being tested.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Urine?
An alcohol urine test is not usually done to test for alcohol in a person’s system. Blood or breath are the preferred ways to test. However, alcohol can be detected in urine for 12 to 24 hours after drinking. Ethyl glucuronide (EtG), a metabolite of alcohol, is detectable in urine for up to four days following alcohol consumption.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Saliva?
Alcohol can also be detected in saliva. It usually takes about two hours for saliva levels to match blood alcohol levels, but alcohol can be detected in saliva for 12 to 24 hours. Alcohol saliva tests can be done using test strips that detect ethyl alcohol concentrations greater than 0.02%.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?
The test used most often, other than a breathalyzer, is a blood alcohol test. A blood alcohol test is more accurate than a breathalyzer and can confirm how much alcohol is in a person’s system. This is often done if a person is suspected of driving while under the influence (DUI) to have as evidence in court. Blood alcohol testing methods can detect alcohol in blood from 1 to 12 hours after stopping drinking.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Hair?
An alcohol hair test will look for the alcohol metabolite EtG, which can be detected in hair for at least 90 days following alcohol use.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breast Milk?
Avoiding alcohol use when breastfeeding is the safest option. Some research suggests that a breastfeeding mother can have one drink per day without affecting the infant if she waits 2 to 2.5 hours after drinking to feed her infant. There is, however, some risk of alcohol being present in the breast milk. There are breast milk alcohol test strips that mothers can use to test their breast milk for alcohol.
Factors Affecting How Long Alcohol Is in the System
There are many factors that affect how long alcohol will stay in a person’s system. For example, there are gender differences in alcohol metabolism after consumption. Women tend to have alcohol in their system longer when drinking the same amount as men. Other factors include:
- How fast alcohol is consumed
- The amount of alcohol consumed
- Body fat content
- Overall health
- Time since last meal
- Medications taken
Finding Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Drinking too much alcohol can be dangerous and potentially lead to alcohol poisoning. Frequently drinking too much can be a sign of alcohol abuse. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol, help is available. The Recovery Village at Baptist Health offers alcohol addiction treatment to help those with an alcohol use disorder begin their recovery journey.
The Recovery Village at Baptist Health provides multiple levels of care to meet patients wherever they are, including medical detox, medication-assisted treatment, inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient and aftercare. Patients can enjoy several amenities, such as gyms and entertainment lounges, alongside others who know what they are going through. Expert staff members are there for you every step of the way. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to find help.
Related Questions About Alcohol Abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The Science of Drug Testing: How Alcohol Breath Tests Work” April 4, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Paton, Alex. “ABC of Alcohol: Alcohol in the body.” British Medical Journal, January 8, 2005. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Appendix B. Urine Collection and Testing Procedures and Alternative Methods for Monitoring Drug Use” Treatment Improvement Protocol, 2006. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Wurst, F. M.; Kempter, C.; Metzger, J.; Seidl, S.; & Alt, A.“Ethyl glucuronide: a marker of recent alcohol consumption with clinical and forensic implications.” Alcohol, February 2000. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Thokala, Madhusudhana Rao; Dorankula, Shyam Prasad Reddy; Muddana, Keertrthi; & Velidandla, Surekha Reddy. “Alcohol Saliva Strip Test.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, March 2014. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Fucci, N.; Gili, A.; Aroni, K.; Bacci, M.; Carletti, P.; Pascali, V. L.; & Gambelunghe, C. “Monitoring people at risk of drinking by a rapid urinary ethyl glucuronide test.” Interdisciplinary toxicology, December 2017. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Anderson, L. “Drug Testing FAQs.” Drugs.com, August 26, 2019. Accessed September 14, 2023.
Stewart, Scott H.; Koch, David G.; Willner, Ira R.; Randall, Patrick K.; & Reuben, Adrian. “Hair Ethyl Glucuronide is Highly Sensitive and Specific for Detecting Moderate-to-Heavy Drinking in Patients with Liver Disease.” Alcohol and Alcoholism, January/February 2013. Accessed September 14, 2023.
National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol.” Drugs and Lactation Database, 2006. Accessed September 14, 2023.