How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?
The greatest question many people have about alcohol is how long exactly it remains in their system after drinking. It’s an important question to know the answer to, whether you just want to have safe driving practices while out on the town, you want to make sure you’re in the clear for a drug test, or you simply want to pace yourself while drinking. The biggest source of confusion is that the gap between when alcohol quits actively affecting you, and when it has completely left you is significant. While it may be easy to simply think that any drinks you’ve had have left your body once you can’t feel the effects of them, but alcohol can remain detectable in your system for much longer.
How Long is Alcohol Detectable in my Body?
Just like calculating BAC, there are many individual factors that can come into play while answering this question. The simple answer is that like many other substances, alcohol will linger in your body for a while after use. The more complex answer is that it depends on what part of the body you’re testing, what kind of test you’re using, how much alcohol was consumed, and other individual factors. Here are some specific examples of how long alcohol can be detectable in different parts of your body.
Blood and urine for up to 12 hours
Your breath for up to 24 hours
Your saliva anywhere from 1 to 5 days
In your hair follicles for anywhere up to 90 days (5)
I’ve Been Drinking, How Long Will it be Until I’m Sober?
The answer to this depends a lot on some individual factors, but first it’s good to know how exactly someone’s intoxication is measured. The most common means of measuring the amount of alcohol in your body is through blood alcohol content level, or BAC. BAC, as the name suggests, measures the percentage of your blood that is pure alcohol. As soon as you have your first drink it will be on the rise, but there are many factors that determine how much a single drink will affect the level of alcohol in the body such as: (3)
How strong the drink is
The composition of your body
If, and what, you ate before drinking.
Your general metabolic rate
Outside of a lab setting, and unless they have a Breathalyzer with them, there is no readily available way for the average person to measure their blood alcohol content with any kind of scientific accuracy. However, there are online resources made available by organizations such as Aware Awake Alive that help you to roughly calculate your BAC levels based on your weight, and the number of drinks you’ve had.
What Does a Specific BAC Level Mean?
0.08 is the point at which most states in the U.S. consider someone to be legally intoxicated, and incapable of driving. If you are pulled over, consent to a breathalyzer, and blow at or over 0.08, you will be arrested for driving under the influence. Here are a few other BAC benchmarks to keep in mind, which may help you link how someone feels while drinking in relation to their level of intoxication, and how long it will take for it to clear out of their system:
12 fluid ounces of beer at 5% ABV
8 to 9 fluid ounces of malt liquor at 7% ABV
5 fluid ounces of wine at
3-4 fluid ounces of fortified wine at 17%
1.5 fluid ounces of most 80 proof liquors, brandy, or cognac.
.02 – early effects
.04 – most people begin to feel relaxed
.06 – judgment becomes impaired
.08 – physically impaired, considered legally unable to drive
.12 – vomiting is triggered in most people
.15 – inner ear becomes impaired, resulting in loss of balance
.20 – begin to blackout
.30 – lose consciousness
.40 – lose consciousness, death is a possibility
.45 – death is likely to occur (1)
Take care to remember that the effects of alcohol vary based not only on your individual body, but also your drinking frequency. It may take less alcohol for one person to reach a fatal amount, and an experienced drinker will also process alcohol in their system faster.
Figuring out when alcohol has safely left your system can be math intensive and can get to be complicated without the proper resources once you’ve had a few drinks. Luckily, there are other alternatives. If you don’t have access to your computer, or you don’t want to be worrying over a cellphone in a social situation, a good rule of thumb to remember is that your body can process roughly one drink an hour! (4)
For instance, say you’ve gone to go meet a good friend to catch up over a drink, and you’ve both driven separately. You stay for an hour at the first bar, and you have just one drink. Your friend has two drinks before you head over to a second bar. You have just one more drink and spend an hour at the second bar before you both agree to go home. At this rate, you’ve both spent 2 hours burning off the drinks you’ve had, but your friend has had twice the amount to drink than you did. While they may not be legally at 0.08, they will certainly have alcohol in their system. By keeping the “one hour, one drink” rule of thumb in mind, and gauging how you feel, the most responsible and safest thing to do may be to drive the friend home yourself or call a taxi or ride-sharing service to take them home.
In the United States, the government legally considers a drink to be a beverage that contains 0.6 fluid ounces, or 14 grams of alcohol. It can be hard to know what a standardized drink looks like, so here are some easy conversions to remember:
Always be sure to check the label on a drink for the Alcohol by Volume. If you’re in a bar or restaurant and can’t find any information on the menu about an alcoholic beverage you’re interested in, be sure to ask your server about the strength of a drink.
Whether you just want to be mindful of yourself while you’re out on the town, concerned about a drug test in your future, or simply want to make sure your friend’s get home safe after a night out, it’s incredibly valuable to know how long it takes for alcohol to leave the human body. It’s also important to keep in mind that your personal history with alcohol can change how quickly it will affect you, and how quickly your body is able to process it. It’s also necessary to understand that the things that you can’t change about yourself, such as your age, sex, and genetics can affect how long it takes to alcohol will leave your system. With all these individual factors in mind, and the experience of learning and listening to your body, you can be able to easily predict the limits and abilities of your body when it comes to processing alcohol.