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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

    How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

    A number of factors influence how long alcohol stays in your system. It takes time for alcohol to be processed by the body, and this should not be underestimated before, after or during drinking.

    On average, one standard drink takes one hour to metabolize in the body.

    There are four main ways to determine if alcohol is still detectable in the body [1].

    • Breath: Breath tests can detect alcohol within a shorter time frame, approximately 24 hours on average
    • Blood: Although a lot of people find a blood test invasive, blood tests can detect alcohol in the body fro up to 12 hours after alcohol has been consumed
    • Urine: There are two main forms of urine tests; the EtG test (which can detect alcohol 3-5 days after it’s been consumed) and the traditional method (which can detect alcohol 10-12 hours afterwards)
    • Hair: As the byproducts of alcohol pass into hair follicles, all forms of alcohol and drugs are easily detected in hair follicles of both men and women up to 90 days after alcohol has been consumed

    How long does it take for the effects of alcohol to wear off?

    If you have ever gone out with a group of friends and noticed that everyone feels the effects of alcohol at different rates, then you’ll understand that the same can be said for how long it takes the effects of alcohol to wear off, too.

    That’s because everyone’s blood alcohol concentration levels are different.

    Blood alcohol concentration (also commonly referred to as BAC) is the amount of alcohol in an individual’s blood in relation to the amount of water in their blood [2].

    Everyone’s BAC varies from person to person and it can differ depending on each individual’s situation and a number of existing factors.

    These factors and situations include [3]:

    • Age
    • Your gender
    • If you’re taking any certain types of medications
    • Your weight and body fat percentage
    • Whether or not you’re drinking alcohol on an empty stomach
    • Whether or not you have a form of liver disease
    • Whether you drink often, or tend of binge drink (drinking lots of drinks in a short space of time)

    Your BAC is also influenced by how quickly you consume the alcohol, and just how much alcohol is in your drink in the first place. This drastically influences how long it takes your body to metabolise the alcohol.

    For example, some beers and spirits have a much higher alcohol content than others which will directly affect how much alcohol you’re consuming.

    There are a number of things you can do to help reduce the effects of alcohol and reduce the amount of time it takes to recover from those effects.

    Here are a few things you can do to reduce how long alcohol stays in your body:

    • Eat more food, as this will help your body absorb the alcohol quicker and much more easily
    • Drink more water and stay hydrated, as this will help to reduce your BAC
    • Avoid all caffeine and caffeinated drinks

    How Do You Know When You’re Drunk?

    As previously discussed, the higher your BAC the more you are likely to stay intoxicated for longer and display signs of being intoxicated.

    These signs include [4]:

    • Slurring of speech and difficulty in communicating
    • Trouble breathing or feeling out of breath easily
    • Lack of coordination
    • Difficulty in remembering things and confusion
    • Getting distracted easily

    How the Body Processes Alcohol

    Alcohol enters the body and through the digestive system travels to the stomach and small intestine. At this stage, over 90% of the alcohol consumed is eliminated by the liver, and 2-5% is excreted through urine, sweat or breath [3].

    Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, it’s quickly absorbed into the rest of the body. This is why alcohol affects so many different parts of the body, from your eyesight to the mobility in your arms and legs.

    However, most of the alcohol that enters the body ends up in the liver.

    At this stage, if the individual has consumed too much alcohol too quickly, the liver overflows and the alcohol accumulates in the blood and other surrounding tissues. This is what causes you to lose control of your body.

    Breastfeeding and alcohol

    It is now well understood that you should not drink alcohol when you are breastfeeding. Infants who are exposed to alcohol through their mother’s milk are exposed to a whole host of difficulties and illnesses; from developmental delays to motor difficulties.

    It is commonly misunderstood that drinking alcohol and waiting enough time before producing milk is safe – it is not. Once you’ve consumed alcohol, the breast milk you produce for a long time is no longer safe for your baby.

    Factors that Affect how Quickly your body Metabolises Alcohol

    There are a number of factors that influence the rate at which your body metabolises alcohol.

    As previously mentioned, this is because the BAC of individuals can fluctuate among people for a number of reasons. The main reasons being [3]:

    1. Age

    If an individual is older, then alcohol is more likely to stay in the liver before moving on to the rest of the body. This increases the length of time the individual is likely to feel intoxicated for, and of course, risk to the liver.

    It’s believed that this is because the amount of water in the body reduces the older an individual gets.

    Also, the more medication an individual is on, the longer it takes the body to metabolise the alcohol. Older people are much more likely to be on more medication and therefore, are more likely to metabolise the alcohol slower.

    2. Your Gender

    Alcohol is metabolized and absorbed into the body differently by men and women. Therefore, alcohol stays in a woman’s system much longer than it does a mans.

    There are two main reasons why this happens. Women have a higher percentage of body fat, and a lower percentage of body water compared to men.

    Therefore, a man is able to dilute the alcohol quicker than a woman’s body can’t. This is the case even if the two individuals are the same body fat percentage, height and weight.

    Women also have less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase in their body. This is the liver enzyme that metabolizes the toxic acetaldehyde caused by alcohol into acetate, which is a much less toxic compound in the body that breaks down into water and carbon dioxide [3].

    Women’s hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process and dilute alcohol. Therefore, women are much more likely to experience a prolonged sensation with drinking alcohol just before they’re about to start their period.

    3. How Much You’ve Eaten that Day

    In order for your body to quickly absorb alcohol, it’s important to eat a good, hearty meal before drinking alcohol.

    This is because food is able to dilute and slow the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine, which is where the alcohol is absorbed.

    Before eating, you should try and eat a good, hearty meal. It’s also important for you to eat well the day after drinking, too.

    Eating regular meals, particularly in the lead up to alcohol consumption will help the enzymes in your body and liver slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed and prevent you from feeling and being intoxicated quickly and for a long period of time.

    4. Body Weight and Height

    The body size of an individual can also affect how alcohol is processed and absorbed by the body.

    This is generally because individual’s with a higher body fat percentage also have a BAC, meaning that their muscle tissue can absorb and hold more alcohol.

    5. If You’re Taking any Medications

    If you’re taking medications, this can also affect the way alcohol is absorbed into the body and can drastically affect the way alcohol is processed.

    This is because some medications slow down the rate of which the stomach empties, which therefore causes the alcohol to be rapidly absorbed. This makes you intoxicated a lot quicker and for a longer period of time.

    References

    [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4920965/

    [2] Lewis KO. Back calculation of blood alcohol concentration. BMJ 1987;295: 800-1 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

    [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC543875/

    [4] [3]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Overview of Alcohol Consumption.

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