There is no set answer to the question “How long does alcohol stay in your system?” It depends on how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol, which is affected by factors like genetics, age, weight, and more. It also depends on how much you drink and the concentration of alcohol in those drinks.
In general, your body can metabolize about one drink per hour.1 However, some alcohol detection tests can measure alcohol in your system for 24 hours or more. In this post, we’ll discuss how long alcohol stays in your system and how long you feel drunk, how the body metabolizes alcohol, detection times, and more.
To learn how a standard drink is defined, blood alcohol content measurements, and what qualifies as risky drinking, check out our Drinking Levels Guide.
Effects and Risks of Drinking
Ethanol, more commonly known as alcohol, intoxicates you by slowing the central nervous system.2 It also triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, causing soothing, pleasurable feelings that encourage many people to drink more.
But heavy alcohol use is risky. It can lead to poor decision-making, physical injury, a variety of chronic illnesses, and even fatal overdose. When you drink more alcohol than your system can process, these risks increase.
How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol
After you swallow a sip of alcohol, it enters the stomach and small intestine. From the small intestine, alcohol hits the bloodstream and circulates to organs including the brain. Your blood also carries alcohol to your liver, where most of it is metabolized, or broken down.3
Enzymes in the liver first convert alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic carcinogen which plays a role in hangover symptoms. The acetaldehyde is then converted to acetic acid, a less harmful byproduct that’s finally converted to carbon dioxide and water, and exits the body in the urine.
For one standard drink, your body can complete this entire process in an hour or two. But if you have multiple drinks back to back, your system becomes saturated. The extra alcohol continues to circulate throughout the body until it can be processed. This increases your blood alcohol concentration and leads to intoxication.
Schedule a private call with a Ria Health team member and we can help you get started.
Factors Affecting How Long Alcohol Stays in Your Body
The rate at which alcohol metabolism happens varies depending on numerous factors,4 including:
- Biological sex (men process alcohol more quickly)
- Age (older people can have higher BAC)
- Body composition and weight
- Genetic factors (e.g., variations in the enzymes that break down alcohol)
- How quickly alcohol is consumed
- Frequency of drinking
- Overall health/nutrition
- Food consumption
- Other drugs or medications in the system
This is why it’s hard to give a simple, definitive answer to questions like, “How long does alcohol stay in your body?” or, “How long does being drunk last?” Although it takes about an hour per standard drink to metabolize alcohol, it varies depending on the person.
How Long Until I’m 100% Clear of Alcohol?
So, how long until alcohol is 100% gone from your system? Again, it depends. For example, you can estimate that if you had five drinks, it could take about five hours for your body to process the alcohol.
However, the factors listed above will make a difference in your processing rate. And traces of alcohol can linger in your system long after you’ve sobered up. For instance, alcohol can be detected in your urine for up to four days post-consumption.
How Long Does Being Drunk Last?
There’s a difference between how long alcohol is in your system and how long you feel drunk. Typically, the sensation of being drunk fades within 6-7 hours of your last drink, based on how much you’ve consumed and the other factors we’ve listed.
Of course, it depends on how you define drunk. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter is a common benchmark for legal intoxication. On average, your BAC drops at a rate of about 0.015 per hour.5 So, if your BAC is 0.08, you should be sober in 5-6 hours. But if you are drunker than that to begin with, it could take significantly longer.
In most cases, you will feel sober by the following day. But the answer to this question varies widely depending on how much you drink, and how fast your body processes alcohol.
How Long Will I Test Positive For Alcohol?
Alcohol detection times vary for different types of tests. While some tests can only detect alcohol for about six hours, others can detect alcohol for several days. And alcohol can show up in hair tests for as long as 90 days (although hair is rarely tested for alcohol). Here’s a quick breakdown of tests and time frames:
- Blood: Up to 6 hours
- Breath: 12-24 hours
- Saliva: 12-24 hours
- Urine: 12-24 hours; up to 80 hours for more advanced tests6
- Hair: Up to 90 days
If you’re unsure if you’d pass a breathalyzer test, you should absolutely not drive.
Is There a Way To Sober Up More Quickly?
People offer all kinds of advice on how to sober up quick, from drinking coffee to eating food or taking an ice cold shower. But the truth is there’s no quick way to get alcohol out of your system; all you can do is stop drinking and wait for time to pass.
Although you can’t speed up the metabolization process, you can take steps to help you feel more alert and aware. Caffeine, cold showers, and food can, in fact, help you feel less drunk. You can also sleep, exercise, and hydrate.
Remember that even if these strategies reduce the sensation of being drunk, they do nothing to lower your BAC. It’s still not safe to drive until your body has had time to properly metabolize the alcohol in your system.