Drug and Alcohol

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? What You Need to Know

How long does alcohol stay in your system? The answer might shock you. Our blog has the facts you need to know about alcohol use andmore.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? What You Need to Know

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

June 21, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Legal in all 50 states, easily available, and a mainstay in the lives of most people, alcohol is one of the most popular drugs in the US.

Yes, alcohol is a drug. It’s a psychoactive drug and a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol is also addictive – and alcohol addiction is exceptionally destructive.

So, to the question: how long does alcohol stay in your system?

It’s an important question to ask. Anyone who’s ever wondered how safe it was to drive has asked themselves some form of this question. Likewise, someone who may be dealing with alcohol abuse may wonder how much time they have before alcohol withdrawal kicks in.

Let’s explore this question.

Stats About Alcohol

According to the NSDUH 2021, 219.2 million persons aged 12 and over reported having consumed alcohol at some point.

What is Alcohol? Understanding its Composition and Types

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is widely consumed for its intoxicating effects. In addition, it is a central nervous system depressant. This means it lowers brain activity and inhibits cognitive and physical functions. The most prevalent form of alcohol present in drinks is ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol. It’s created through yeast fermentation of carbohydrates.

Beer, wine, and spirits are all examples of alcoholic drinks. Beer is usually prepared from malted grains like barley, but wine is manufactured from fermented grapes. Spirits are alcoholic liquids distilled from grains, fruits, or vegetables. Whiskey, vodka, rum, and tequila are examples of spirits.

The alcohol content of various beverages varies. For example, beer typically has a lower alcohol concentration, ranging from 4% to 8%. But wine has a higher alcohol content, ranging from 12 to 15%. Spirits have a greater alcohol percentage, typically 40 to 60%; however, this might vary depending on the variety.

How Does Alcohol Work?

Alcohol usually has a variety of effects on the body. It enters the circulation quickly via the stomach and small intestine when consumed. It is then delivered to several organs, including the brain, where it exerts its effects. In addition, the liver is essential in breaking alcohol into byproducts that can be removed from the body.

While a moderate intake of alcohol is widespread, excessive consumption can develop into an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Heavy drinking can also have negative consequences on physical and mental health. Understanding the content and kinds of alcohol is critical in fostering healthy drinking behaviors and making educated alcohol consumption decisions.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

The amount and frequency of alcohol taken, your metabolism, hydration levels, and individual variations all influence how long alcohol remains in your system. While the liver is the primary metabolizer of alcohol, a small amount is removed through breath, sweat, urine, and other body fluids.

Detection Window

Depending on the test's sensitivity and individual circumstances, alcohol can be detected for a wide variety of ranges.

Metabolites Detected

Some tests detect alcohol metabolites, such as ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulfate (EtS), rather than the presence of alcohol itself.

Recent Alcohol Consumption

Many tests which look for recent alcohol intake are more indicative of recent alcohol use than of acute impairment.

Individual Differences

Factors like metabolism, liver function, and hydration levels can impact how rapidly alcohol and its metabolites are removed from the body.

Increased Alcohol Intake

Increased alcohol intake and chronic usage might cause the detection window in drug tests to be extended.

Hydration and Lifestyle

Staying hydrated, participating in regular physical activity, and giving your body enough time to digest alcohol can help dispose of it.

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How Long Does Alcohol Show Up on Drug Tests?

Again, many factors like the ones mentioned above determine how long drug tests can detect alcohol in your system. Here are some simple estimates:

Breath Alcohol Test

The most common form of alcohol test, a breath test can detect alcohol for up to one day.

Blood Alcohol Test

A blood test can detect alcohol in the system for up to six hours.

Urine Alcohol Test

A urine drug test can detect alcohol for up to three days after it was last used.

Saliva Alcohol Test

A mouth swab can detect traces of alcohol for up to a day.

Hair Follicle Alcohol Test

A drug test using a person’s hair can detect alcohol for up to three months.

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Yes, alcohol is considered a depressant. However, it mainly impacts the central nervous system (CNS) and has soothing effects on brain function. Alcohol slows or depresses the functioning of the CNS, resulting in various consequences on the body and mind. The side effects include relaxation, lowered inhibitions, delayed response times, diminished coordination, and sleepiness.

Alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain, namely GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It amplifies GABA's actions, resulting in a sedating and soothing effect. This is why alcohol is frequently related to feelings of relaxation and anxiety reduction.

While alcohol is initially depressive, it may also be stimulating in certain people or in lesser amounts. These side effects might include enhanced sociability, talkativeness, and a brief mood boost.

However, taking alcohol excessively or over an extended length of time can amplify its depressive effects, resulting in negative outcomes such as decreased judgment, motor skills, and cognitive function. It may also lead to alcoholism and various other health issues.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic disorder marked by excessive and uncontrollable alcohol intake, even after detrimental repercussions to an individual's physical, mental, and social well-being. Therefore, recognizing the signs of AUD is critical for early intervention and treatment.

The following are some of the most prevalent symptoms of alcoholism:

Control Issues

Individuals suffering from AUD find it difficult to restrict their alcohol use and to quit or moderate their drinking.

Alcohol Cravings

AUD is characterized by frequent and severe alcohol urges. These desires can be strong and challenging to overcome.


Individuals with AUD acquire a tolerance to alcohol over time, requiring greater doses to get the desired effects. This can result in increased alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Individuals with AUD may experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, sweating, nausea, and sleeplessness when their alcohol use is reduced or abruptly halted.

Ignoring Responsibilities and Relationships

People dealing with AUD frequently emphasize drinking over their duties, and they may disregard their employment, family, and social responsibilities.

Continued Drinking Despite Negative Outcomes

Individuals with AUD drink alcohol despite the negative impacts on their physical health, relationships, and general functioning.

Lack of Interest

Hobbies, occupations, and social contacts that were once pleasurable may now be overshadowed by alcohol usage.

Absence From Social Activities

Individuals suffering from AUD may avoid social situations that do not involve alcohol, preferring to be in situations where drinking is more accepted or encouraged.

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Alcohol Addiction: Is it Truly Addictive?

Alcohol is considered an addictive substance because of its effect on the brain's reward system. When alcohol is consumed, it causes the release of neurotransmitters related to pleasure and reward. This surge in dopamine encourages the brain's need for more alcohol, resulting in an endless cycle of drinking.

Different factors contribute to alcohol's addictive characteristics:

  • Alcohol is considered addictive owing to its effect on the brain's reward system.

  • Physical dependence can develop due to continuous and excessive alcohol usage, resulting in severe withdrawal symptoms when intake is decreased or stopped.

  • Continued alcohol consumption leads to tolerance, requiring more considerable quantities to produce the desired effects and adding to the vicious cycle.

  • Alcohol addiction is defined by overwhelming desires that outweigh an individual's capacity to regulate their drinking, showing a lack of control.

  • Individuals with alcohol addiction emphasize drinking above other aspects of their lives, despite the detrimental effects on their health, relationships, and general well-being.

  • Chronic alcohol consumption changes the structure and function of the brain, altering neurotransmitter systems other than dopamine and reinforcing addiction.

  • Stress, worry, despair, and trauma all contribute to alcoholism because people use alcohol as a coping method.

  • Peer pressure, societal norms, and the availability of alcohol all impact drinking patterns and raise the likelihood of addiction.

  • Specific genetic differences enhance the likelihood of developing alcohol addiction.

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is often known as alcohol overdose. It's a serious and sometimes fatal condition caused by consuming a lethal amount of alcohol quickly. It's a medical emergency that has to be addressed right away.

Alcohol poisoning happens when a person consumes alcohol excessively, and their body cannot process it at the same rate. This causes an accumulation of alcohol in the bloodstream, which causes various severe symptoms and consequences.

Alcohol poisoning symptoms may include:

  • Confusion and disorientation

  • Vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Slow or irregular breathing

  • Blue-tinged or pale skin

  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)

  • Unconsciousness or coma

  • Alcohol poisoning can have serious consequences, including:

  • Respiratory depression or failure: Alcohol can suppress the central nervous system, leading to slowed or stopped breathing.

  • Choking: Vomiting while unconscious can result in choking on vomit, which can block the airway and lead to suffocation.

  • Dehydration: Alcohol can cause excessive urination, leading to dehydration & electrolyte imbalances.

  • Brain damage: Severe alcohol poisoning can cause brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

FAS is a dangerous and avoidable birth disorder that may occur when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol. It is the most severe version of the FASD group of disorders. FAS can result in various physical, mental, & developmental problems in the fetus.

When alcohol is consumed during pregnancy can transfer from the mother's circulation system to the growing fetus through the placenta. As a result, the organs of the growing newborn, including the brain, are especially exposed to the harmful effects of alcohol. The risk of FAS and other FASDs is highest during the first trimester, but there is no safe timing or amount of alcohol to ingest during pregnancy. 

FAS symptoms and traits can vary; however, common features may include:

  • A smooth ridge between the nose and top lip, a narrow upper lip, and tiny eye apertures are examples of facial deformities.

  • Poor growth before and after birth, low birth weight, delayed weight increase, and small height are all growth deficiencies.

  • Intellectual impairments, learning difficulties, poor coordination, hyperactivity, attention deficiencies, and cognitive and behavioral obstacles are all symptoms of central nervous system dysfunction.

  • Physical issues include heart defects, renal difficulties, hearing or vision impairments, and other organ abnormalities.

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What is Blood Alcohol Level?

The quantity of alcohol in a person's system is measured by blood alcohol level (BAL). This is sometimes known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It is represented as a percentage, which shows the alcohol-to-blood volume ratio.

The blood alcohol level is used to assess the level of drunkenness or impairment caused by alcohol. It is usually assessed using a blood test, although other procedures, like breathalyzer and saliva testing, can offer estimations of BAC.

The legal limit for driving in most countries, including the United States, is 0.08%. This means that a BAC of 0.08% or greater is prohibited for operating a motor vehicle. It should be noted that even low BAC levels can impair judgment, coordination, and response times, increasing the danger of an accident.

Quantity and pace of alcohol intake, body weight, metabolism, and the presence of food in the stomach are all factors that might affect an individual's BAC. Because the effects of alcohol vary from person to person, BAC levels might not always correlate directly with the degree of impairment or intoxication.

How Does Blood Alcohol Level Work?

Blood alcohol level helps determine how much alcohol is in a person’s system. One of the ways researchers determine this is through a concept called a standard drink.

One standard drink counts as:

  • 12 ounces of 5% beer

  • A 5-ounce glass of 12% wine

  • One shot (1.5 ounces) of 40% distilled liquor (like whiskey or vodka)

In general, most people can metabolize one drink every hour.

Alcohol Detox: How Alcoholism is Treated

Alcohol detox, also known as alcohol detoxification, is removing alcohol from the body and managing the withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person quits drinking after a period of extended and severe alcohol usage. It is the initial step in treating alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

When a person gets physically dependent on alcohol, their body adjusts to its presence & becomes reliant on it to continue to operate normally. Stopping or severely lowering alcohol use can result in withdrawal symptoms as the body adapts to the lack of alcohol. The intensity of these symptoms might vary and may include.

  • Tremors

  • Anxiety

  • Sweating

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Insomnia

  • Headaches

  • Increased heart rate

  • Irritability

  • Hallucinations (in severe cases)

  • Seizures (in severe cases)

Alcohol detox is usually done under medical supervision to guarantee the safety & well-being of the person going through withdrawal. Medical experts may use medication to treat symptoms and avoid problems throughout the detox process. The method of alcohol detox may differ based on factors such as the individual's overall health—the level of alcohol dependency and any co-occurring medical or mental disorders.

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Would you like more information about how long alcohol stays in your system? Reach out today.

What Happens After Alcohol Detox?

Detoxification is an essential part of the entire alcohol addiction treatment process. But it is not adequate on its own. Therefore, individuals are recommended to continue treatment after detox. In addition, counseling, therapy, support groups, & rehabilitation programs, can address the psychological and behavioral elements of alcohol addiction & facilitate long-term recovery.

Alcohol Abuse Can Be Deadly. The Forge Recovery Center Effectively Treats Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction can seem hopeless, but it really isn’t. The Forge Recovery Centercom/ uses evidence-based, effective techniques to help people craft new lives for themselves. By addressing the emotional and mental drivers of addiction, we’re able to help people leave addictive substances like alcohol behind them.

At The Forge, you or a loved one will be able to build a new life for themselves. Why live with alcohol abuse? Reach out to The Forge Recovery Center today to learn more about our effective alcohol addiction treatment program.

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