Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs despite its legality. One reason is access—for someone looking to stop, they must contend with uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Plus, alcohol’s prevalence in our culture and marketing can make it difficult to avoid triggers and cravings.
Alcohol consumption is one of the most common drugs abused today despite the inherent dangers it poses. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 85.6% of people over the age of 18 consumed alcohol at least once in their lives, while another 69.5% said they had drunk within the last year, while 55.9% said they had drank within the past month. Can alcohol be detected in the body after being in someone’s system for a long time? How long does it take to wear off?
The liver breaks down the drug, metabolizing about one standard drink per hour for men. Various factors affect alcohol metabolism, such as gender, weight, age, and the amount of food consumed. Common myths say that sleeping or drinking water will increase the speed your body processes alcohol, but that’s not necessarily true.
Find out how your body processes alcohol and how long it stays in your system.
How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected in Your System?
Your body’s ability to process alcoholso that you no longer feel its effects is much shorter than the time it takes to leave your body entirely. Drug tests are common in several settings. You may be tested for illicit drugs as part of the process of getting a new job.
Alcohol testing may be for medical reasons or as a part of a criminal investigation. The amount of time after drinking that it takes for an alcohol screening to come back negative depends on the method used to test for alcohol.
Here’s the length of time alcohol can be detected by different testing methods:
- Blood. Blood tests are taken to detect recent alcohol use, and they are only effective for up to six hours.
- Breath: Breathalyzer tests can detect alcohol for up to 12 to 24 hours. These tests are minimally invasive and portable, so they are often used for field sobriety tests.
- Urine. Urine tests can also detect alcohol for 12 to 24 hours. These are commonly used in drug testing for employment.
- Saliva. Similar to one’s breath, saliva can contain alcohol for 12 to 24 hours.
- Hair. Hair tests are less popular than other options because they can detect alcohol use for 90 days. When the point of a test is to find recent drug or alcohol use, hair follicle testing is avoided.
How Is Alcohol Metabolized?
While alcohol passes through the digestive system, it doesn’t undergo much digestion, as does food. Your intestines and stomach absorb most of the alcohol as it enters the upper gastrointestinal tract. Upon entering the bloodstream, it travels to the brain.
While food is in the stomach, the mechanism of absorption may be delayed. Alcohol absorbs into food, preventing it from coming into contact with your stomach lining and slowing its passage from the stomach into the small intestine. As soon as it enters the bloodstream, it’s rapidly absorbed.
Before alcohol reaches your brain, it passes through your liver. Your liver is intended to filter toxins out of your blood, including alcohol. Moderated drinking will result in most, if not all, alcohol being filtered out of your blood before reaching your brain in significant amounts. Drinking a few drinks in an hour will overwhelm your liver and cause alcohol to reach your brain.
What Is Alcohol's Onset of Action?
Many variables can influence the speed at which you start to feel alcohol’s effects, including size, weight, sex, and age. Generally speaking, alcohol’s effects will be felt within 15 to 45 minutes in a healthy individual. An intoxicated person will begin to exhibit symptoms of intoxication when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.05%. Those with a blood alcohol content of 0.07% or higher are significantly impaired, and those with a blood alcohol content of 0.10% are extremely intoxicated.
The average woman may feel the effects more quickly and after drinking less than the average man. About four drinks in an hour will result in a BAC of 0.1% for a 150-pound woman. Again, intoxicating effects can vary based on tolerance, food in your stomach, and other variables.
How to Determine if You’re Drunk
Intoxication symptoms will begin to appear once your blood alcohol content skyrockets. Depending on the person, some may feel the effects of alcohol within five minutes, while others may not notice them for a bit longer. This depends on your age, weight, gender, and alcohol tolerance, as well as whether you’ve eaten. The following are some common signs of alcohol intoxication:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired coordination
- Slurred speech
- Lowered inhibitions
- Impaired memory
- Breathing issues
Drinking excessively increases the risk of the following:
- Risky behaviors, including unprotected sex
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Suicide or homicide
People with healthy livers metabolize drugs at a reasonably uniform rate regardless of sex, race, or weight, despite individuals getting intoxicated at different rates after consuming different amounts. Alcohol leaves the body at different speeds depending on many factors, not just the liver.
The body absorbs alcohol within 30 seconds after consuming it, and after five minutes, alcohol enters the stomach and remains there for a short time. Through sweat and breathing, it is then expelled. Your small intestine and pancreas will metabolize 90 percent of the alcohol you consume after 20 minutes.
How Long Will a Drink Stay in Your System?
The process of alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down alcohol primarily in the liver. One standard drink for a man can usually be metabolized in 100mL per hour by the liver. Furthermore, our breath, sweat, and urine eliminate about 10% of alcohol in addition to the liver’s processing.
The following are the characteristics of a standard drink:
- 8 ounces to 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits
Alcohol metabolism is affected by several factors, including:
- Consumption of food
- Medications you are taking
- Other recreational drugs
- Alcohol content of your beverage
Does Coffee or Water Help You Sober Up?
Drinking coffee or water after a long night of drinking is not a valid way to hasten your sobriety after a long night of drinking. Things that reportedly sober you up don’t actually increase the speed of your body’s processing of alcohol, including showers, coffee, sleep, and water. Though rest and water can help your recovery, they won’t decrease your recovery time.
Sleeping or drinking water won’t speed up the breakdown or elimination of the substance, and neither will a shower or coffee. In spite of the fact that you will feel more alert, the substance will not be eliminated from your body. Drinking more than you are eliminating will keep your BAC high as long as you continually consume alcohol.
In some cases, taking stimulants (like drinking caffeine) can mask how drunk you actually are—which can be dangerous if you continue to drink past your limits.
How Long Will Withdrawal Take After Quitting?
Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous. If you’ve been drinking heavily and consistently for a while, you should speak to your doctor before you decide to quit cold turkey. As the alcohol wears off, you may start to experience uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, jitters, shaky hands, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, panic, and hallucinations. Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can be fatal without medical intervention.
Alcohol has a half-life of four to five hours, and you might start to experience withdrawal after that. It may take a week or more to recover from alcohol dependence completely, and it is best to go through it with a medical professional’s guidance.
The Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol consumption is dangerous in high enough doses, despite its legality. With an estimated 88,000 deaths each year, alcohol-related deaths are the third most preventable cause of death in the United States. Overdose, drunk driving, liver failure, and other accidents fall under this category.
You might benefit from seeking help if you or a loved one struggles with alcohol addiction. The triggers and easy access to alcohol make alcohol addiction difficult, but it is possible to overcome it with the right treatment plan for your needs.