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How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?
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Now and then, it can be easy to get carried away when out with friends or celebrating and have too much to drink. How long does alcohol stay in your system, and how long will you feel the effects of alcohol?

The answer depends on a few factors. 

The liver is the primary organ responsible for breaking down alcohol, and men can typically metabolize 1 standard drink per hour. The body’s capacity to digest alcohol depends on several variables, including age, weight, gender, and the food consumed. It is impossible to increase the rate of alcohol absorption when you sleep or hydrate.

Alcohol Use Disorder In The USA

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical illness marked by a decreased capacity to reduce or control alcohol consumption in the face of negative social, professional, or health effects. 

Excessive drinking, such as binge drinking frequently, may classify a person as having an alcohol use disorder. In women, binge drinking means having four or more drinks during an occasion. For men, binge drinking includes five or more drinks during an occasion [1].

Between 2015 and 2019, excessive alcohol use resulted in more than 140,000 fatalities and 3.6 million years of potential life lost annually in the United States, cutting people’s lives short by an average of 26 years [2].

drinking alcohol

How Your Body Metabolizes Alcohol

When you drink alcohol, your body metabolizes it through a series of bodily functions. Here is a timeline of what happens when you drink alcohol. 

You Drink Alcohol

Alcohol does not break down like food. Instead, some of it is initially taken up by the tongue and mucosal lining of the mouth. Once in the stomach, alcohol is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream by the small intestine and stomach tissue lining.

If you’re not drinking on an empty stomach, the body processes alcohol much slower.

Alcohol Is Moved Through The Body

All of your body’s organs are affected by alcohol once it enters your bloodstream. Blood typically circulates through the body in 90 seconds in healthy individuals. Depending on how quickly a drink is absorbed, alcohol’s full effects can take between 15 and 45 minutes to manifest.

Your Body Neutralizes or Removes Alcohol

Alcohol is a toxin that needs to be removed from the body or neutralized. Alcohol is excreted in urine, sweat, and breath. The liver is the main organ in the body’s alcohol detoxification process. The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol, is produced by liver cells. When drinking outpaces detoxification, blood alcohol content (BAC) will keep increasing, making you feel more intoxicated.

When you drink in excess, it affects how long alcohol stays in your body. While you wake up the next morning, your body is still working on sobering you up. This is where hangovers impact your ability to focus, eat, drive, or work. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about the amount of time and methods it takes to sober up quickly to make it to work or other important obligations. Coffee, energy drinks, and cold showers won’t sober you up faster. Caffeine and cold showers may help you feel more alert, but they do not remove alcohol from the blood, which means they do not reduce your BAC level.

Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose 

Binge drinking often leads to alcohol poisoning, also known as alcohol overdose. When a person drinks too much alcohol, and their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels rise to unsafe levels, it leads to alcohol overdose. This happens when a person drinks so much that the brain areas responsible for basic survival begin to deteriorate or shut down. 

The amount of alcohol a person needs to consume before experiencing a potentially harmful or lethal overdose varies depending on age, drinking history, gender, and food intake.

The symptoms of alcohol overdose can vary from person to person, but generally, they include the following: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of gag reflex
  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Chills or tremors
  • Coma

While intoxicated, passing out or losing consciousness is possible and can be a warning sign of a potentially dangerous alcohol overdose. A person who has consumed too much alcohol and cannot be awakened or can only be awakened briefly may suffer from a life-threatening overdose and needs to be attended to by a medical professional immediately.

The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Other Substances

Mixing alcohol with other substances is dangerous. Alcohol can alter how drugs function, sometimes amplifying their negative effects ten times more while reducing their usefulness.

Alcohol and medications should never be mixed. Alcohol might cause you to feel tired, drowsy, or lightheaded. While taking medications, drinking alcohol can amplify these effects. You might have problems focusing. Driving under the influence of alcohol is always risky, and the risk increases when you combine alcohol with several medications [3].

Mixing alcohol with illegal drugs may also prove to be a dangerous or deadly combination. 

Alcohol Consumption FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions about alcohol consumption:

How much alcohol per day is OK?

It’s important to drink in moderation. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise adults of legal drinking age to choose not to drink or to drink in moderation by keeping intake to 2 drinks or less for males and 1 drink or less for women on days when alcohol is taken. This lowers the risk of alcohol-related hazards [4].

What happens if you drink alcohol every day?

Alcohol is an addictive substance. Drinking daily over time can lead to chronic diseases like alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction),  heart disease, liver disease, and stroke. In addition, the life expectancy of those who consume alcohol every day is significantly lower than those who do not. 

How does alcohol affect the brain?

Alcohol affects the brain as it impairs memory, slows reaction times, produces blurry vision and speech, and makes it difficult to move. Some limitations are noticeable after only one or two drinks and quickly disappear when drinking stops.

On the other side, someone who consumes a lot of alcohol over a long period could suffer from cognitive impairments that persist even after they become sober. The precise processes by which alcohol changes the brain and the potential for reversing the consequences of heavy drinking remain the main topics of current alcohol research.

How much alcohol affects your BAC?

A BAC as low as 0.020-0.039% can make you feel more sociable and relaxed, but the depressant effects aren’t quite there yet. Once your BAC level reaches 0.06-0.099%, your judgment begins to impair, and your words may slur.

The amount of alcohol taken and blood alcohol content are not always reliable indications of the degree of intoxication. Additionally, each person has a different level of tolerance for alcohol.

How can I get BAC down fast?

The blood alcohol content (BAC) level in a person’s body cannot be swiftly decreased. The process of filtering blood and eliminating alcohol from the body takes time. 

The higher BAC you have, the more dangerous it is. If you suspect someone you know is suffering from alcohol poisoning, call 911.

Does Alcohol Show Up On a Drug Test?

Yes, alcohol can appear on a drug test, including a urine test, saliva test, blood test, breath test, or hair test

What is considered heavy drinking?

The standard definition of heavy drinking for men is 15 or more alcoholic drinks per week. The standard definition of heavy drinking for women is eight or more alcoholic drinks per week.

What symptoms are associated with alcohol use disorder?

A person’s behavior may change drastically when struggling with alcohol use disorder. You or someone you know may become more isolated, secretive, or agitated. You may notice missing obligations or financially irresponsible behavior. Existing mental health conditions may be exacerbated.

If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol addiction, make your last drink your last drink and speak with your health care provider about treatment programs.

What is the least harmful alcohol to drink?

Any form of alcohol, whether beer, wine, or spirits, has the potential to cause addiction. 

Unhealthy Alcohol Consumption Can Negatively Impact Your Life. We Can Help.

Recovery is not something you have to deal with alone. Our team of skilled medical specialists is ready to treat you with respect and dignity as you navigate your alcohol use disorder. Please get in touch with us immediately to start getting your life back on track if you or someone you love is battling this disease.

Sources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 14). Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. learn the facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-related disease impact (ardi). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://nccd.cdc.gov/DPH_ARDI/default/default.aspx 
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Harmful interactions. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines#:~:text=Mixing%20alcohol%20and%20medicines%20can,concentrating%20or%20performing%20mechanical%20skills
  4. Current dietary guidelines. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Epiphany Wellness, The Heights Treatment, Infinite Recovery, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 9, 2023