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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Hair?

April 20, 2024
17 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 20, 2024
17 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 20, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
April 20, 2024
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Reframe Content Team
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Understanding the Alcohol Hair Test

  • Traces of alcohol can remain in your hair long after you have stopped drinking, making hair follicle tests invaluable to law enforcement and employers.
  • Knowing how long alcohol can stay in your hair and reducing your alcohol intake can help you better prepare for and pass a test. 
  • Reframe can help you quit or cut back on alcohol so you don’t have to worry about alcohol detection tests or other alcohol-related issues. 

It’s Monday morning, and you’re still feeling the effects of the drinks you had at that wedding Saturday night. You’re no longer drunk, but you still don’t feel quite yourself yet. This is because alcohol stays in our system for longer than we may think. 

Because it stays in our system for so long, it lingers in one of the most unsuspecting places — our hair. This makes the alcohol hair follicle test one of the most reliable tests for alcohol consumption. To understand how the test works and how to pass one, let’s first straighten out how alcohol is metabolized in our body and how long it can stay in our hair.

Metabolization of Alcohol

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Metabolization refers to how our body breaks down a substance to use or eliminate. We metabolize anything we eat or drink. Alcohol is metabolized in our body through different pathways. When we drink alcohol, it’s absorbed primarily by the veins in our gastrointestinal tract. From there, the portal vein transports alcohol to our liver — which is tasked with over 90% of alcohol metabolization

How Does Alcohol End Up in Your Hair?

Alcohol also travels through our bloodstream to other parts of our body, which help to break down the remaining toxins through a process called non-oxidative alcohol metabolization. Through this process, the remaining alcohol is slowly eliminated through our sweat, urine, breath, and hair growth. 

Due to this process, alcohol can be detected through blood tests, urine samples, breathalyzers, saliva, and yes, even hair tests. Alcohol hair follicle tests are one of the most reliable tests available, especially for longer timeframes (more on that later).

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Hair?

How quickly our body metabolizes alcohol can be influenced by several factors, including biological factors, gender, and health. Environmental factors such as the amount and type of alcohol we consume also make a difference. 

While alcohol can only be detected in our blood, breath, saliva, or urine for up to 24 hours, it can be detected in our hair for about 6 months. Studies have also found markers that can be detected after years. 

How Long Alcohol Is Detectable on a Test

Hair Follicle Alcohol Tests

Because hair follicle tests span a broader timeframe than other tests, they serve a very specific purpose. But how do they work? How accurate are they? How much alcohol will show up on them? What are they used for? Let’s find out.  

How Do Alcohol Hair Tests Work?

Alcohol hair tests require a sample of hair, which is examined by a lab for specific biomarkers that confirm alcohol consumption. The preferred sample is hair from our head, but body hair may also be used if needed. 

Hair follicle tests can vary depending on the specific test and what it’s used for. Biomarkers that alcohol hair tests commonly look for include Ethyl Glucuronide (Etg), and Fatty Acid Ethyl Esters (FAEE). These biomarkers are products of nonoxidizing metabolization, which we know can linger in tissues in our body such as the ones found in our hair follicles. 

Factors That Influence Alcohol Hair Follicle Tests

Even though hair tests are generally reliable, several external factors can influence alcohol hair follicle test results: 

  • Medications. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications that contain alcohol can cause false positive test results. 
  • Lab preservation. With all lab tests, there’s room for human and testing errors. An inadequate hair sample, faulty transportation or preservation of the sample, and lab errors can all lead to impacted results. Although, at a relatively low probability. 
  • External hair products. Hair products that contain alcohol can affect fat-soluble biomarkers. Chemical hair treatments such as bleaching and perming can affect water-soluble markers. Research shows coloring may not significantly affect tested biomarkers, but perming and bleaching may have influential effects that should be taken into consideration. Comprehensive hair tests will often test for more than one biomarker for more definitive and accurate results. 
  • Testing windows. Hair follicle tests can only detect alcohol consumption up to a certain range, typically about 90 days after drinking. Additionally, because it takes 7-10 days for alcohol metabolites to travel to our hair, it is not a reliable test of acute alcohol consumption.

If this many factors can influence the results of a hair follicle test, you’re probably wondering how accurate they can possibly be. Let’s take a closer look. 

How Accurate Are Hair Follicle Tests for Alcohol?

Most hair follicle tests are court-ordered and completed by authorized laboratories. Hair follicle tests are considered an accurate detector of regular or excessive alcohol consumption. A study on the sensitivity of EtG tests found that while the test may not be quantitatively accurate, a positive result is a strong qualitative indicator of alcohol consumption within the last three months. Comprehensive tests not only test for EtG but also FAEE for even greater accuracy.

Home hair follicle testing kits are also available for personal use. At-home kits can be helpful if we have concerns regarding a family member or a friend's alcohol use, or we’d like to test for our own reassurance. While they are usually less costly than laboratory tests, at-home tests can be less accurate. Directions are provided for us to be able to obtain and transport the sample; however, there’s more room for error and other external variables that can affect the results.

While some external influences may impact the detection of alcohol in a hair follicle test, alcohol can still be present in our hair.

How Much Alcohol Will Show Up on a Hair Follicle Test?

The exact amount of alcohol needed to be detected by a hair follicle test is unclear. Hair tests are primarily used to identify regular drinking and are more accurate in identifying high-risk drinkers. 

According to the Society of Hair Testing (SoHT), chronic excessive alcohol consumption is defined as having six or more standard drinks over several months. SoHT classifies drinkers into three categories depending on the levels of EtG detected in a hair follicle test:

  • <5 pg/mg indicates abstinence
  • >5 to 29 pg/mg indicates repeated alcohol consumption 
  • >30 pg/mg indicates chronic excessive alcohol consumption

Alcohol hair follicle tests provide an average rate of alcohol consumption over a given timeframe. However, due to the many variables that can influence the concentration of EtG and other markers — including the amount of alcohol, type of alcohol, and when it was consumed — we don’t know exactly how much alcohol can be detected in a sample.

That being said, it’s safe to assume that any amount of alcohol can be detected in a hair follicle test. While the test isn’t able to provide an exact snapshot of someone’s drinking habits, it’s often used in conjunction with other evidence for different purposes.

What Are Hair Follicle Alcohol Tests Used For? 

Hair follicle alcohol tests help identify drinking patterns within a specific timeframe. They are used for four main purposes: 

  • Forensics. Hair tests for alcohol are most commonly used for forensic purposes. In conjunction with other forms of evidence, a snapshot of our alcohol consumption can help provide insight related to a crime committed or in the case where a child’s welfare is questioned. 
  • Family court. In cases of family court disputes, hair follicle tests may be ordered to help the judge make important custody decisions.
  • Evidence of abstinence. Aside from forensic matters, alcohol hair tests may be used after treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) to confirm sobriety over a given timeframe.
  • Employment screening. Hair tests are not the most common form of alcohol tests for workplaces. However, some employers may require them to better understand an employee’s drinking history and habits. Alcohol hair tests are most common in jobs that are required to help keep the public safe, such as firefighters, law enforcement officers, and EMTs.

Hair follicle alcohol tests are reliable but expensive because they require lab analysis. The tests provide an accurate picture of our drinking habits but aren't a sustainable tracking method or strategy to reduce consumption. Let’s look at some alternatives. 

Strategies To Reduce Alcohol Consumption 

Alcohol is deeply ingrained in our social culture — making it challenging for some of us to cut back or quit. While it can be difficult, several strategies can help us to work toward a healthier relationship with alcohol:

  • Keep track. Keeping track of our alcohol consumption helps us be more aware of harmful patterns. Apps that can help us keep track, such as Reframe, can provide a detailed snapshot of our drinking patterns over time. 
  • Set limits. After identifying our drinking patterns from tracking, we can set limits to reduce consumption. Start with small steps such as having one less drink or saying no to one night out. The small steps will add up over time and get us to where we want to be.
  • Limit triggers. Identifying our triggers can help us better prepare for them or stay away altogether. 
  • Find alternatives. Alternatives to alcohol such as zero-proof drinks can allow us to continue to partake in the social aspect of drinking without harming our health. Alcohol-free activities such as exercise, mindfulness practices, and other hobbies can help us enjoy life without alcohol. 
  • Reduce stress. Deep breathing, meditation, and journaling are just some stress-reducing activities that can help us feel more in control of our mental health. 
  • Reach out for support. We don’t have to go through this process alone. Social support through peer groups or family and friends can be the motivation we need to get through tough parts of our recovery. 

Quitting alcohol can seem like a castle in the sky, but small steps we take to cut back can help us reach our end goal.

Key Takeaways

Alcohol hair follicle tests are a valuable tool to get an idea of our average alcohol consumption over a given timeframe. While detection ranges only go up to about 90 days, alcohol can linger in our hair for much longer. The exact detection window and minimal alcohol consumption have yet to be identified. However, as hair follicle tests are used primarily in important legal situations, it’s best to assume that any amount of alcohol during the given timeframe can be detected in a test. For those of us looking to get a clearer snapshot of our drinking habits, tracking and mindful drinking practices are more realistic tools to help us quit or cut back on alcohol. When drinking, we can be more aware that alcohol can linger in our hair!

Summary FAQs

1. How long does alcohol stay in hair?

Hair follicle tests can detect alcohol consumption up to around 90 days. 

2. Will one night of drinking show up in a hair follicle test?

Yes. Hair follicle tests can detect even minimal amounts of alcohol, although the exact amount is unclear.

3. Do hair follicle tests for alcohol detect other substances?

Hair follicle tests for alcohol are specific to alcohol. 

4. Do “how to remove traces of alcohol from hair test” tutorials work?

No. Hair follicle tests detect specific biomarkers that we aren’t able to remove.

5. How does a hair follicle test for alcohol work?

A hair follicle test for alcohol detects biomarkers of alcohol that are present due to alcohol metabolization.

Quitting Alcohol For Good? Reframe Can Support Your Journey!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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