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Alcohol and Health

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? Clearing the Fog

October 27, 2023
12 min read
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Written by
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.
October 27, 2023
12 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.
October 27, 2023
12 min read
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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.
October 27, 2023
12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 27, 2023
12 min read

How long does alcohol stay in our system? The answer seems obvious: we consume alcohol, it gets us lit, and we expel it when we use the restroom, right? It's not quite that simple, though.

Eviction in Progress 

Alcohol behaves in the bloodstream like an unwelcome house guest who never quite realizes they're not wanted.

Our organs really don’t care for alcohol. How long does alcohol stay in your system? The liver breaks down alcohol at a rate of around one standard drink per hour. That’s a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits — all of which contain roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol.

Alcohol dehydrogenases are a group of enzymes that the liver uses to metabolize alcohol. These enzymes turn alcohol into the poisonous substance acetaldehyde, which is then broken down into the non-toxic substances water and carbon dioxide.

The liver has remarkable alcohol metabolism capabilities, but it takes time. Alcohol is detectable in different physiological systems for varying amounts of time due to this delay.

The precise time frame varies from person to person because so many variables, including weight, sex, age, metabolism, food intake, the type and amount of alcohol ingested, and hereditary factors, can affect how quickly someone breaks down alcohol.

All About the BAC 

Our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) typically peaks between 30 to 90 minutes after we finish our last drink. After that, it decreases by 0.015 every hour on average. As a result, it takes a while for alcohol to completely leave the body if we’ve had more than one drink. Alcohol typically lingers in the blood for up to a day.

Extended Stay

What about all those other tests to detect alcohol? How long after I've had alcohol can they detect it? How long does alcohol stay in urine? How long can alcohol be detected in a saliva test? How long is alcohol in your blood? Unfortunately, if you've had a wild night and need to pass an alcohol test the next day, you might be in a bit of a pickle.

Here’s a breakdown of how long alcohol might be detected by various methods:

  • Blood. Alcohol can be found in the blood for 12 to 24 hours after consumption. Blood tests are one of the most common methods to determine if someone has been drinking recently.
  • Breath. These tests measure the amount of alcohol in your exhaled breath, which represents the amount of alcohol in your blood. Alcohol can be detected in the breath for around 24 hours.
  • Saliva. If we’re given a saliva alcohol test, how long will it take before it shows up negative? This one is the quickest — usually it can only detect alcohol up to 12 hours. 
  • Urine. Urine can contain alcohol 48 to 72 hours after intake. However, certain tests intended to find alcohol metabolites can spot alcohol usage as long ago as 3 to 4 days. Additionally, some urine tests may be able to detect the presence of alcohol for up to 130 hours if someone has been drinking heavily for a long time. If you were thinking, “Can alcohol be detected in urine after 24 hours?” the answer is a resounding yes.
  • Hair. When it comes to the length of the alcohol detection window, hair follicles win. Up to 90 days after drinking, alcohol, or rather its metabolites, can still be found in hair! This kind of testing is rare; it’s typically utilized for thorough drug and alcohol  tests.

Beyond the times specified, alcohol may not be detectable in the system, although regular and excessive drinking can have long-lasting consequences. The body and brain may need weeks or even months to become used to life without alcohol, especially if we’ve been drinking heavily for a long time. Reframe can equip you with the knowledge and support to help you quit or cutback on drinking.

Diagram about alcohol detection times

Speeding Up

Some of you may be saying, "Okay, fine. But how can we eliminate alcohol more quickly? Can I pee alcohol out of my system?” We can’t. Contrary to popular opinion, drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or working out won't help us get sober faster. The liver is already processing alcohol as best as it can at its most efficient rate.

Slowing Down

Which method reduces alcohol in the body the most effectively, then? Cutting back or quitting. The good news is that this is definitely doable, and the journey can be thrilling, profoundly satisfying, and even enjoyable. A range of expert support services and self-help techniques can help you along the way.

If you're considering cutting back or quitting alcohol, understanding how long alcohol stays in the body might help you control expectations and avoid a relapse. Here are some strategies to help on your journey:

  • Knowledge is power. It might be empowering to know how your body removes and breaks down alcohol, since it can help you manage your expectations and provide an explanation for specific physiological reactions as your body becomes used to life without alcohol.
  • Stay hydrated. Alcohol, a diuretic, can cause dehydration. Drink plenty of water as you cut back on drinking to hasten the removal of alcohol and its byproducts from your body.
  • Seek support. Speak with dependable family members, friends, or therapists. Making connections with support groups can be quite helpful. You're not alone on your journey, and there's power in community.
  • Mind your health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can significantly aid your recovery process.

Summing Up

The physical traces of alcohol exit your system within a few hours to a few days, but recovering from habitual alcohol use is a journey that requires patience, support, and an understanding of your body's many systems and processes. Every step you take toward reducing alcohol consumption is a step toward better health, and even small changes matter. 

Reducing your alcohol intake or cutting out alcohol altogether can be challenging, but it's an act of self-care that will reward you with better health and well-being. Armed with the right knowledge and support, you're well equipped to navigate the path toward a healthier you.

Cut Back on Alcohol Consumption With Reframe!

Do you want to up your health game by cutting back on booze or ditching it entirely? The Reframe app is here to help! When you join our caring community, you’ll gain access to science-backed daily readings and a 24/7 anonymous chat forum. We even release a new challenge monthly to keep you motivated and help you foster stronger bonds with fellow Reframers. We’re always available to answer any questions you have, so why not take the leap to healthier and happier you? 

Our app has been downloaded over 2.1 million times and counting!. We're gradually redefining what it means to be sober or sober-curious. Why not give the Reframe app a shot and begin your personal journey today? You can try it for 7 days for free, so there’s absolutely no risk. We're excited for you to join our amazing community!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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