When an individual drinks alcohol, it is processed by different organs and cells throughout the body. Signals are sent to and from the brain, and they might begin to feel or act differently. Depending on tolerance, effects might begin to be felt after a single drink or after several drinks. If more alcohol is consumed than what the body can process, a hangover could be experienced the next day. This begs the questions, “How long does alcohol stay in your system?”
How the Body Processes Alcohol
In order to answer this question, we first need to understand how the body processes alcohol.
While most of the things we consume are digested prior to being absorbed into our cells, alcohol is absorbed directly into your bloodstream and carried throughout your body. It is not until alcohol reaches the liver that metabolization starts. The enzyme that metabolizes and breaks down alcohol is ADH, alcohol dehydrogenase. The liver is only able to process a certain about of alcohol per hour. Excess alcohol beyond what the liver can process is pumped through your heart to your lungs. A small amount of alcohol is exhaled with every breath. As alcohol is pumped throughout the body, it is slowly expelled via many forms of waste (urine, fecal matter, sweat, and sometimes vomit).
Factors that Influence Alcohol Processing
Each individual processes alcohol a little differently, meaning that they may be able to process alcohol faster or slower. Some factors are genetic, whereas others are not. For instance, men typically have more ADH than women, which helps them process alcohol faster. However, a woman who drinks large amounts regularly and has a higher tolerance might process alcohol faster than a man who has never consumed an alcoholic beverage before. Each factor plays into how long alcohol will stay in your system. Here are a number of different factors that can influence alcohol processing in an individual:
- Last meal
- Quantity consumed
- Speed of consumption
- History of alcohol consumption
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
The acronym BAC stands for blood alcohol concentration, or how concentrated alcohol is within an individual’s bloodstream. All of the factors above can affect how quickly an individual’s BAC will rise and fall. The below table can be used to determine an approximate BAC based on weight and number of drinks consumed, but breathalyzers and blood tests are much more accurate.
A Standard Drink
Did you know that 8 ounces of beer does not contain the same amount of alcohol as 8 ounces of wine? Among other reasons, a BAC chart is not often as reliable because you need to be counting drinks based on the standard drink size, something not everyone knows how to do. Although it may vary depending on the % alcohol, a standard drink is approximate:
- 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of liquor, (40% alcohol)
How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Leave Your Body?
A typical, healthy liver can process about 1 standard drink per hour. This means it will typically take about 1 hour for alcohol to leave the body for each standard drink consumed. For instance, if 3 drinks are consumed around 8:00 PM, the alcohol will have left the body by about 11:00 PM. Even if you feel okay, it is important to give your body ample time to process the alcohol before attempting to drive or do anything that could be dangerous to yourself or others.
How Long Can Alcohol be Detected in Your Body?
Even if alcohol has been processed by the body, there are certain tests that can indicate that it was consumed following this time period. A urine test can detect alcohol for 12 to 48 hours after being consumed and breath tests can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours after consumption. Hair tests, however, can detect alcohol use for 90 days beyond when alcohol was consumed.
Are You Concerned About a Drinking Problem?
When someone finds themselves asking “how long does alcohol stay in your system?” they may just be curious and wanting to be cautious. On the other hand, asking these types of questions often point to alcoholic tendencies.
If you are concerned that you or someone you love is drinking heavily and putting themselves or others at risk due to their behavior, they may be struggling with alcoholism. Alcohol addiction is common but is also a dangerous illness that requires the help of professional addiction treatment. Alcohol detox can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that need to be monitored and treated by medical professionals.
To get help with alcohol addiction recovery, contact Holistix Treatment Centers today!