How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System ?

More than half of the adult population drinks alcoholic beverage. An alcoholic beverage belongs to the depressant category. Although, it has therapeutic uses, many people used it as a party drink. It has been a part of every celebration.

Some people drink alcoholic beverages regularly which lead to high tolerance level. However, alcohol consumption affects people differently. Factors affecting the level and effect of alcohol in the body include the following:
    • Gender — Men and women react differently to alcohol consumption. On the average, women have a higher blood alcohol content than men. The reason behind is that women have a low alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme.
    • Race — Indians, Americans, and East Asians have low tolerance to alcoholic beverage. They are most likely to experience adverse reactions from alcohol consumption such as severe headache, palpitations, flushing of the face, nausea with or without vomiting, and restlessness.
    • Race — As a person grows older, his tolerance to alcoholic beverage lowers. A small amount of alcoholic beverage can make him intoxicated. It is linked with degenerative changes in the body.
    • Health condition — Those with liver disease have low tolerance to alcohol than people with a healthy liver.
    • Drinking habit — Those who drink alcoholic beverage frequently develop tolerance. They become less intoxicated even if they consume a large volume of alcoholic beverage.1, 2, 3, 4, 5
How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System infographics

Infographics: How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System ?

How long does alcohol stay in your system?

Alcohol can be detected in the body through various testing methods. How long does alcohol stay in the system? Well, it depends on which specific parts of the body are used to detect alcohol as well as the testing methods used. Other factors that can affect the detection of alcohol in your system include:

  • Amount of consumption – The more you drink alcohol the longer it stays in your system.
  • Consumption rate – How fast you drink alcohol can greatly affect its detection in your system. If you finish 10 bottles of alcohol in less than an hour, you will most likely to retain alcohol in your body for a long period of time. Why? The body will find it difficult to clear alcohol from your system considering the amount and rate of consumption.
  • Alcohol potency and concentration – It is difficult for the body to metabolize a potent alcohol. The potency of alcohol can be checked by checking at the alcohol percentage label. The concentration of alcohol does matter too. Vodka is more concentrated than beer. Hence, it is safe to say that vodka stays in the body longer than beer. (6, 7, 8)

Alcohol testing methods

There are various testing methods used to detect the level of alcohol in the body. The commonly used tests include the following:

Blood Test

How long does alcohol stay in your blood system? Is it a reliable testing method? Will there be any discrepancy in the result? How blood testing for alcohol is done? When checking the level of alcohol in the body through blood testing, the test will look for ethanol in the blood.

A blood is drawn using sterile technique to detect the presence of alcohol in the body. Photo Source: arcpointlabs.com

Picture 1: A blood is drawn using sterile technique to detect the presence of alcohol in the body. Photo Source: arcpointlabs.com

What’s good about alcohol blood test is that it can immediately detect the alcohol level in the body because alcohol is absorbed in the blood within a few minutes of consumption. A blood alcohol test is one of the most reliable testing methods. It can detect whether you are intoxicated or just legally drunk. 9, 10

How it is done?

  • A blood sample is drawn in the upper arm. Prior to that, a tourniquet is wrapped around the arm to alter the flow of blood. It expands the blood vessel, which makes it easy for the testing personnel to visualize the target vein.
  • The site where the blood will be drawn will be thoroughly cleaned.
  • A sterile needle is inserted into the vein to drawn at least four millilitres of blood.
  • The tourniquet is removed and a cotton ball is placed on the insertion site. The cotton is secured in place by a bandage. An extra pressure is added to prevent bleeding. (10, 11)

Result

No alcohol should be found in the blood. If alcohol is found, then an exact amount of alcohol should be checked to determine the blood alcohol concentration. A person is considered legally intoxicated if the blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 and above. Alcohol can be detected in the blood for up to 12 hours after the last consumption. (8, 9, 10, 11)

Urine Test

A freshly catch urine is sent to the laboratory to check for alcohol content. Image Source: hube-law.com

Picture 2: A freshly catch urine is sent to the laboratory to check for alcohol content. Image Source: hube-law.com

How long does alcohol stay in your urine system? How urine alcohol test is performed?

There are two types of urine alcohol test: the typical urine test and the EtG urine alcohol test.

  1. Urine test – It detects the level of alcohol in the urine. However, it is only effective when administered within 12 hours after alcohol consumption.
  2. EtG Test – It checks for the by-products of alcohol, specifically Ethyl Glucuronide. It has a longer window of detection than the typical urine test. It can check urine’s alcohol content for up to three days after the last consumption. (12, 14, 15)

How it is done?

There is no special preparations for this test. A person should make sure that he/she has a clean catch urine. The urine testing container should be filled with clean and freshly catch urine and it will be brought to the laboratory for examination.

Alcohol content in the urine can be traced up to two days within the last consumption. For chronic and excessive alcohol drinkers, the alcohol content can be checked for up to five to seven days. (12, 14, 15)

Breathalyzer Test/Breath Alcohol Test

Breathalyzer Test/Breath Alcohol Test

Picture 3: A breathalyzer is a hand-held machine used by law enforcers to check for alcohol intoxication in drivers. Photo Source: www.dreams.metroeve.com

It is a device used to check the alcohol content in your breath. It is used by law enforcers to randomly check motorist, especially if they are driving while intoxicated. It has a slim window of detection. It can detect alcohol in your breath within 24 hours after the last drink. However, this method is not that reliable. There is a possibility of inaccurate result.

Factors leading to false positive result include body temperature, presence of blood in the mouth, conditions like acid reflux, and naturally occurring compounds in the body such as ketones. For you to be considered as legally intoxicated, the alcohol level should be greater than 0.08%.

How it is done?

  • The person should breathe into the Breathalyzer.
  • As the person breathes in, the alcohol passes through the alveolar sacs and blood vessels in the lungs.
  • It will indicate in the machine the level of alcohol present in the person’s breath. (13)

Hair follicle test

Hair follicle test

Picture 4: Strands of hair are cut and sent to the lab for examination. Photo Source: carolinatesting.com

This method of alcohol testing won’t detect the actual level of alcohol content of the blood. What it can do though is it can check if a person has been drinking alcoholic beverages for the last three months.

Ironically, it is not the hair follicle that is checked for alcohol consumption. Testing experts checked the first inch and a half of the hair growth. For bald clients, other body hair parts are used. (16, 17)

How it is done?

  • About a hundred strands of hair are cut and sent to the lab for examination.
  • A pre-cut hair is not allowed. The actual cutting of hair should be in the lab and done by a laboratory personnel.
  • About two inches of hair is needed.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Hair

Alcohol hair follicle testing has a longer period of detection than other alcohol testing methods. It always yields to accurate result. It is less invasive and less messy than other testing procedures. On the other hand, this method can be quite costly.

It cannot immediately detect alcohol consumption. You need to wait for five days after the last alcohol intake to test positive for alcohol hair follicle test. This test is commonly performed in clients with a history of driving under the influence of alcohol who are prohibited from taking any types of alcoholic beverages. (15, 16, 17)

Saliva Test/Mouth swab test

Saliva Test/Mouth swab test

Picture 5: A specimen is taken out in a person’s cheek and sent to the lab for further testing. Image Source: 2.bp.blogspot.com

The testing personnel will collect a saliva sample from the inner cheek. It will be immediately sent to the laboratory for testing. It can detect alcohol consumption within an hour of drinking.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Saliva

For heavy and excessive alcohol drinkers, they will test positive for saliva/mouth swab test 10 to 24 hours after the last alcohol consumption. (18, 19)

Breast milk test

Breast milk test

Picture 6: An over the counter test strip that can detect the presence of alcohol in breast milk. Photo Source: exclusivepumping.com

Alcohol can be passed on to the breast milk. If you are breastfeeding, then you have to avoid alcoholic beverages completely. Sadly, some women still drink alcohol while breastfeeding their babies. This is why a breast milk test for alcohol is done.

You might be surprised to know that alcohol remains in the breast milk for as long as alcohol remains in the blood. If you had just drink alcohol, then you should refrain from breastfeeding your baby until your blood is free from alcohol. Do not attempt to pump the milk.

Doing so will not eliminate the alcohol right away. (19, 20)

How it is done?

A readily available breast milk test strip can be purchased over the counter. It will enable you to check presence of alcohol in your breast milk right in the comfort of your home. Test strips come with usage instructions. Simply follow the instructions to achieve accurate results.

More information on alcohol testing

  • The alcohol level is checked within a few hours after the last alcohol consumption.
  • For longer window of detection, the presence of alcohol metabolites are checked such as the ethyl gluconoride and fatty acid ethyl esters.
  • A Breath alcohol test detects only recent alcohol use.
  • Alcohol blood testing is commonly used for employment purpose.
  • Saliva test or mouth swab test is one of the simplest and non-invasive ways of checking alcohol in the system.
  • A urine alcohol test, just like blood alcohol test, is used for employment purpose.

The consumption of alcohol starts in the stomach. It enters the bloodstream where it will be distributed to other parts of the body. Alcohol absorption rate varies from one person to another. Various factors can significantly affect the absorption of alcohol such as the age, gender, race, and body weight, to name a few.

Excessive consumption of alcohol may have adverse effects not only to the body, but to the mind and social relationship. In fact, it is one of the reasons for vehicular-related accidents. It is the primary reason why the government is regulating the use of alcohol, especially when driving and when in public places. (16, 19, 20)

The effects of alcohol consumption are shown in the table below.

Blood alcohol concentration

0.02% – equivalent to two bottles of beers

Adverse effects

The person starts to experience slight visual dysfunctions. He/she cannot effectively deal a moving target. He/she can’t or having a hard time multi-tasking.

0.05% – equivalent to three bottles of beers

The person is unable to man the steer appropriately. Coordination and concentration are significantly reduced. A person will most likely have difficulty responding to emergency driving situations.

0.08% – equivalent to four bottles of beers

The person’s ability to control speed and concentrate is reduced significantly. Visual perception is impaired. In fact, the person finds it difficult to detect signals. He/she could also have short-term memory loss.

10% – equivalent to five bottles of beers

The person should not be allowed to drive a car or operate heavy machines. He/she cannot maintain a lane position. Most likely, he is confused as to what pad to step in, the brake or the gas. Accident is most likely to happen if a person drives or perform delicate task.

.15% – equivalent to seven to eight bottles of beers

The person is not capable of driving any forms of vehicles, be it a four-wheel car, a bicycle, or a motorbike. Concentration, coordination, and control are altered. The person can’t even process both auditory and visual information.

References:

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  19. https://www.healthstatus.com/health_blog/wellness/long-alcohol-stay-blood/
  20. https://www.addictioncenter.com/alcohol/how-long-is-alcohol-in-your-system/