Alcohol formula

How long does alcohol stay in the body?

Sometimes the buzz that comes with spilling a few booze is exactly the effect someone is looking for when pouring a drink. A glass of wine after a stressful day, a few cocktails on a night out, a spiked seltzer while lounging by the pool…alcohol is often used in situations like these to help usher in relaxing vibrations.

But there are other times when the effects of alcohol are absolutely not welcome. Maybe you want to drive home or maybe the alcohol you drank made you nauseous. At times like these, the biggest question on your mind is probably how long it will be before the alcohol is out of your system. The answer to this question, including how long after drinking alcohol tests will show it’s still in your body, is determined by many different factors.

Related: How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Heart?

Factors That Determine How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System

“In general, how much you drink, how fast you drink, whether your stomach is empty when you drink, your biological sex, your body composition, whether you take certain medications, and your genetics all affect your alcohol elimination rate. “, says Dr. Kathleen Grant, Ph.D., a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the OHSU School of Medicine and chief of the division of neuroscience at the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center.

As Dr. Grant says, a person’s biological sex and body composition can affect how quickly alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and how long it stays there. Dr. Jenna Nikolaides, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Rush Medical College, says women drink more alcohol than men. This, she says, is because men have more than one enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). She explains that ADH lives in the lining of the stomach and reacts chemically to alcohol before it has a chance to enter the bloodstream. Since men have more of this enzyme than women, more alcohol reaches women’s blood than men’s. Interestingly, women also metabolize alcohol faster than men.

Also, people with less fat metabolize alcohol faster than those with more fat. On top of all that, Dr. Nikolaides says some people metabolize alcohol faster than others due to genetics.

Related: 24 expert tips to prevent a hangover

What you drink, how much you drink, and how quickly you drink are all factors that determine how long alcohol stays in your system. While Dr. Nikolaides says the type of alcohol consumed does not affect how long it stays in your body, the amount of alcohol in your drink does play a role. If your drink is carbonated, that counts too. “Carbonated drinks containing alcohol reach higher blood levels faster than non-carbonated drinks,” says Dr. Grant. This means that non-carbonated alcoholic beverages stay in the body longer than carbonated ones.

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Both experts say whether or not you drink on an empty stomach is also important. In other words, food slows down the metabolism of alcohol.

Related: 18 low-calorie alcoholic drinks

How long does alcohol stay in the body?

It is clear that many factors determine how long alcohol stays in the body. But in general, both say that someone metabolizes one alcoholic drink per hour. However, Dr. Nikolaides says the delay can be extended up to six hours, depending on the factors highlighted above. “We tend to clean our bloodstream of alcohol in a predictable way, usually around 0.02 grams per milliliter per hour. The legal limit is 0.08 grams per millilitre,” says Dr. Nikolaides.

In terms of how long after drinking alcohol it will show up in a blood, urine or breath test, Dr. Nikolaides says that in urine you can test for alcohol and its metabolites for about one to two days. Alcohol can be detected by a breathalyzer up to 24 hours after drinking alcohol. Blood tests have the shortest window, able to detect alcohol in the body up to 12 hours after drinking.

“The legal limit for driving is 0.08%; it’s also a definition of intoxication,” says Dr. Grant. If a test determines your blood alcohol level is higher than that, it’s not only dangerous to drive, it’s against the law. If you’re unsure of your blood alcohol level and wondering whether or not you should drive home, err on the side of safety and find another way home; it could save your life or someone else’s life.

The safest way to consume alcohol is in moderation, in small sips and with food. If you want to avoid a nasty hangover the next morning, this is a formula to follow. It’s wisdom you don’t need a breathalyzer to learn about.

Next, find out what it means to be sober and curious.

Sources

  • Dr. Kathleen Grant, Ph.D.professor of behavioral neuroscience at the OHSU School of Medicine and chief of the division of neuroscience at the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center
  • Dr. Jenna Nikolaides, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Rush Medical College