If you drink alcohol, you may wonder how long alcohol stays in your system. A healthy liver can process roughly one drink per hour, so for driving purposes, one drink will typically stay in your system for one hour.

One drink is defined as:

  • 12 fluid ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol)
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol)
  • One shot of liquor (40 percent alcohol, or 80 proof)

However, if you take a blood, urine, breath or even a hair test, alcohol can be found in your body for much longer.

  • Alcohol can stay in the urine for up to 80 hours
  • Alcohol can stay in hair follicles for up to three months
  • Alcohol can stay in the blood for up to 24 hours

Alcohol Testing

There are several different types of alcohol tests. Alcohol can be detected in:

  • Urine
  • Blood
  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Breath
  • Hair follicles

Regardless of the substance tested, most alcohol tests look for one of two chemicals: ethanol or ethyl glucuronide (EtG).

Alcohol and Urine

How long alcohol stays in urine depends on the test you use.

1.) Ethanol Urine Test

Your liver breaks down most alcohol. However, some alcohol leaves your body through urine, sweat and breath. Ethanol is beverage alcohol that can be detected in urine even after alcohol has otherwise left the body.

It can take up to two hours for alcohol to show up in your urine after you have had a drink, and once it’s there, alcohol can be detectable for up to 12 hours. This fact means that the alcohol concentration in urine tends to lag behind the actual concentration of alcohol in the blood.

Sometimes ethanol tests can even lead to false positives, especially if:

  • You have diabetes
  • You have a yeast infection
  • You have a urinary tract infection
  • Your urine is left out at room temperature

2.) EtG Urine Test

Ethyl glucuronide, or EtG, is a substance that’s created when the liver breaks down alcohol. It’s generally used for situations where the timing of the drink doesn’t matter, such as when you are required to be completely abstinent. Typically, EtG is present in the body far longer than ethanol.

An EtG urine test can detect alcohol in your urine starting after eight hours and lasting up to 80 hours after you last drank. In situations where the timing of alcohol use is important, EtG tests are not helpful. For example, in a suspected DUI, an EtG test may show a positive even if your last drink of alcohol was the day before.

Alcohol and Hair

How long alcohol stays in hair can be a very long time. Alcohol can be detected in your hair and nails using the EtG test for up to three months. It is possible, though, that the test may be positive if you use a mouthwash that has alcohol or ingest an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Alcohol and Blood

How long alcohol stays in blood can vary. Alcohol can be detected in blood using the EtG test for up to 36 hours, but is most accurate between six and 12 hours after the last drink.

Alcohol and Saliva

Alcohol can be detected in saliva using the EtG test for up to a few hours after your last drink. A limitation is that it can only tell that alcohol is present, not how drunk you are.

Alcohol and Breath

Alcohol breath tests are the most common type of alcohol test used by the police. There are many different breath tests and they all work in different ways. However, they all measure the amount of alcohol that comes out in your breath. This amount will be the same amount of alcohol that is in your blood. For accurate results, you should wait 15 minutes after drinking and one minute after smoking before taking an alcohol breath test.

Alcohol and Breast Milk

Although not drinking alcohol is the safest options for new mothers, a breastfeeding mother should wait at least two hours after a single drink before nursing or pumping. Pumping and then throwing away the milk does not reduce the alcohol level more quickly. For breastfeeding mothers, drinking up to one drink daily should be safe.

Factors That Affect How Long Alcohol Stays in the System

Many different factors control how long alcohol will stay in your body, including:

  • Gender
  • Eating before drinking
  • Body weight

The male body tends to have more water and therefore a higher alcohol tolerance. Men also have more of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in their stomach.

Additionally, if you eat before drinking, you’ll be able to keep your blood alcohol level lower for longer since it prevents the alcohol from moving to the small intestine too quickly.

Your weight is another important factor in determining how long alcohol stays in the system.

Alcohol and Weight

For the most part, the more you weigh and the bigger you are, the more alcohol it will take to increase your blood alcohol level. However, if your weight is due to fat, this fact might not be true because alcohol does not enter fat. Instead, it stays in your bloodstream. So, if your weight is due mostly to body fat, you may still get drunk just as quickly as someone with a slimmer build.

Getting Help: Alcohol

If you find yourself worried about an alcohol test for a new job or a legal situation, there might be a bigger problem at hand. People who struggle with alcohol use may try to hide drinking habits or struggle to pass an alcohol test.

Don’t wait to reach out for support. You can get help for alcohol abuse issues by:

Key Points: How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System

 

how long does alcohol stay in system infographic

When alcohol is consumed, it has the potential to show up in many other parts of the body. Other important points to remember about alcohol in your system include:

  • Your liver can process one drink per hour, but alcohol can be detected in your body for hours or even days after drinking
  • Alcohol tests look for ethanol or ethyl glucuronide (EtG)
  • Alcohol can stay in the urine for up to 80 hours
  • Alcohol can stay in hair follicles for up to three months
  • Alcohol can stay in the blood for up to 24 hours
  • Gender, food consumed and body weight can influence how long alcohol stays in your system

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village offers many different addiction treatment options to help you lead a healthier life. Reach out to us today for more information.

    

Lab Tests Online. “Ethanol.” Updated January 11, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.

National TASC. “Drug Testing: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions and New Drug Trends.” Published May 9, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Impaired Driving: Get the Facts.” Reviewed March 22, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Breastfeeding and Special Circumstances.” Reviewed in January 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Addiction. “Ethyl glucuronide in hair and fingernails as a long-term alcohol biomarker.” Published December 2013. Accessed March 28, 2019.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Blood Alcohol Level.” Updated November 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.

Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. “Alcohol Saliva Strip Test.” Published March 2014. Accessed March 28, 2019.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Breath Alcohol Test.” Updated March 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.

The BMJ. “Alcohol in the body.” Published January 2005. Accessed March 28, 2019.

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