How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System

Alcohol is the most abused substance worldwide. It is also one of the oldest methods of intoxication known. Due to both of these points, it is also one of the highest risk behaviors involved in injuries. Many times alcohol abuse is not symptomatic until it is a big issue. (1)


This article will discuss the metabolism and testing of alcohol. Also, you can find advice on how to maintain a low blood alcohol level and prevent driving under the influence.

Metabolism of alcohol and factors which affect it.

  1. It is absorbed rapidly with a peak within 30-60 min after drinking.
  2. Absorption starts as early as the mucous membranes and continues being absorbed into all the digestive tract, even into the intestine.
  3. Ingestion of food slows the absorption and decreases blood alcohol levels.
  4. The liver metabolizes it and is eliminated through the kidneys in urine and the lungs in a breath. (4)
  5. Many factors can affect the readings of each type of testing.

Breathalyzer

  • Breathing patterns can change the concentration, for example, hyperventilation can lower results.
  • Studies showed that age and gender do not change the outcome.  (1)
  • Those who drank diet soda showed higher concentrations. (3)

In all types of studies, there are common factors which affect levels. Due to these factors it is difficult to say how long alcohol will show in your system. The variants are as follows:

  • The person’s size (weight and height)
  • Age and Gender
  • Physical condition
  • How much sleep one has had
  • Medications or other drugs were taken
  • Food intake(6,8)

What is Blood Alcohol concentration (BAC)?

  • Specifically, it is the milligrams of alcohol in every 100 milligrams of blood.(2,8)
  • Understanding different blood alcohol levels

    Each type of alcoholic drink has an estimated amount of blood alcohol level. Below you can see some of these estimates:

    • An increase of 15-25mg/dl is noted with one 12 ounce beer, one ounce of whiskey or 5 ounces of wine, noted between 30 min and three hours. (8)
  • BAC of .10 is saying that 1/10th of a person’s blood is alcohol. (8)

In the following image, you can see the effects blood alcohol can have on mood.

Blood Alcohol concentration (BAC)

 

Picture 1: The effects blood alcohol can have on mood
Image Source: rochester.edu

  • With a slow increase in BAC, the drinker feels increased self-confidence and energy. They may feel more sociable and a sense of wellbeing.
  • As the BAC increases around 0.6, there is a peak of the above-mentioned sensations.
  • When BAC increases past 0.6 there is a feeling of depression or fatigue. (8)

 Who gets tested for BAC?

  • Those who are pulled over for reckless driving.
  • Medical or legal purposes. (2)

How long does alcohol stay in your system?

  • The amount of time alcohol will show in your system depends greatly on the amount of drinks per hour you have consumed.

How long does alcohol stay in your blood?

  • Usually a few hours after the last drink but the variants listed above will change this drastically for each case.
  • Ethanol levels in the blood can show alcoholism because if a person is functioning at normal capacity with a BAC greater than 150mg/dl there is proof of tolerance.
  • This test must be done in a laboratory setting. (2)

How long does alcohol stay in your urine?

  • Usually a few days after the last drink but the variants listed above will change this drastically for each case.
  • Ethanol levels can be found in the urine up to three days after it is cleared from the blood.
    Should not be used to consider BAC.
  • Levels in the urine peak 45-60 minutes after consumption.(2)

How long does alcohol stay in your breath?

  • Usually a few hours after the last drink but the variants listed above will change this drastically for each case.
  • Standard levels in your breath remain high for almost three hours after consumption. (1)
  • Care needs to be taken because mouthwash is also detected in breathalyzer testing. (2)

How long alcohol stays in your saliva?

  • Usually only a couple hours after the last drink but the variants listed above will change this drastically for each case.
  • There are enzymatic strips that can detect levels greater than .02.
  • Alcohol is metabolized quickly in the saliva.(2)

How long alcohol stays in your hair?

  • Usually a couple months after the last drink but the variants listed above will change this drastically for each case.
  • This is used more for detecting long-term alcohol use. (2)
  • It is also the only test that can tell the difference between chronic and social drinking.
  • Precaution should be used if herbal hair tonics are used. (8)

DUI (Driving under the influence)

Driving under the influence is a huge issue in the United States.

  • 31% of traffic-related deaths are due to alcohol-impaired drivers.
  • More than ½ of children who died in car accidents in 2014 were due to alcohol-impaired drivers.

There are some who are at a higher risk of DUI

  • Young people who do not control their BAC
  • Motorcyclists
  • Those with history of DWI

DUI can be prevented with the following measures.

  • Enforcing and following laws that have been put in place
  • Sobriety checkpoints
  • Educating the general population about DUI
  • Be sure to eat a proper meal before social drinking.
  • Watch friends who are drinking and don’t let them drive under the influence.
  • If you have a party you should ask for car keys from those who are drinking and ask for sober drivers.

How can I maintain a low BAC?

  • The only way to maintain your BAC low is to monitor your intake of alcohol.
  • There is a new phone app that can help you do just that called The Alcohol Tracker. (11)

What are long-term effects of alcohol abuse?

  • Chronic alcohol abuse can cause various chronic conditions and diseases. The knowledge of when a person is at risk for these conditions is related to many variables. Below is a diagram of how those variables interact.

long-term effects of alcohol abuse

 

Photo 2: long-term effects of alcohol abuse
Image Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Diagnosis that are defined as being attributed directly to alcohol consumption are and are not limited to

  • Psychotics disorder and other unspecified mental disorders
  • Amnesic syndrome
  • Polyneuropathy
  • Myopathy
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Acute and chronic pancreatitis
  • Liver issues

Others diagnosis that are found to be related to alcohol consumption are and are not limited to the following:

  • Various types of cancer-related to the digestive tract
  • Diabetes
  • Mental and behavioral disorders.
  • Seizures
  • Cardiovascular and circulatory diseases. (10)

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4598755/
  2. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2090019-overview
  3. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/855117
  4. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1010220-overview#a5
  5. http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/853790
  6. http://www.brad21.org/bac_charts.html
  7. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
  8. https://www.rochester.edu/uhs/healthtopics/Alcohol/bac.html
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3908707/
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3908712/
  11. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/847638

Published on by under Addiction and Withdrawals.
Article was last reviewed on September 3rd, 2016.

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