Alcohol Detection Time

alcohol detection time

Your Questions Answered: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

The intoxicating effects of alcohol don’t just pop up out of nowhere.

Alcohol has to be processed by the human body. If you start to feel the effects of alcohol while drinking, it’s because your body can’t keep up with processing the amount of alcohol in your system. In other words, your body is playing catch-up.

When it comes to alcohol, it probably stays in your system longer than you think.

Before we begin, let’s get this out of the way: If you are drinking or have been drinking, do not drive or perform activities that require attention and coordination.

The time it takes for alcohol to leave your system can be traced back to the type of alcohol you’re drinking, how much food or water you’ve consumed, your gender, age, weight, and more.

Knowing just how long it takes alcohol to leave your system can be extremely beneficial. It can help in preventing things like excessive drinking and even alcohol poisoning.

So, let’s take a more in-depth look at alcohol and its effects on the body.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), “Alcohol, also known as ethanol, is the main ingredient of alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and liquor. When you have an alcoholic drink, it is absorbed into your bloodstream and processed by the liver. Your liver can process about one drink an hour. One drink is usually defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of whiskey.”

Typically, alcohol can only be detected by blood alcohol tests within six to 12 hours since your last drink, breathalyzers can detect it within 24 hours, and a urine test can detect it within 12 to 48 hours.

You feel the effects of alcohol when you drink faster than your liver can process it. This leads to what is called intoxication (being drunk).

Signs of intoxication include:

  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Bad reflexes
  • Poor judgment
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Mood changes
  • Slurred speech

There are also different factors that come into play when it comes to just how quickly your body can process alcohol, so it isn’t a one-size-fits-all.

What Affects How Quickly Your Body Can Process Alcohol?

As you probably know, alcohol affects everyone differently. When it comes to how quickly your body can process alcohol, the list of variables is quite long. Let’s take a look at a few.

According to the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), ”Because of several physiological reasons, a woman will feel the effects of alcohol more than a man, even if they are the same size. There is also increasing evidence that women are more susceptible to alcohol’s damaging effects than are men. Below are explanations of why men and women process alcohol differently.”

Since the average woman has less body water than the average man, a man’s body will process alcohol faster than a woman’s body. Women also have less dehydrogenase (a liver enzyme) that is used to break alcohol down.

Another big factor is the amount of food in your stomach. Food can help absorb alcohol and prevent you from becoming drunk too quickly.

Other factors include your weight, if you’re sick, if you’re taking certain medications, your mood, and the strength of the alcohol you’re drinking.

Alcohol Use Disorder: What Is It?

The NLM says, “For most adults, moderate alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This means that their drinking causes distress and harm. AUD can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms. Severe AUD is sometimes called alcoholism or alcohol dependence.”

Alcohol use disorder has been known to cause:

  • The inability to stop drinking; for example, if you tell yourself you’re only going to have one or two drinks and end up drinking excessively
  • Compulsive urges to drink, otherwise known as cravings
  • Anxiety or being easily annoyed or irritated when you’re not drinking alcohol

AUD can be spotted in many ways. The NLM recommends asking yourself:

  • Does drinking make me sick, and do I continue to drink despite sickness?
  • Is alcohol putting me in dangerous situations?
  • Has alcohol prevented me from doing things I once enjoyed?
  • Do I keep drinking despite wanting to stop?
  • Do I have family issues because of alcohol?
  • Do I need to drink more and more to get drunk?
  • Am I having problems at work because of alcohol?
  • Do I experience withdrawal symptoms when I don’t drink?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you could be battling AUD.

Alcohol Use Disorder Can Affect Your Health

AUD and excessive drinking, which includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking, can affect your health in more ways than one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as having four or more drinks on a single occasion for women and five or more drinks on a single occasion for men. The CDC says heavy drinking is defined as women having eight or more drinks a week and men having 15 or more drinks a week.

Short-terms risks from drinking too much alcohol include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Injuries
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol syndrome if you’re pregnant
  • Violence

Long-term risks include:

  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Stroke
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, or rectum
  • Mental health disorders
  • Weakened immune system
  • Problems at work or school
  • Problems remembering things

A Look at Alcohol Poisoning

If you or someone you know is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Alcohol poisoning is also known as “alcohol overdose.” This is considered a medical emergency.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.”

Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slow heart rate
  • Seizure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Passing out
  • Clammy skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Bluish skin
  • Paleness

In some cases, the NIH says alcohol poisoning can cause brain damage or worse.

Mixing alcohol with other substances can create a recipe for disaster. The NIH explains, “Alcohol use and taking opioids or sedative-hypnotics, such as sleep and anti-anxiety medications, can increase your risk of an overdose. Examples of these medications include sleep aids such as zolpidem and eszopiclone, and benzodiazepines such as diazepam and alprazolam.”

Alcohol poisoning is a common danger that affects younger people, but even those who are used to drinking or drink a lot can get alcohol poisoning.

Drinking in America

Americans have a drinking problem, and the numbers prove it.

Around 18 million adults have AUD, according to the NLM. In 2019, according to the NIH, 414,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had the same disorder.

Binge drinking is also a problem, with 25.8% of people surveyed ages 18 and older reporting binge drinking in the last month.

Hospital visits also show just how big of a problem drinking has become here in the States. Alcohol actually contributes to 18.5% of emergency department visits in the United States.

With 95,000 alcohol-related fatalities in the country annually, alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable deaths.

In California, there were a reported 11,026 annual deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use. Around 71% of those were male.

Some people should refrain from drinking altogether, including those who:

  • Are under the age of 21
  • Are recovering from AUD
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • Are planning to drive
  • Are operating machinery
  • Are taking medications that are dangerous to mix with alcohol

You’re Never Alone

If you are battling AUD, remember, you’re not alone. There is hope for you. Your disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. We all need help from time to time.

You can learn to manage AUD. It doesn’t have to control your life. There are many ways to get you to the point of living a sober life. While it may not be easy, anyone who has walked that road will tell you it’s worth it.

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to hold out their hand and let you know that they believe in you. In turn, you’ll learn to believe in yourself.

There are great things still left for you to accomplish in this world. You have what it takes to live that life of fulfillment, free from the grasp of alcohol.

Even if you’ve tried to get sober before and failed, that is no reason to give up.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Pathways Recovery Is Here for You

Pathways Recovery provides three levels of addiction treatment solutions for those battling alcohol use disorder, including a detox center, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient treatment.

The facility is designed to provide the best possible experience for clients as they work toward recovery. Pathways Recovery’s master’s-level clinicians and staff will work tirelessly to make sure each client is safe and well taken care of.

The detox center provides medically assisted detoxification for those who need it. Our clients will be supported through this entire process with a qualified team available to provide supervision for safety and peace of mind.

After the detox process, clients will enter the residential program to begin the healing process. Pathways Recovery treatment programs are tailored to the unique needs of the client.

Therapy sessions are designed to get to the root cause of addiction, psychiatry is used to focus on undiagnosed mental health disorders, and medication-assisted treatment is available if the client needs it.

The third and final part of the process is intensive outpatient treatment, which is perfect for clients transitioning from their residential stay. With three weekly group sessions available, clients can remain connected to the recovery process.

Pathways Recovery, located in Northern California, can give you the treatment you need. If you need alcohol rehab, we’re here for you. To learn more, call (916) 735-8377.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do men and women process alcohol differently?

University of California Santa Cruz says that since the average woman has less body water than the average man, a man’s body will process alcohol faster than a woman’s body. Women also have less dehydrogenase (a liver enzyme) that is used to break alcohol down. Women may also be more susceptible to alcohol’s damaging effects on the body.

How long does it normally take for the body to process alcohol?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), “Alcohol, also known as ethanol, is the main ingredient of alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and liquor. When you have an alcoholic drink, it is absorbed into your bloodstream and processed by the liver. Your liver can process about one drink an hour. One drink is usually defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of whiskey.”

How do I know if I’m intoxicated?

You feel the effects of alcohol when you drink faster than your liver can process it. This leads to what is called intoxication (being drunk). Signs of intoxication include problems with balance and coordination, bad reflexes, poor judgment, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, and mood changes.

What is alcohol poisoning?

The National Institutes of Health says “alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.” Symptoms can include slowed breathing, slowed heart rate, paleness, seizure, vomiting, passing out, and more. Since this is considered a medical emergency, if you think you or someone you know may have alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Pathways Recovery