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How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System

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Knowing How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System Can Save Your Life 

After a long week at work, your company throws a small celebration party at a local restaurant. You end up having a few drinks as you chat with your coworkers, and soon the evening is coming to a close. Now the real question – are you safe to drive home? 

There are many reasons why you might want to be aware of how long alcohol stays in your system. From knowing if it’s safe to drive, to knowing if you can take a medication that doesn’t interact well with alcohol – knowing the factors that impact alcohol processing is good information to have.

Alcohol is one of the most used substances across the United States, and California is no exception. Over 10% of people with a substance use disorder report regular alcohol consumption. At Pacific Sands, we like to make easy-to-access information available to anyone who might need it. Today we’re looking at how long alcohol stays in your system and what factors can impact that length of time.

How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol

Alcohol, like any other food or drink we consume, primarily passes through the digestive system. Unlike other foods, however, it’s considered to be a toxin by the body. This is why the liver is involved in the processing of alcohol. 

What Is a Standard Drink?

Oftentimes, talks of alcohol and alcohol consumption are measured in “drinks,” but alcoholic beverages come in a variety of sizes and alcohol levels. What exactly is a “drink” then?

On average, one drink consists of: 

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

Alcohol and the Liver

Our liver acts as a filtration system for alcohol, helping to break down different parts of an alcoholic drink in order to better pass it through the system. The liver has a limit for how much it can process at a time. If a person continues to drink when the liver is at capacity, this is when alcohol can start impacting other parts of our bodies.

alcohol metabolism

What Factors Impact How Fast Alcohol is Processed? 

On average, it takes about an hour for your liver to break down a drink. Some of the common factors that can impact this time include metabolism, how much you’ve had to drink, other substances in your system, and your history of alcohol use.

If your liver is damaged from long-term alcohol use, or it’s busy processing other substances like drugs, including certain prescription ones, this timeline can fluctuate. 

How Is Alcohol Measured in the Body?

You’ve probably heard of BAC before, or blood alcohol content, but why and how is it measured this way?

As mentioned earlier, when the liver is unable to process alcohol that is being brought into your system, it can move into other parts of the body, like your bloodstream. BAC is calculated per 100 mL of blood, so if you have a BAC of 0.05, then 0.05% of the volume of your blood contains alcohol. 

This system is utilized as a basis across the board. Even when a breathalyzer is used, it can translate the amount of alcohol in your breath to a decent estimate of what your BAC is at that moment. 

How Long Is Alcohol Detectable in Your Urine/Hair/Saliva?

There are several other ways besides a breathalyzer to check for alcohol in someone’s system. These tests, however, are rarely used outside of drug screenings or legal proceedings. 

Saliva and blood tests for alcohol, for example, are invasive and don’t always have the most accurate results. In fact, when doing a saliva test for alcohol, if a positive reading comes back it’s required to administer a  breathalyzer test 15 minutes after to confirm the results. For blood testing, it’s invasive and expensive so it’s very rarely used.

Urine tests, which also occur, are not clear indicators of the current level of intoxication. In fact, a person might have little to no BAC and still have a positive urine test. Since alcohol is a legal substance, urine tests are rarely used.

Our hair stores data the longest out of any other part of our body. Alcohol can be detected in the hair for up to 6 months. Again, this test will rarely be used outside of potential legal proceedings.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Breast Milk?

If a mother is currently producing milk and breastfeeding, drinking alcohol can impact the production and quality of breast milk. According to the CDC, alcohol levels are highest in breast milk only 20 to 30 minutes after you have a drink. Alcohol can continue to be detected in breast milk for another 2 to 3 hours, but the more you drink, the longer it takes for it to fully leave the breast milk. 

body processing alcohol

Getting Treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder in California

Looking for treatment for an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can seem time-consuming. We know how busy many people are, especially here in California. Our team at Pacific Sands Recovery strives to offer professional, effective, and individualized treatment to help assist our clients on their journey.

We offer alcohol detox programs as well as residential treatment and therapy. We believe in approaching our clients’ concerns without judgment and instead provide education on how to make productive choices and changes. We’re well-versed in recovery both from our years of experience and because our staff have been on their own recovery journeys, too.

If you’d like to learn more about our programs, what we offer, and how to get started, you can give us a call at 949-426-7962. Our Pacific Sands team is here and ready to help.


How long should you wait for alcohol to be out of your system?

The length of time you should wait after drinking varies depending on how much you drank. Alcohol can be detected via a breathalyzer sometimes up to 24 hours after your last drink.

How long does alcohol peak in your system?

How long a person feels the most effects of drinking alcohol depends on how much they drank and how quickly they drank it. If you’re slowly consuming alcohol over a longer period of time, your “peak” might last longer than someone who took 3 shots in a row and then stopped drinking.

How long does alcohol stay in your liver?

For an average, healthy adult liver it takes about 1 hour for a drink to be processed.


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