Alcohol is often okay to consume in moderation, but it’s essential to know how long alcohol stays in your body to ensure you remain safe and healthy. Here, you’ll find the many factors to consider.

Alcohol is a depressant that has a short life span in the body. Once the alcohol has entered your bloodstream, your body will metabolize a certain amount of alcohol every hour, depending on the individual and other factors like liver size and weight.

Read on to learn more about alcohol’s life cycle in the body and the essential factors to consider.

Your body metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate, at about one drink per hour.

However, this can vary somewhat based on the type of alcohol you drink, your physical health, or your genetic predisposition.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol in your blood to the amount of water in your blood.

Infographic on alcohol metabolism.Share on Pinterest
Your body metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate of about one drink per hour. However, this can vary a bit based on factors like sex, age, food intake, and more.

When you drink alcohol, it is quickly absorbed in the stomach and small intestines. From there, it enters your bloodstream to travel to the liver.

Your liver releases enzymes to break down alcohol. However, the organ can only metabolize a little at a time, leaving the excess to circulate throughout your body. So, how much alcohol you consume in a specific amount of time gives you an idea of its intensity.

Numerous factors can affect BAC and how fast you eliminate it from your body, including:

  • Sex: Females tend to have a higher BAC and eliminate alcohol faster than males
  • Age: Teens, young adults, and older adults eliminate slower
  • Food: Metabolism rate increases with food
  • Time of day: Alcohol metabolizes faster at the end of the day
  • Exercise: Alcohol is eliminated slightly faster during exercise
  • Alcoholism: Heavy drinking increases the rate, but advanced liver disease decreases it

It’s also important to know how much alcohol is in your drink because that will determine how long it takes to metabolize your drink. For example, some beers have a higher alcohol content, affecting how much alcohol you consume from one drink.

Even though so many factors come into play, the average metabolic rate to remove alcohol is about one drink per hour.

There are specific steps you can take to help reduce the effects of alcohol.

  • Food may help your body absorb alcohol.
  • Water can help reduce your BAC.
  • Avoid caffeine. It’s a myth that coffee, energy drinks, or similar beverages alleviate intoxication quicker.

Is it safe to drink alcohol while taking acetaminophen? Learn more.

Urine tests can detect alcohol long after you’ve had your last drink by testing for traces of alcohol metabolites. The average urine test can detect alcohol up to 12 hours after drinking. However, more advanced testing can measure alcohol in the urine 24 hours after drinking.

Breath tests for alcohol can detect alcohol within a shorter time frame, at about 4-6 hours. A small machine called a breathalyzer measures your BAC. Any number above 0.02% is unsafe since you experience some loss of judgment and a decline in visual functioning.

Alcohol can stay in your hair for 90 days while temporarily being detected in saliva, sweat, and blood.

TestHow long after drinking can it detect alcohol?
urine12 hours
breath24 hours
hair90 days

You may have heard it is okay to drink alcohol while breastfeeding or chestfeeding a baby in certain circumstances.

However, the safest option for nursing people is not to drink any alcohol.

If you do drink alcohol, consider the following ways to keep your baby safe:

  • do not drink more than one standard drink per day
  • pump extra milk ahead of time so that you can feed your baby with expressed milk
  • wait 2 hours after a drink before nursing again
  • avoid consistent excessive alcohol consumption

Alcohol poisoning is a two-phase condition also known as ethanol toxicity. The condition occurs when you drink large amounts of alcohol that affect the organs in your body.

One phase is the acute form of alcohol poisoning caused mainly by binge drinking. The second is a chronic phase in which you drink large amounts of alcohol, but you are conscious and moving naturally due to the high tolerance developed over time. Your experience of the condition’s toxic effect differs depending on whether you are in the acute or chronic phase.

The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning depend upon your BAC. As your BAC level increases, so does the severity of your symptoms.

Some symptoms from more minor to severe include:

Chronic alcohol poisoning leads to alcoholic chronic liver disease. Heavy drinkers are also more likely to experience heart failure. Other symptoms include:

Learn more about blackouts.

Acute alcohol poisoning is often a medical emergency. The quicker you seek help, the more likely you are to minimize potentially fatal complications.

Call your local emergency services if you suspect alcohol poisoning in a friend or loved one. To prevent choking from vomit, turn the person on their side. Never leave a friend with alcohol poisoning by themselves.

Alcohol use disorder affects many, but some are at a higher risk than others of receiving the diagnosis. In addition, mental health disorders are often a part of the health history of those affected.

  • Persons diagnosed with schizophrenia. According to a review, 33.7% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia also have alcohol use disorder.
  • People who received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. An estimated 28% of those diagnosed with depression also have alcohol use disorder.
  • Personality disorders are more likely. Of those diagnosed with personality disorders, 50-70% also receive an alcohol use disorder diagnosis.

Other risk factors for alcohol use disorder include:

What is blood alcohol concentration (BAC)?

The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is how much alcohol is in your blood and is the most precise way to measure intoxication.

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink is an estimated 0.6 ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. The amount of alcohol in common beverages includes:

ozdrinkalcohol content
12beer5%
8malt liquor7%
5wine12%
1.580-proof distilled spirits40%

Does drinking water or coffee help you sober up?

Drinking water cannot sober you up, but it can prevent you from drinking too much too fast. Since you metabolize alcohol over a set amount of time, drinking water between drinks allows your liver time to process the alcohol.

Additionally, drinking can lead you to urinate more often and cause dehydration, so you can prevent any negative effects by taking in the water.

Drinking caffeine can make you more alert, but it doesn’t lessen its other effects. Thus, drinking caffeine with alcohol is dangerous and should be avoided since you may become more impaired.

Should I pump and dump to remove alcohol from my breastmilk?

It is not possible to remove alcohol from breastmilk by pumping. As long as alcohol is still metabolizing in your body, your milk will contain traces. To help you not interrupt your nursing, you should pump before drinking or wait for two hours after consuming one drink.

The rate at that alcohol can stay in your system depends on various factors. The bottom line is safety and moderation. Keep your consumption to a few drinks per week, and avoid excessive consumption.

Also, be sure to have a ride lined up if you are drinking away from home. Even if you are below the legal limit, it’s never safe to drive with any amount of alcohol consumption.