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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

The length of the presence of alcohol in the system varies from person to person, as there are several factors that come to play. Know about this in greater detail in the following WellnessKeen article.
Parul Solanki
Last Updated: May 7, 2018
The body takes around an hour to metabolize one unit of alcohol. So if you have spent the night partying hard, guzzling down loads of beer, and are now faced with a drug test at work tomorrow, then understanding the length of time that the alcohol stays in your system, can help you make the right decisions about how much to drink. This information is especially useful in with situations like a long drive back home or a drug test the next day.

Alcohol is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, and is removed from the system through sweat, urine, and breath. However, this accounts for only ten percent of the alcohol metabolized. The remaining ninety percent is broken down into acetic acid in the liver.
Alcohol in the System: How Long Does it Last?
Depending on the drink and the alcohol content, our body is able to metabolize a unit of alcohol in approximately an hour. One unit of alcohol indicates 10ml of pure alcohol. There are roughly two units of alcohol in a pint of low-strength beer or cider, one unit in a single measure of spirit, and around two units in a standard glass of average-strength wine. So if you drink a pint of beer, then the body will need two hours to break it down, and around three hours in case you have a large glass of wine. To understand this better, we need to take a look at the blood alcohol content (BAC).
What is Blood Alcohol Content?
Blood alcohol content, also known as BAC, is the measure of alcohol in the bloodstream. When a person has eight parts alcohol per 10,000 parts blood in the body, then the BAC is said to be 0.08%. These levels can be detected by breath, blood, or urine tests, and are mostly used for legal or medical purposes.
The pace at which the body metabolizes alcohol is .015 of BAC per hour. If you do not drink alcohol for around an hour, then 0.015 percent of the alcohol in the system will be metabolized and removed. In many states in US, the BAC limit for driving is around 0.08%, after which a person is considered legally impaired to drive. To remove around 0.08% of alcohol from the system, you will need more than five and a half hours. In circumstances where a person has had more than ten pints or is binge drinking, the alcohol can stay on for more than twenty hours in the system.
However, many factors affect the BAC in different people, like weight, gender, amount of alcohol consumed, and time since it was last consumed. BAC can also give an idea about how long your system takes to flush out all the alcohol you consumed (this is done by calculating the BAC periodically, for example every 30 minutes or every hour).
Factors that Determine the Duration of Alcohol in the Blood
Gender:
Whether women like it or not, alcohol stays in their system longer than it does in that of men. This isn't a meaningless gender 'bias', but simply a fact. Since women have lesser percentage of water in their system (49) as compared to men (58), they will require lesser amount of alcohol to reach a certain BAC reading than men would to reach the same BAC reading. Certain hormonal changes in women can also affect the time required to metabolize the alcohol in the blood.
Size and Weight:
Your weight can be a controlling factor too. One ounce of alcohol will have a greater effect on a 100-pound man than it will on a 300-pound man. This is because, the more you weigh the more water you have in the body. This dilutes the alcohol in the blood and reduces the BAC.
Age:
It has been observed that a young adult in the age group of 20 to 25 years with a faster metabolism rate can remove the alcohol faster from his system as compared to an older person.
Amount of Alcohol Consumed:
As the consumption of alcohol increases, there is a steady increase in the time needed to metabolize the alcohol. The type of alcohol and the strength also plays a role in the BAC levels.
Presence of Other Food:
A person who has not had anything to eat will metabolize the alcohol faster than people who have had it on a full stomach. This is because, when you have alcohol on an empty stomach, the liver metabolizes it without any problem. However, when you have had it on a full stomach, then the other foods have to be metabolized as well, so it considerably slows down the rate at which the alcohol leaves the body. Water, on the other hand, helps in diluting the alcohol in the system and flushing it out gradually.
Medications:
Whether a person is on any form of medication can also affect his/her rate of alcohol detoxification. Aspirin, paracetamol and pyrazole compounds (among other medications) are known to slow down the rate of alcohol detoxification. People with liver diseases or kidney problems may have difficulty in metabolizing alcohol.
Note: Coffee, cold showers, vomiting or exercising has no effect on the duration that alcohol stays in the system.
How to Control the BAC Rate?
To control the rise in the BAC levels, try these handy tips:
  • Avoid gulping the entire drink. Instead take longer to finish your drink or keep a significant time gap between two drinks.
  • Eat protein-rich foods like meat and cheese to slow the absorption of alcohol into your body.
  • Dilute your drinks instead of having them 'neat'.
  • Avoid drinking contests.
  • Drink moderately and occasionally, and take juices, ice water and beverages in between.
  • Consult a physician in case you are going to undergo a drug test later.
Alcohol is a system-suppressor that impairs judgment, coordination, vision, and reaction time, and increases drowsiness. In the long run, it can cause a host of problems, including a dependence on alcohol, liver failure, and death. To avoid this, the NHS has recommended that men should not drink more than 3 - 4 units of alcohol a day, while women should limit it to two to three units a day, in case the alcohol is consumed regularly.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical professional.