How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?Camila Archuleta
Factors that Affect How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System
How long can you expect to be under the influence of alcohol? Understanding when you are impaired or intoxicated can be challenging, even if you don’t have an alcohol problem. You need to know when your body is free and clear of impaired judgment so that you can drive, nurse your child, and safely navigate the rest of your life. With these important considerations in mind: how long does alcohol stay in your system?
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Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Keep reading to learn more about the factors that impact alcohol absorption, and how to get treatment with Icarus if you want such worries to be a part of your past!
What Affects How Long Alcohol Stays in Your System?
Knowing how the body processes alcohol is key to making sure that you are safe for other activities like driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery. Whether your drinking borders on alcohol abuse or not, knowing how long it stays in your system is key to safety.
Here are a few of the factors that affect alcohol absorption.
Standard Elimination Rates for Men and Women
It doesn’t particularly matter how much alcohol you consume. Even if you happen to be binge drinking, your body can still only process a certain amount of alcohol per hour. Unfortunately, the amount it processes is relatively small.
On average, most people will process about 0.015 per hour. This translates to roughly one alcoholic drink per hour. If you are consuming more than one drink each hour, then you are likely to reach the point of intoxication because you are drinking faster than you can metabolize alcohol.
Keep in mind that women are often better at processing alcohol than men. A woman tends to present with higher blood alcohol concentration, even if she has had the same number of drinks as her male counterpart.
However, her body expels the alcohol faster though it will still show up on a blood or urine test for roughly the same length of time. Her alcohol metabolism is much faster than a man’s.
Younger and Older People Struggle with Alcohol Absorption
Gender is one of the first things to look at when determining how you can absorb alcohol, but age is a close second. You might be surprised to learn that younger individuals tend to process alcohol more slowly, along with those who are older. Specifically, teens and very young adults will have a harder time metabolizing alcohol than someone in their thirties or forties.
In addition to this surprising twist, many people also note that older individuals cannot cope with the same amount of alcohol consumption. Older people have higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) when consuming the same amount of alcohol. This relates to a low volume of water in the body as well as a slower rate of metabolism.
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Lower Body Weight Processes Alcohol Slower
Another key factor in how well your body will tolerate alcohol consumption is your body weight — specifically, your body fat percentage. The less you weigh and the less body fat you have, the more likely you are to be impacted by heavy drinking. Your BAC levels will be higher than someone who had an equivalent amount but who weighed significantly more.
Because your BAC is at a higher percentage, it will also take more time for the alcohol to leave your system. It burns off about 0.015 per hour, but a higher BAC will take longer even if you only have one or two drinks. This is sometimes why younger people struggle to process alcohol as quickly as adults, who tend to weigh more.
Drinking on an Empty Stomach
Have you ever heard the adage that you don’t want to drink on an empty stomach? Chances are that you will feel intoxicated faster if you have nothing in your stomach to soak up the alcohol. Metabolism speeds up when there is food in your system, making it ideal that you drink with a meal or at least a snack.
Why does this matter?
When you have something in your stomach, you have higher ADH levels. Plus, there is an increased ability to shuttle things around, particularly to the mitochondria of your cells. It also helps that you have increased blood flow to the liver with food in your stomach.
Medications May Alter Metabolism
Are you currently taking any medications, whether for a mental health disorder or a physical issue? One thing to note is that taking medication while drinking can impact the metabolism of both the medication and the alcohol.
Some medications cannot be processed completely by the body in the presence of alcohol known as pharmacokinetic interactions. Others will be enhanced by alcohol, meaning that you may have more side effects from the prescription, known as pharmacodynamic interactions. A common example of this is sleeping aids. They will often make you even drowsier if taken with several alcoholic drinks.
If you are serious about getting well, you should avoid drinking while taking medication.
Get Your Heart Pumping
Are you interested in how long alcohol stays in your system because you need to process it quickly? One quick and not-so-easy way to eliminate alcohol from the body is to exercise. Anything you can do to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing will help sober you up.
Moving your body results in less decline in the mitochondria of your cells. It also contributes to increased ethanol metabolism in the liver, which is responsible for most of the processing of alcohol.
If you choose to pursue this method, make sure that you are practicing safe exercise. Keep in mind that alcohol impairs coordination, so this may not be the best time to do something that requires fine motor skills. Even gross motor skills can be impacted, making it more challenging for you to stay in place on a treadmill. Try low-impact activities that move relatively slowly until you know how your body will respond.
How do Alcohol Testing Methods Vary?
The amount of time that alcohol remains in your system depends not only on the biological factors presented above. It also depends on who is testing and what testing method they choose to use. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC levels) offer the shortest time frame for determining whether you have had excessive alcohol consumption.
In fact, alcohol tests via blood sampling will only show up if you have had alcohol in the last six hours.
On the other hand, a breath test has a much higher threshold for how long it can determine just how much alcohol you have had. It can last for 12 to 24 hours after your final drink. Still, other tests have longer time periods including saliva tests (12-24 hours), urine tests (up to 72 hours), and hair tests (up to 90 days).
If your alcohol consumption concerns you, know what type of test you may be likely to take. This can make it easier for you to pass on drinking alcohol if you know that you will have to take a hair test, for example.
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Does Alcohol Addiction Impact BAC Levels?
If you struggle with alcohol addiction, you might be wondering how excessive drinking will ultimately impact your blood alcohol concentration levels. Oftentimes, people will drink more because they have built up a tolerance to alcohol. This can lead to binge drinking, which presents a new set of problems.
Drinking several drinks quickly does not allow the body to process the alcohol effectively. It can only process one drink an hour under the best circumstances. Drinking four to five drinks an hour can lead to alcohol poisoning.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning are different than normal intoxication, though identifying it can be challenging if you drink too many alcoholic beverages. Mental and physical symptoms are all impaired, you may begin to vomit, and you could see a decrease in balance, mobility, and more. Too much alcohol can lead to loss of consciousness, coma, or even death.
How Alcohol Affects Pregnancy and Breast Milk
One of the main reasons why women want to know how many drinks they can have relates to a unique issue: breastfeeding. Alcohol can pass into the breast milk, leaving many women to do what is known as “pump and dump” where they express the milk and throw it away to avoid giving their child contaminated milk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is highest in breast milk for the first half-hour to an hour after consuming it. It will remain in your system for roughly two to three hours per drink after consumption.
What does this mean for women who want to drink and feed their babies? It might mean that you have to really limit what you drink if you intend to nurse a baby in the near future. Another option would be to feed your infant formula for one or two feedings if you have been consuming alcohol.
If you find that your breasts are painful and need release, you can pump it and throw it away without risking passing your alcohol onto the child. This may be the safest option, even if you drink in moderation while breastfeeding.
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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
The truth is that how long alcohol stays in your system is highly dependent on your body composition, the amount you are drinking, and what other activities you have going on. A blood test may have the shortest lifespan for alcohol, but a hair test can determine alcohol usage for months at a time. Know what type of test you will be subject to before deciding to pick up the bottle.
If you are dealing with alcohol addiction or alcohol withdrawal, you need a safe place to land. Icarus Behavioral Health in New Mexico is here to help. We can connect you with our detox or treatment options so that you can start to get your life under control once again!