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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

June 20, 2022

Table of Contents

Active Alcohol stays in your system for approximately an hour per drink. [1] This means that the amount of time you can be actively intoxicated depends largely on how much you drink. If you have one drink, you can expect to feel the effects of intoxication for about an hour. If you have 12 drinks, you could potentially be intoxicated for half a day! 

After your body metabolizes alcohol in your liver, the active alcohol is broken down into inactive metabolites that are not actively causing intoxication, but can still be detected in the body.

How Does Alcohol Digestion Work?

Alcohol moves from your mouth to your throat to your stomach and small intestine where it is absorbed into your blood stream. From your blood stream, the alcohol moves through your liver where it is metabolized. Enzymes break alcohol molecules apart so your organs can remove them from your blood and body. 

Alcohol metabolization typically involves two enzymes:

  • Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)
  • Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH)

People carry different variations of these enzymes, and some work faster or better than others.[1] The better your digestion, the quicker your body can move alcohol out of your body, and the less likely you'll face unpleasant side effects.

Most people can metabolize about one drink of alcohol per hour.[2] But if you're slow to digest, you might need more time. 

When Is Alcohol No Longer Detectable on a Test?

It depends on the type of test. 

Five common testing methods exist to detect alcohol metabolites:

What Are They Testing? How long will metabolites be detected (approximate)
Blood Up to 12 hours after last drink
Breath Up to 24 hours after last drink
Hair Up to 90 days after last drink
Saliva Up to 48 hours after last drink
Urine Up to 5 days after last drink

Keep in mind these numbers are all estimates. Each individual may test positive slightly sooner or later than these estimates depending on the type of test, the amount of alcohol the person is drinking, and that person’s individual genetics. 

Alcohol Processing Timelines FAQs 

How long does it take to get alcohol out of your body?

You will need 90 days to pass an alcohol screening test on hair follicles. You'll need about a day to a week to pass other alcohol test types. 

How do you flush alcohol out of your system?

You can't reliably speed up alcohol processing. Drinking water or electrolytes or other substances has not been proven to speed the removal of alcohol metabolites from your body.

Can you pass an alcohol test in 24 hours?

You can pass a blood and breath test for alcohol in about 24 hours, depending on your metabolism.

How can you get alcohol out of your system fast?

There is no way to expedite the process. The only way to get alcohol out of your system is to allow time to pass. No other remedies (such as drinking coffee or taking a cold shower, drinking water or other electrolytes) have been reliably proven to process alcohol more quickly. In this case, time is the cure.

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Alcohol Metabolism: An Update. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa72/aa72.htm. July 2007. Accessed May 2022. 
  2. Alcohol Metabolism. Clinical Liver Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3484320/. November 2012. Accessed May 2022.

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