If you have to take a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test for work or another organization, or you're wondering how long you must wait until it is safe to drive after having some drinks, you may be surprised to learn how long it takes to get alcohol out of your system. Although each person metabolizes alcohol a bit differently, there are a few factors that will impact how long you feel the effects and how long alcohol will remain in your system. 

If you would like support to help you cut back on or quit drinking, try virtual alcohol rehab at Confidant Health. You'll get assistance from an online recovery coach who can help you set and achieve your goals, whether trying to moderate your drinking or cut it out of your life completely. Download our app today to get started.

How the Body Processes Alcohol

After you start drinking, alcohol travels to your stomach. Some people have stomach enzymes that help them begin processing the alcohol there. These enzymes are alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). If you have them, some of the alcohol you drink will be processed in your stomach before the remainder moves on to the small intestine.

If you do not have ADH and ALDH or have low levels of them, all of the alcohol will pass right through to the small intestine. From there, it travels into your bloodstream and your brain. This occurs about 60 to 90 minutes after you start drinking, which is when you will likely feel the full effects of the alcohol.

At this point, your liver begins to process the alcohol in your system. This organ plays the most significant role in alcohol metabolism, processing approximately 90% of the alcohol consumed. Your kidneys, lungs, and skin process the remaining 10%, which is expelled through your urine, breath, and pores.

Factors That Affect Alcohol Metabolism

On average, the liver can metabolize one drink per hour. One drink counts as:

  • 12 ounces of beer

  • 5 ounces of wine

  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor

If you consume more than one alcoholic beverage per hour, the excess alcohol will build up in the blood and body tissues. You cannot speed up how quickly alcohol leaves your system. However, certain factors will impact how efficiently your body metabolizes alcohol:

Age

Age plays a big part in how your body processes alcohol. Generally, the older you are, the slower your body will process alcohol. That is why you may notice that alcohol affects you differently than it did in your twenties. You may feel intoxicated from fewer drinks and experience worse hangovers the day after.

Body Mass

The more you weigh, the more water your body will contain. The concentration of alcohol in your system may be higher than a person who weighs more but consumes the same amount of alcohol as you. 

Health Conditions 

If you have health conditions affecting the liver, kidneys, or stomach, your body may have difficulty processing alcohol. These organs play major roles in alcohol metabolism, so any impairment will affect how efficiently they can help alcohol pass through your system.

Medications 

Many medications interact with alcohol, either amplifying its effects or interfering with how well your medication works. You should check with your provider if it is safe to drink while taking your prescription. You will also find information about potential interactions with alcohol on the pamphlet that comes with your medication from the pharmacy. 

Sex

Women tend to take longer than men to process alcohol. This is because women are likelier to have less body water and dehydrogenase than men. Also, birth control pills and estrogen medications can slow down alcohol metabolism.

If any of the above applies to you, taking that into consideration when drinking can help you moderate your consumption. 

Half-Life of Alcohol

The half-life of a substance is how long it takes for half of that substance to leave your system. Alcohol has a half-life of four to five hours, and it takes five half-lives for alcohol to leave your system completely. It can take 20 to 25 hours for your body to clear out the alcohol you consume. 

Some people find it surprising that they may still be over the legal limit to drive the morning after drinking. After heavy alcohol consumption, your blood alcohol concentration can still exceed the legal limit the following day. Since it can take a whole day for the alcohol to leave your body, traces of it will remain in your system and show up on a breathalyzer test for that duration.

Factors Influencing the Duration of Alcohol Effects

There's nothing you can do to help yourself sober up fast. Once alcohol is in your system, it will follow its usual course of metabolism. But there are a few factors that can influence how long you will feel the effects of alcohol.

Eating While Drinking

Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach allows alcohol to quickly pass through the stomach and head right for the small intestine. You'll feel the effects of alcohol much more rapidly. This can also make you feel stronger effects from the alcohol and increase the severity of hangovers.

If you eat before drinking, the food in your stomach will help slow alcohol's journey to your small intestine. Since the alcohol remains in the stomach longer, your body can begin to break it down, so less of it reaches your small intestine. This helps dilute and mitigate some of the effects of alcohol, so you may not feel as intoxicated. Continuing to snack during and after drinking can also help minimize alcohol's effects.

Combining Caffeine and Alcohol 

Many people swear by the effects of a strong cup of coffee to help you feel sober faster. Caffeine can perk you up so you'll feel more alert, but it doesn't change how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol. This is also the case when mixing energy drinks with alcohol. Another thing to consider when combining caffeine and alcohol is that both substances are dehydrating. Together, they will reduce your body's water content, potentially slowing alcohol metabolism.

Taking Pain Relievers

Although taking a pain reliever before bed may be tempting to get ahead of a potential headache, doing so can slow down alcohol metabolism. Your liver needs to focus on processing the alcohol in your system, but adding a pain reliever to the mix increases the liver's toxic load. It is better to wait until the next day to take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen after the liver has had a chance to process most of the alcohol in your body.

There are several other popular remedies for sobering up, such as taking a cold shower, working up a sweat, or throwing up. Like caffeine, these remedies can help a person feel more alert and aware after drinking, but they do not speed up alcohol metabolism or reduce blood alcohol concentration. No matter how alert you feel, you should not drive or operate machinery after alcohol consumption.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Although alcohol clears your body approximately 25 hours after you stop drinking, it can still appear on an alcohol test for much longer. The length of time alcohol can be detected in your system depends mainly on the type of test conducted.

Blood

Alcohol leaves your bloodstream the fastest and will appear on a test up to 12 hours later.

Breath

The standard breathalyzer test can detect alcohol up to 24 hours after your last drink.

Saliva

A saliva test will pick up traces of alcohol up to 48 hours after you stop drinking.

Urine

Alcohol will show up in your urine up to 5 days after drinking.

Hair

Alcohol can be detected in the hair follicles considerably longer, up to 90 days after your last drink.

What Is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?

Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) shows how much alcohol is in your blood. It is also referred to as blood alcohol level and indicates how impaired you are. Organizations such as workplaces, hospitals, and law enforcement use BAC tests to determine if you have consumed alcohol, need treatment for alcohol poisoning, or are over the legal limit to drive.

FAQs

How long does it take for alcohol to kick in?

The effects of alcohol kick in approximately 10 minutes after your first sip and peak about 60 to 90 minutes after you start drinking.

How long does it take for alcohol to wear off?

It will take about 20 to 25 hours for the effects of alcohol to fully wear off. 

How do you flush alcohol out of your body?

You cannot flush alcohol from your system faster than it normally takes for your body to metabolize it. But, you can help counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after alcohol consumption. Coconut water, aloe vera juice, herbal teas, and beverages high in electrolytes can also help you stay hydrated.

Find Support for Abstinence from Alcohol at Confidant Health

For some people, moderating alcohol consumption is the right choice, but for others, removing alcohol from their lives is essential. Whatever your goals are, Confidant Health’s virtual alcohol rehab can help you get there. Get started today by downloading our app and scheduling an online assessment.