How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

If alcohol has taken control of your life, Harmony Ridge is here to offer the help you need. Our dedicated team can provide the support and resources for you to break free from alcohol's grip and begin your journey toward recovery.


According to John Hopkins Medicine, the liver carries waste away, clears the blood of drugs and other substances, and regulates blood levels of amino acids. It has the important job of breaking down alcohol and toxins from it. A man’s liver can usually break down (metabolize) most of one drink per hour. Then normal body functions get rid of the rest.

But there is a different answer for everybody for how long alcohol stays in your body. Simply put, it depends on how much alcohol you consumed. It typically breaks down at 20 mg/dL per hour. That means if there is 60 mg/dL in your bloodstream, it would take approximately three hours to clear from your system.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Body Overall?


Alcohol stays longer in certain parts of the body than it does in other areas. For example, it can stay in hair follicles for up to 90 days. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) writes that alcohol enters the bloodstream before it enters hair follicles. From there, it travels to other parts of the body, including hair. So, even if a person stopped drinking months ago, it could still show up in a hair follicle test.

Alcohol is found in the system through: 

  • Hair follicles
  • Breath
  • Saliva
  • Blood
  • Urine
How Long It Takes to Process Alcohol

On the other hand, it lasts for shorter periods of time when it comes to different parts of the body and the waste it produces. Urine and saliva tests can determine if a person has consumed alcohol for around 12 to 24 hours. Again, the liver breaks down alcohol and it leaves the body as waste.

Even though the liver breaks it down, the waste doesn’t disappear completely. That waste is called ethyl glucuronide, also known as EtG. Urine tests can determine if that waste comes from alcohol. As for breath, alcohol can stay in a person’s breath for up to 24 hours but can be detected by breathalyzers in as little as 15 minutes. It does this by oxidizing the alcohol in a person’s breath sample.

Finally, how long does alcohol stay in your body when it comes to the bloodstream? It only stays in the bloodstream for up to six hours. It’s measured by blood alcohol concentration, also known as BAC.

What Is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?

BAC is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. It’s expressed by the amount of ethanol, weighed in grams, per 100 ml of blood. To put it another way, a BAC of 0.20% means that a person has two parts alcohol per 1,000 parts of blood. BAC may also be known as breath alcohol concentration. Although it’s known as blood alcohol concentration or breath alcohol concentration, it can be used to measure the amount of alcohol waste in a person’s urine.

Different BAC levels determine the likelihood of how intoxicated a person is. Though, it’s worth noting that people have different tolerances to alcohol. So, even though a person may not be legally intoxicated, they might still be impaired by it.

Different Levels of BAC

  • 0.02-0.039% – Likely to make some feel more friendly, happy, and slightly more relaxed than usual.
  • 0.04-0.058% – Lower inhibition, feeling much more relaxed, and can make a person feel warmer even if they’re not really. Lack of judgment and trouble remembering things starts here.
  • 0.06-0.099% – This is the level where people start to feel intoxicated at. The United States considers a BAC of 0.08% to be legally intoxicated. This BAC level is associated with euphoria, memory loss, loss of motor function, worse reaction time, lack of judgment and self-control.
  • 0.100-0.129% – Significantly impaired motor coordination, judgment, balance, peripheral vision, hearing, speech, and reaction time.
  • 0.130-0.159% – Characterized by virtually no motor coordination and physical control. Vision becomes blurred, speech more slurred, and a person may start to feel unwell.
  • 0.160-0.199% – It’s likely a person with this BAC level will feel extremely unwell. They may start vomiting or feel nauseous in general. This is the “sloppy drunk” phase.
  • 0.2-0.249% – Extreme confusion, more of a chance of vomiting, almost complete loss of motor coordination, and possibly blackout/brownout.
  • 0.250-0.399% – A person is dangerously drunk at this point. They will suffer from alcohol poisoning and lose consciousness.
  • 0.40% – This BAC likely means death or an onset coma at the least.

Dangers of a High BAC

A high BAC can kill you by respiratory arrest via alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is a depressant. Depressants slow down the body’s systems, including the central nervous system. The brain and spinal cord make up this system. It depresses the parts of this system that regulate consciousness and breathing. Depressing these areas too much can cause someone to stop breathing completely.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include: 

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to wake up no matter how hard someone tries
  • Blue lips
  • Feeling cold and sweaty to the touch
  • A person takes ten seconds or more in between each breath
  • Someone breaths fewer than eight times per minute

When a person is suffering from alcohol poisoning they might start vomiting violently. If they lose too much liquid it could result in deadly dehydration. Since a high BAC can make a person lose consciousness, there’s a large chance they will vomit and choke on it because of passing out.

The Effects of Alcohol Use in Your Life


Excessive alcohol use can lead to major issues, from problems at work to familial dysfunction. It’s important to be aware of these consequences in addition to the myths that surround alcohol use.

Alcohol and Employment

Can your employer fire you over drinking alcohol? The answer depends on your BAC. Drinking on the job and being noticeably drunk is immediate grounds for termination. Many employers have a drug-free workplace to prevent workplace injuries and ensure the safety of their workers.

A part of the drug-free workplace policy means drug testing. Usually, jobs randomly test employees for drugs and alcohol. Your workplace may do this in different ways. Their policy could force employees to take it.  If so, it would likely measure your BAC. It could lose your job, even if you haven’t done anything necessarily wrong. A high BAC means legal intoxication. So, if you go to sleep with a high BAC and get tested in the morning at work, you could face unemployment soon.

The Sobering Truth About Sobering Up: Debunking the Myths

Contrary to popular belief, a cold shower can’t make you sober up any quicker. This is a long-time myth that has no basis. The cold shower will get you cleaner but definitely won’t reduce your BAC. The myth perhaps comes from the other supposed health benefits of cold showers. Science shows that a burst of cold water can possibly help fight depression. However, it won’t fight drunkenness.

Also, coffee can’t reduce how long alcohol can stay in your system. This myth stems from the fact that stimulants (aka caffeine in coffee) can mask some of the effects of alcohol. Stimulants, like caffeine, make people feel more alert. It won’t matter if they have a high BAC and drank too much. They’ll feel soberer but the alcohol will stay in their system for the same amount of time with or without.

What Can Reduce How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System?

The only thing that lowers BAC levels is time. No amount of cold showers and coffee can lower it, even if it masks the symptoms of how drunk a person is. BAC lowers by around 0.015% per hour. People need to take this into account after they drink.

For instance, if someone has a drunken night out, they can still go to sleep and wake up legally intoxicated the next morning. They might not be able to legally drive until all of the alcohol is out of their system.

What Factors Speed Up How Long It Takes to Process Alcohol?


Time is the only factor that lowers BAC levels. Yet, some factors can make the body process alcohol more quickly. In other words, some characteristics can make a person drunker quicker. The main factors include:

  • Age
  • Diet
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Medication
  • Health issues
  • How quickly someone drank

Gender is one of the main factors in how quickly the body processes alcohol. Females have less water in their bodies than men. For this reason, they have higher BACs when they drink the same amount. Also, women have larger livers in comparison to the rest of their body. This means that the liver breaks down alcohol more quickly making women get drunker in less time. Other female characteristics like less alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and a higher proportion of body fat affect BAC levels as well.

Harmony Ridge is Here for You


If you’re looking up how long can alcohol stay in your system, it may be time to look into an addiction treatment center. Trying to squeeze time in between being drunk and working is a sure-fire way to get fired. Many people have an alcohol use disorder and are gainfully employed. Not all of these people recognize when casual alcohol use slips into abuse. If it does, Harmony Ridge is here to help you or a loved one recover. Contact us now to find out how.


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