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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

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How long does alcohol stay in your system

Drinking alcohol is a widely accepted part of American culture. Alcohol is available at many social events, such as dinner parties, happy hours, and celebrations. Most adults in the US drink alcohol from time to time, and many people enjoy moderate drinking as part of their lifestyle.

But how long does alcohol stay in your system once you’ve had a drink? And what factors can affect how long you may feel the effects of alcohol? This article will discuss how long it takes for your body to process and eliminate alcohol and what steps to take if you need help to stop drinking.

Reach out to the specialists at Woburn Wellness to learn more about our alcohol rehab programs and how to get the support you need in recovery.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Typically, people process alcohol at the rate of one drink per hour.[1] But what exactly is a “drink,” and what other factors can affect how quickly your body metabolizes alcohol?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a “drink” is defined as:[2]

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits like vodka, tequila, and rum
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor

By these standards, many drinks you might order from a bar or restaurant would contain the alcohol of more than just one “drink.” For example, a pint of beer would contain the alcohol of 1 ⅓ “drinks” as defined by the CDC.

People may be concerned about how long alcohol can linger in the system, especially if they’ve had a lot to drink. Understanding the amount of alcohol you’re actually consuming is essential to answering this question. A mixed cocktail with three shots of liquor may count as 3 “drinks.” It may take your body more than an hour to metabolize the alcohol in an alcoholic beverage depending on the serving size and amount of liquor in that drink.

How Long Can a Test Detect Alcohol in Your System?

Various types of drug screening tests can detect alcohol for different lengths of time. Alcohol may be detectable for much longer in sensitive tests. Here is a guideline on the types of tests used to detect alcohol in your body.

Breath tests

A breath test can detect alcohol in your system for 12 to 24 hours after your last drink, depending on the amount of alcohol you recently consumed.


Saliva tests have a similar sensitivity rate to breath tests and may be able to detect alcohol in the system for 12 to 24 hours afterward.


Urine tests are more sensitive than breath and saliva screenings. A byproduct of alcohol metabolism called phosphatidyl ethanol, or PEth,  is detectable in urine for up to two weeks.


Your body removes alcohol from the bloodstream at the rate of about 0.015 per hour. A blood test can detect alcohol for up to 12 hours after drinking.


A hair test is very sensitive, especially when the sample contains the hair’s root. Alcohol is detectable in a hair sample for as long as 90 days.

How long does alcohol stay in system

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Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment is a leader in the addiction treatment field, with proven success in facilitating long-term recovery. Our team of top clinical & medical experts specializes in treating addiction coupled with mental illness, ensuring that each person receives individualized care. Call us – we’re available 24/day, 7 days/week.

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What Factors Affect How Long Alcohol Stays in the System?

There is no specific, reliable way to predict exactly how long it will take since metabolism is affected by so many things.[3] Several factors are known to affect how long it takes for your body to process alcohol.


The medications you take may affect how quickly your body can break down and eliminate alcohol–and some may have dangerous interactions with alcohol. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can interact badly with alcohol, so it’s important to talk to your doctor honestly about what drugs you take and how much alcohol you consume.


Typically, women process alcohol differently than men. Even when drinking the same number of drinks, women’s bodies may require more time to break down and remove the alcohol.


As people get older, their bodies lose some of the ability to break down alcohol. Metabolism can become sluggish, making the process of alcohol metabolism much slower.As people get older, their bodies lose some of the ability to break down alcohol. Metabolism can become sluggish, making the process of alcohol metabolism much slower.

Body size and composition

More body weight typically means more water in your system. People with smaller bodies and less water weight may have higher blood alcohol levels than people with larger bodies, even if they drink the same amount of alcohol.

Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions can prevent your body from metabolizing alcohol efficiently. Liver, kidney, and stomach diseases may cause alcohol to remain in your system longer.

Drinking too much alcohol can be hard on your physical and mental health and may lead to dependence or addiction. Finding supportive professional treatment is critical if you want to stop drinking but can’t or have other signs of addiction.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse Now

Reach out to the team of caring specialists at Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment if you or someone you love requires help to stop drinking. Whether you require intensive treatment or need support during addiction recovery, our programs can help you recover from alcohol abuse and addiction. Don’t wait for the help you need. Call today to get started toward a healthier future.


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Medically Reviewed By

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC Clinical Director
Learn about Inessa Maloney

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC has been dedicated to the mental health and substance abuse field for a decade, providing her expertise to guarantee quality and accuracy.

  • Specializes in outpatient services with a focus on substance abuse
  • Expertise in reality-based therapy, CBT/DBT, and motivational interviewing
  • Holds a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling
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