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How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Leave Your System?

Alcohol can stay in your system for several hours, depending on various factors. Find out how long it takes for alcohol to leave your system and the effects it can have on your body.

By Jake ParksNov 15, 2023 10:00 AM
woman holding glass with red wine in hand tape measure attached by foot base. celebrating prohibited alcohol consumption. isolated girl pink background
(Credit: Alexandra Morosanu/Shutterstock)


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Alcohol is a ubiquitous part of many cultures and social gatherings. But it is also a substance that can profoundly impact the human body. And it stays in your system longer than you might think.

Understanding the journey of alcohol through the body is crucial for understanding the impacts it can have on your health and for making informed decisions. So, let’s take a deeper dive into exactly how the human body processes and gets rid of alcohol, as well as the effects alcohol detox can have.

How Does Your Body Metabolize Alcohol?

Let’s start by examining what exactly happens when your body metabolizes alcohol.

Alcohol is mostly processed by enzymes in the liver, primarily alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH breaks down the alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that is soon converted into a less harmful byproduct called acetate.

From there, acetate is further broken down into carbon dioxide and water, which the body eventually expels. This metabolization process helps keep the alcohol level in the blood, known as Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), in check.

Read More: What Happens To Your Brain When You Stop Drinking?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?

The body metabolizes alcohol at a fairly consistent rate. On average, a healthy human liver can process one standard drink per hour. However, this can vary dramatically based on factors like age, weight, gender, and overall health.

A standard drink, in the United States, typically contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. In general, a blood test can detect alcohol in your system for about 12 hours after you drink.

Read More: How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Urine?

The presence of alcohol in urine can last longer than in the blood. Alcohol can typically be found in urine for up to 12 to 24 hours after your last drink. However, advanced testing methods, like ethyl glucuronide (EtG) urine tests, can detect traces of alcohol even up to 72 hours or more after the last drink.

The amount of time that alcohol is detectable in urine can be influenced by the quantity and type of alcohol consumed, individual metabolism rates, and the sensitivity of the test used.

Read More: Uncovering the Truth About Alcohol: Is It Really That Bad For You?

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Alcohol detoxification is a process that can vary greatly among individuals. The detox process refers to the time it takes for all the alcohol in your system to be metabolized and the body to return to normal function. This can take anywhere from a few days to weeks, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the duration of drinking, individual health, and whether the person has developed a dependence on alcohol.

During detox, certain individuals may also experience withdrawal symptoms. These can start as early as a few hours after the last drink and last for weeks. Withdrawal severity also depends on many factors, including the duration and intensity of prolonged alcohol use.

The common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Headache

  • Sweating

  • Tremors or shakes

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Anxiety

  • Agitation

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Heart palpitations

  • High blood pressure

  • Insomnia

  • Hallucinations

But remember, heavy drinkers or those dependent on alcohol should seek professional advice before quitting alcohol cold turkey, as alcohol withdrawal can sometimes lead to violent seizures, delirium tremens (DTs), and even death.

Read More: Even Moderate Drinking Is Not Good for Your Health

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Alcohol withdrawal can be a challenging phase, with its duration and severity varying from person to person. Symptoms typically peak within the first 24 to 48 hours and can range from mild anxiety and shakiness to severe complications like seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). The acute phase of withdrawal lasts about a week, but some symptoms, like sleep disturbances and emotional fluctuations, can persist for months.

It's crucial to understand that alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and in some cases, life-threatening. Medical supervision during the detox phase is highly recommended, especially for those who have been heavy drinkers or have a history of severe withdrawal symptoms.

Read More: What Are Short and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol On the Brain?

How to Quit Drinking

Quitting drinking is a substantial life change and it can be an especially daunting task. However, with the right combination of personal commitment, support, and often professional help, it is possible to quit drinking.

Although every person is different, here are a few common steps to consider when planning to quit drinking alcohol.

1. Set Clear Goals

Decide what 'quitting drinking' means for you – whether it's complete abstinence or cutting back to a healthier level.

2. Seek Support

This can come from friends, family, support groups, or professional counselors.

3. Consider Professional Help

Detoxing under medical supervision can provide safety and comfort. Rehabilitation programs and therapy can also be invaluable resources.

4. Prepare for Withdrawal

Be aware of the withdrawal symptoms and have a plan to manage them. This might involve medical assistance, support from loved ones, or strategies to handle cravings.

5. Develop New Habits

Replacing drinking with healthy activities or hobbies can be beneficial. It also helps to avoid or distract you from triggers that prompt you to drink.

6. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself

Recovery is a journey with ups and downs, which is why patience and self-compassion are essential.

Understanding how long it takes for alcohol to leave your system is essential for making informed decisions about drinking and its impact on your health and life. Everyone's body responds differently to alcohol, so by being informed and mindful of the specific effects alcohol has on you, you can make healthier choices for your well-being.

Read More: What Is Alcoholics Anonymous, and How Effective Is It?

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