How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Wear Off?

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Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol is metabolized at about one standard drink per hour.
  • Biological sex, age, and body composition affect alcohol metabolism rates.
  • Factors like age, sex, body composition, and medications affect alcohol metabolism.
  • Alcohol can remain detectable in hair for up to 90 days.

That said, alcohol is metabolized at a rate of about one standard drink per hour for most people.

It can show up in blood tests for up to 12 hours. However, it stays longer in the urine, where it can be detected for up to 3-5 days using high-sensitivity assays.

As with any other substance that enters the body, alcohol gets metabolized once it reaches the bloodstream.

Factors that influence the rate by which the body processes alcohol include biological sex, physical health, genetics, age, and body composition.

Here are more details about alcohol’s life cycle in the body, the factors that have the most influence on blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and how long you can expect to test positive after drinking.

How is Alcohol Metabolized?

Alcohol travels through the digestive tract and is absorbed in the stomach and the small intestine.

The stomach only absorbs around 20%, while the intestine does most of the heavy lifting as it absorbs about 80% of the alcohol consumed.

After being absorbed by the gut, alcohol reaches the bloodstream and quickly travels all over your body.

This explains how alcohol can affect many organ systems at the same time and exerts its depressant effects.

The main organ system responsible for metabolizing alcohol is the liver, which is capable of processing one standard drink per hour.

If a person drinks more than that, the liver becomes overwhelmed and the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) keeps rising.

This is due to the saturation of the liver enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which is responsible for breaking down alcohol into simpler molecules that the kidneys can eliminate through urine excretion.

Depending on the rate by which the blood alcohol concentration increases, permanent damage to the body tissues might ensue.

This explains why heavy drinkers can develop brain and liver damage.

Factors that Influence the Rate of Alcohol Metabolism

Our bodies are efficient in absorbing and processing alcohol. Most of the alcohol entering the body is processed through the pathway outlined above.

Only minimal amounts of alcohol are excreted without processing in sweat, tears, and feces.

Nevertheless, how much alcohol is processed by the body and how fast can be influenced by a number of factors, including:

Age

As a person ages, alcohol accumulates in the liver for a longer time, which increases the risk of liver damage and alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The total body content of water also decreases with age, leading to a higher blood alcohol level.

Moreover, older people taking other drugs for concomitant chronic conditions have a greater chance of experiencing alcohol poisoning.

This is due to the fact that some of those drugs might mess with the metabolic capacity of the liver, leading to alcohol overstaying its welcome and causing damage in the process.

Biological Sex

Physiology plays a major role in the fact that biological females metabolize alcohol differently compared to biological males.

Females tend to have more body fat, and since fat is hydrophobic, the low-water fatty tissue environment allows alcohol to achieve higher concentrations and stay longer in the body.

The body also metabolizes alcohol differently throughout the female menstrual cycle due to different hormonal influences.

Right before menstruation, the blood alcohol level is usually higher as progesterone levels peak.

Another factor that explains why females have lower alcohol tolerance is the lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase.

This is the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol into inactive metabolites, which decreases a person’s BAC.

It comes as no surprise that females consuming the same amount of alcohol will have higher alcohol levels than males of the same weight and height.

Body Composition

Similarly, body composition or the percentage of fat vs muscles has a big influence on how the body metabolizes alcohol.

Muscles have a higher water content, which allows for greater alcohol permeability.

This explains how the high-water muscle tissue is able to dilute alcohol and bring BAC down.

When body surface area is added to the mix, you’d see higher BAC in shorter individuals compared to taller people with the same body composition.

The takeaway here is that body water dilutes the alcoholic beverage you consume and facilitates its entry into the liver, where alcohol metabolism takes place.

Medications

The medications you take can influence the ability to process alcohol by the liver. This can be attributed to the drug’s interaction with the liver enzymes.

Furthermore, some drugs slow down stomach emptying and gut motility. Subsequently, alcohol will have a greater transit time throughout the gut, increasing its absorption and bloodstream concentration.

Some medications are associated with higher chances of alcohol poisoning and intoxication.

Those include cough drugs, diabetes treatment, and anti-anxiety medications, just to name a few.

So, even if a person consumes alcohol conservatively, they should consult their physician to avoid unwanted drug interactions.

Food Consumption

If you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, the absorption rate is around 3 times as high compared to that with food intake.

In fact, eating promotes gastric motility, which plays a role in activating liver enzymes and allowing for a more efficient alcohol metabolism.

How Long Do Tests for Alcohol Use Remain Positive?

The two most common tests used to detect excess alcohol consumption are breath tests and urine tests.

The latter remains positive for longer after the last alcoholic drink. Standard urine tests are only able to detect alcohol for up to 12 hours after the last drink.

However, more sensitive assays like the ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test can remain positive for 3 to 5 days.

On the other hand, breath tests remain positive for a shorter time frame, extending for up to 6 hours.

A small, hand-held machine called the breathalyzer is used to detect alcohol blood concentration by simply blowing into the machine.

The detection of alcohol in the blood, sweat, and other body fluids isn’t as reliable and shows great variability.

This explains why none of those tests have been standardized.

A blood test will only be positive temporarily, plus it’s invasive and not as convenient as a breath or urine test.

Finally, alcohol remains the longest in hair. It can be detected for up to 90 days following the last drink.

This is way longer than after alcohol has cleared from other body systems and can be used for the long-term assessment of people treated for alcohol abuse.

Access Rehabilitation Options for Alcohol Addiction Today…

If you or a loved one are struggling with heavy drinking, you can benefit from seeking professional help.

Book an appointment with Curednation today to learn about your rehabilitation options.

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