How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?

06 Oct How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Blood?

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Blood alcohol levels are commonly referred to as BAC or blood alcohol concentration. Absorption of the alcohol into the bloodstream happens in the stomach and the small intestine before the alcohol can be broken down. The liver is able to metabolize one ounce of alcohol every hour, typically speaking, which allows it to pass through the body and not remain “stored” within the system. However, alcohol is absorbed.

In the cases of most people, consumption of one ounce of alcohol will result in a .015 BAC, which can be detected for approximately 36 hours in the system. There is no specific measurement that will be able to predict the accuracy of this length of time, since each person metabolizes alcohol at a slightly different rate.

If you are consuming more than one standard drink per hour, your blood begins to retain more alcohol than the liver can break down. This accumulated amount is your BAC. The legal alcohol level for a person’s BAC while driving is under .08. If you are above this amount and get pulled over, this is when you may be issued a DUI or DWI. It takes over 5 hours for alcohol to leave the system to stay at a .08 limit.

There are different factors that affect how long alcohol stays in the blood, but there is no true way to speed up the metabolization. Although the liver’s main function is to break down the blood alcohol content (metabolizing alcohol), there is a small part that remains, which becomes eliminated by sweat or urine. Once alcohol is consumed, 20 percent of it will go directly into the blood vessels which carry it to the body and brain. The rest is absorbed by the small intestines and then enters the bloodstream. It is at that time that it then goes to the liver.

Length of Time Alcohol Stays in the Blood

Various characteristics determine how long alcohol will stay in your blood. It depends on how much you consume, the alcohol content of the drinks, in what span of time, & how fast alcohol is metabolized by your liver. For example, are you drinking a glass of wine with dinner or are you taking shots? A person’s weight, how much they’ve eaten prior, and what type of alcohol has been ingested make a difference as well.

A male who is 180 lbs. who has drank one beer on a full stomach in one hour is likely to have the alcohol processed through the system at a much faster rate than a 120 lb. female who has had one mixed cocktail of more than 80% alcohol without having eaten anything at all.

Other factors that influence how long alcohol remains in the blood include age, body mass, genetics, and even stress levels. A person who is younger is able to metabolize alcohol at a faster rate than older individuals due to the levels of enzymes decreasing with age & slower metabolism. Also, typically speaking, younger people have stronger livers, which helps speed the process along.

Body mass is also a contributor to how long alcohol is retained in the blood. People who are heavier and taller are able to handle more alcohol consumption than those who are shorter and weigh less. However, this shouldn’t be confused with those who have a “higher tolerance” for alcoholic drinks.

People who drink alcohol regularly, especially alcoholics, will be able to consume larger amounts before they may feel the effects of being drunk like others who do not drink as often might. When a person has an alcohol abuse problem, the body is more conditioned to functioning with alcohol in the system than without it. An alcoholic may continue to drink until blacked out or stay in a “buzzed” state without the body having a chance to break down the alcohol at the rate that it’s being consumed.

How Does Blood Testing Work?

Blood testing, specifically a blood sample, is typically used by law enforcement agencies. Although a blood alcohol test like a breathalyzer or urine test is more frequently administered, blood tests are still performed. A person must give their consent before blood can be drawn. However, in some states, refusal to submit to a test requested by a police officer when under the suspicion of a DUI may result in a driver’s license suspension.

If you agree to a blood test, a small sample is collected by a vacutainer, which contains sodium-fluoride and potassium-oxalate to minimize the chance of contamination. The reason a blood test is requested versus a breath test or urine sample is because blood samples will give a more accurate read of a person’s BAC. With this type of testing, alcohol can be traced in the blood for up to 12 hours after the person’s last drink.

Binge Drinking

A majority of Americans consume alcohol responsibly and will have an occasional drink with dinner or join colleagues after work for a few alcoholic beverages. The time for drinking in these situations is sporadic and in most cases, contained. On the flip side is binge drinking, which is when a person drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. This type of alcohol abuse largely happens on college campuses, but may continue into a growing drinking problem for years down the road and lead to negative long-term effects from alcohol abuse. In these instances, heavy drinkers may altogether lose count of how much alcohol they’ve consumed over what period of time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six adults binge drinks approximately four times a month with eight beers per binge. And, approximately 92 percent of adults who drink excessively have reported binge drinking within the past 30 days. It happens more often than anyone may realize or want to accept.

This kind of drinking allows alcohol to stay in the bloodstream for a longer period of time, while a person is trying to achieve a drunken state. The liver cannot process it as quickly as it’s being consumed. In a sense, the body is being flooded with alcohol. This is when symptoms of intoxication occur, which may include slurring of words, swaying, disorientation, passing out, or vomiting. It may cause a person to become aggressive or withdrawn and depressed. It may lead a person to drink and drive (one of the most common causes of alcohol-related deaths), which puts their lives and the lives of others in danger.

Repeated binge drinking can cause irreversible damage to the liver and other organs. It can begin to negatively affect a person’s day-to-day life and be the first signs of alcoholism.

Confronting Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a term to describe the chronic disease of alcohol abuse or dependency. It is when a person is unable to control their drinking and constantly craves drinking when they aren’t. People with alcoholism tend to start and end their days with a drink, may hide the amount of drinking they do, and be subject to illegal or dangerous events as a result such as drinking and driving, aggressiveness toward others, and blacking out or vomiting.

In a society where drinking alcohol is socially accepted, it may be more difficult to tow the line between social drinking and continuing far longer when others have stopped. In some cases alcoholism is hereditary, but it can also be a product of a person’s surroundings. If a person starts with bad habits, such as binge drinking, it may be difficult to stop.

Alcohol affects each person differently. While we stereotypically like to think of alcoholics as depressed and withdrawn, it may make one person chatty and in a good mood, while it may affect another in a completely opposite way, making them withdrawn and angry. These highs and lows of drinking are hard on the person and those around them.

If you suspect an alcohol problem in someone you care for, keep note of their changed behavior. Do you know how much they drink in a day? Are they constantly wanting to drink even when others don’t participate? Have they skipped class, work, or other scheduled events because of their drinking?

While they may brush it off as no big deal or become upset for being confronted, they may not understand just how much they’ve been drinking and how their drinking has affected others.

Taking the First Step: Seeking Help

A person who is struggling with alcohol abuse must make the decision for themselves to get help. Whether or not there is a staged intervention among family and friends, there is no way to force someone into help and expect a successful outcome. Achieving sobriety is about removing alcohol completely from a person’s life who has depended on it in their daily life, but it also takes emotional strength and willpower to battle cravings and temptations.

The sooner the problem of alcoholism is addressed the better. That’s why it is important if you are a friend or family member of someone who you suspect is abusing alcohol, speaking up is key. Alcoholism puts people’s health in danger and over time, if not treated, it can be fatal.

Recovery with Outpatient or Inpatient Care

Alcohol detox is the first step of any recovery program. A person must “get clean” in order to continue toward the next steps. By being admitted to a detox facility, the person going through treatment will have the aid of medical staff and support available around-the-clock.

Cravings from withdrawal can be painful and severe. When able, a doctor can administer medication that will help ease cravings and help the detox portion can more smoothly. It takes several days for the alcohol to be completely eliminated from the system. When that happens, an alcoholic will immediately want another drink. A treatment center helps to provide the kind of regimented schedule and guidance to help people with their sobriety.

For those who choose inpatient care, it is typically at a facility away from home and from an environment that may have temptations or be toxic. Since alcoholism is a form of addiction, a person in recovery needs to gain strength to face these situations in the future.

In recovery, alcoholics are given tools and coping mechanisms they need. There is an introduction to positive alternatives to drinking. Patients are shown how to deal with stress, anxiety, and anger in other ways without reaching for a drink.

In some cases, people may choose outpatient care. This may be suited for those who have been through the inpatient process and require extra support prior to going back to their lives. It may be an option for those who have been through the recovery process before and need extra care. The method a person chooses for treatment has to feel right for them.

Overcoming alcoholism takes just as much mental toughness, if not more, than overcoming physical obstacles. That’s why treatment is such an important part of becoming sober. In addition to detox and coping tools to use outside of treatment, both inpatient and outpatient care offer the chance for counseling.

There are in-person sessions and group counseling available, in addition to support groups for friends and family members of alcoholics. Counseling helps a person achieve clarity on what has caused the alcoholism to begin with. It can identify the problems, the triggers, and provide resolutions in order to prevent the cycle of drinking from continuing on.

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Finding The Right Treatment

If you are the one who is looking for an ideal place for your loved one to get substance treatment, make a list of things that you feel would be most important. Does he or she like to be near the ocean, mountains, city? Is it best for them to be in outpatient care in another city or state or is it better for them to be closer to home? Consider program length, overall environment, and take the time to visit a few facilities, if possible. Gather the criteria that will help narrow down your choices.

While the person seeking treatment may never feel completely “at home” in a recovery center, it will still take time for them to adapt. You do want to make sure the place you choose is safe, secure, and makes them feel as comfortable as possible, while providing the advanced professional help they need.

You are not alone in your search. We are here to provide support you need and answer questions you may have. When you or your loved one is ready to take the first step toward sobriety, the road to recovery starts here.


“How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System: Urine, Blood & Breath?” The Recovery Village. 8 Mar. 2019.

“How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Body?” Healthline. 8 Mar. 2019.

Galan, Nicole. “How The Body Processes Alcohol.” 6 Nov. 2017. 8 Mar. 2019.


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