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How long does alcohol last in the body?

Many people can enjoy a drink or two on a night out, but have you ever wondered how long a drink stays in your system? Here, we review the time needed for alcohol to leave our bodies – often, longer than we think. In fact, it may take you more than a few hours to become sober after binge drinking. Then, we invite your questions about the duration of alcohol or how long effects of alcohol last in the comments section at the end.

How alcohol affects the body

At first, alcohol often makes people feel relaxed and happy. Upon continued drinking, however, alcohol can lead to impairment of brain activity and result in difficulty walking, slurred speech, memory lapses, and impulsive behavior. Why is this?

When a person drinks, the concentration of alcohol in the blood builds to a peak, then goes down. When alcohol crosses the blood-brain barrier and starts to affect the central nervous system, it affects mood and/or behavior by interacting with neurotransmitters in the brain; this makes it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.  In fact, alcohol can affect parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment, and memory.

After an initial period of euphoric effect during alcohol intoxication, additional consumption can cause headache, loss of the sense of orientation, memory loss, mood changes, anxiety, numbness that lead to vomiting, faints, risky behavior and accidents. Further, excessive alcohol consumption can seriously affect the system, especially the liver, brain and heart. Liver inflammation and scarring, brain shrinking, heart damage, intoxication are just some of the side effects of abnormal drinking, with coma or death being the ultimate result.

How long alcohol effects last in the body

Different people react differently to alcohol. That is because a variety of factors can influence your brain’s response to alcohol.How long alcohol effects last depend on many factors, including:

  • How much you drink
  • How often you drink
  • What type of alcohol you drink
  • Your age
  • Your genetic background and family history
  • Your physical health

Alcohol time in the body

Alcohol stays in your bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver.  One unit of alcohol (see below) stays for about 2 hours in the body after being consumed. Metabolism varies depending on the person’s weight, gender, type of alcohol etc.. Generally, effects of alcohol usually appear within 10 minutes and then peak at – maximum – an hour after consumption. Still, the effects of alcohol may be extended if a person has previously eaten food high in carbohydrates and fat.

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One unit of alcohol is roughly 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. A single drink can be defined as:

  • one 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer, ale, or wine cooler
  • one 8- or 9-ounce can or bottle of malt liquor
  • one 5-ounce glass of wine
  • one 1.5-ounce shot glass of hard liquor

Blood alcohol concentration and effects

Alcohol is fairly quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Onset of alcohol effects takes about 10 minutes and peak at about 40-60 minutes after consumption. The amount of alcohol in your blood is called your “blood alcohol concentration”, or, BAC.  Generally, acute effects of alcohol last for as long as you continue drinking. And the higher your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level or the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects.

Effects of alcohol poisoning

While the effects of alcohol vary from person to person, overdosing on alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain which control basic functions (breathing, heart rate, and temperature control) begin to shut down. Alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical help.

On the other hand, drinking too much can also lead to a hangover.  Hangovers occur as a set of symptoms which occur after alcohol intoxication.  Most hangovers are gone within 24 hours after the last drink. Recovery can take up to 72 hours, however, and consists of consuming liquids, lots of rest, and time.

Alcohol lasts how long?

If we haven’t answered your question directly, please let us know. Or if you think that you may have a drinking problem or perhaps another alcohol-related issue, please submit your question or comment below. We will be happy to help and try to respond to all legitimate concerns personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: NIAAA: Beyond Hangovers
NIH: How alcohol affects the body
Medline Plus: Alcohol use and safe drinking
Connecticut Department of Health: Alcohol
Medline Plus: Hangover treatment
NIAAA: Rethinking drinking

Photo credit: geralt

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8 Responses to “How long does alcohol last in the body?
Bri
3:26 pm May 8th, 2014

Booze lasts about 24 hrs in the system i’ve heard. But can take a few days to a week to totally disappear?

2:47 pm May 9th, 2014

Hi Bri. Each person is different. While alcohol is metabolized rather quickly and one drink exists the system within a couple of hours, a hangover can linger for days after binge drinking. These effects of intoxication are still not well understood. More here:

http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/54-60.pdf
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Hangovers/beyondHangovers.htm

Bri
3:20 pm May 9th, 2014

Thx AB.

Laura
1:52 am August 4th, 2014

Very concerned about a friend. I know she drinks wine coolers – have no idea how many but I think I a lot and every day. In the last 6 months she has gained a lot of weight in her stomach, (almost looks pregnant), sweats, her face appears to be swollen really bad as well. She has stopped coming around, always has an excuse, sick a lot. She is only 31 years old and had a drug problem in early 20’s so I am scared she is an alcoholic. Trying to understand and figure out what I can do to help her. Thank you.

9:50 am August 4th, 2014

Hello Laura. I’d suggest that you speak directly with your friend about your concerns. Stick to the facts, and tell her what you see. Then, urge her to get help. You can speak with an addiction specialist or psychologist about strategies for follow up care…and/or have a list of treatment centers, psychologists, or help in your are ready to present to your friend. Speak further with a community, spiritual, or religious leader for more guidance.

tenna
3:25 pm April 5th, 2015

How long would 5 wine coolers take to get out of my system

Cindy
11:03 pm March 13th, 2016

I would like to know what, if any, effect an 8 day delay in performing an autopsy would have on determining the blood alcohol content at the time of death. The body was properly refridgerated following death and prior to the autopsy being performed. Thank-you for your help with this question.

12:34 pm March 23rd, 2016

Hi Cindy. After death, the mobilization and hydrolysis of glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue cause the blood-glucose concentration to increase – these processes provide abundant substrate for microbial synthesis of alcohol. So, there is a real risk that the alcohol, at least in part, has been generated or destroyed between in the period between the time of death and the time of the autopsy and the toxicological analysis.

Although the exact blood-alcohol-level at the time of death may not be accurately measured, the forensic toxicologist will also check if alcohol was present in the stomach at the time of death. This is possible because alcohol may diffuse into surrounding tissues such as the liver, heart, lungs and major blood vessels. Eventually, the analysis of alcohol in stomach contents is compared with the blood-alcohol concentration, thus providing a clue as to whether the person had died shortly after drinking alcohol.

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