How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

November 26, 2022

The use of alcohol has many destructive effects, and how long alcohol stays in one’s system is a big topic of discussion. While the immediate effects of alcohol can be apparent, alcohol can persist in one’s body long after its initial effects have worn off. Between the immediate effects on one’s body and mind and the prolonged damage that alcohol can do to one’s mental and physical health, recognizing alcohol use disorder (AUD) in oneself or a loved one is crucial to the effects of addiction and its prolonged and persistent effects. 

The Effects of Alcohol Use

There is no entirely “safe” way to engage with alcohol, and its use will always have a degree of adverse effects on one’s life. The immediate effects of alcohol include: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Compromised critical thinking
  • Increase in risk-taking behavior
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Compromised motor skills
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty forming or recalling memories
  • Blackouts
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Dehydration
  • Upset stomach

These effects are the most common when thinking about the effects of alcohol. Depending on how much alcohol one ingests, these symptoms can be short-lived, lasting a number of hours. As these effects wear off, hangover symptoms can manifest. However, overcoming these effects of alcohol use does not mean that alcohol is no longer present in one’s system or that the destructive effects of alcohol have ceased. 

How Long Can Alcohol Be Detected in Your System?

Alcohol can be detected in one’s system long after one has stopped drinking. However, how long it can be detected depends on the method of testing, with different methods being able to detect trace amounts of alcohol longer than others. 

One of the most common forms of testing for alcohol is in one’s blood, where alcohol can be present for up to six hours after one has been drinking and potentially longer depending on how much one drank and one’s blood alcohol content (BAC). The other common form of testing involves testing for alcohol on one’s breath, with devices able to detect alcohol from 12 to 24 hours after drinking, depending on the amount consumed. 

Alcohol can also be detected in one’s saliva and urine, with trace amounts staying detectable for 12 to 24 hours after use. Newer methods of urine analysis have even yielded results up to 72 hours after drinking. However, where alcohol can stay the longest is in one’s hair, with tests on hair being able to determine the presence of alcohol for up to 90 days past one’s last drink. 

Factors of Detection

There are also a number of additional factors that all inform how long alcohol can be found in one’s system. Gender can play a role, with alcohol typically staying in the system of women a bit longer than for men. One’s weight and size can also inform how long alcohol can be detected, with smaller individuals tending to higher levels of BAC. 

If one has been eating can also affect how long alcohol can be found. Food can absorb some of the alcohol being ingested, slowing down the body’s process of breaking it down and thus staying in one’s system longer. However, while this slowing of alcohol can somewhat cause an individual to not feel the effects of alcohol as immediately, eating food does not inherently change the amount of alcohol that one is drinking and is in no way able to “offset” any of the alcohol being consumed, despite how one may feel. 

The Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

With alcohol staying in one’s system for extended periods of time, it also has a number of pervasive effects that can continue to cause damage to one’s body and mind even after the immediate effects of alcohol have subsided. Most commonly, the liver can be overtaxed as it is tasked with processing and breaking down the alcohol in one’s system, and this process can take a great toll on one’s body. Continuing to drink can continue to tax one’s liver and other bodily processes before they have had time to repair themselves from one’s previous use of alcohol, potentially leading to liver disease.

Alcohol can also cause permanent damage to one’s immune system and can inform the development of cancer. High blood pressure, nerve damage, and brain damage are all common as a result of prolonged or excessive alcohol use. 

However, the effects of alcohol on one’s mental health can be even more pervasive, with persistent use of alcohol causing a number of mental health challenges. For some, anxiety and depression can become common feelings, either directly as a result of one’s drinking or in the absence of alcohol. Experiencing these difficult feelings could indicate that one’s relationship with alcohol is becoming problematic or developing into AUD or addiction. 

The continued use of alcohol can also cause one’s tolerance to increase, with an individual needing more drinks in order to feel the effects of alcohol in their system. However, this also doesn’t change the amount of alcohol one’s body has to process, and even if one is not feeling inebriated, there can still be a number of lasting effects on one’s body and mind. 

Alcohol can remain in your system long after its initial effects have worn off, carrying a plethora of effects on your mental and physical health. At Buena Vista Recovery, we understand the complicated and nuanced journey tied to recovery, and we are committed to helping you not just address the immediate effects of alcohol but also address its prolonged effects on your life. Your time with us can be personalized to address your unique needs and goals, all backed by a community of comfort, acceptance, accountability, and support. From like-minded peers to professionals ready to help, we are committed to your sustained change in sobriety. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (480) 741-9414.