How Long Does Alcohol Stay in the System?

Exploring the Facts and Myths

The facts about alcohol metabolism, how long it stays in your body, and contributing factors

There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to how long alcohol stays in the blood. Alcohol is a depressant that has a short life span in the body and every person metabolises and processes alcohol differently. The timeline for detecting alcohol in the body is dependent upon the body itself and units drunk. By UK standards, one unit equals 10 ml of pure alcohol. Variables, such as a person’s biological sex, age, body weight, medicinal use, consumption of alcohol and food consumed when drinking, make it difficult to determine an exact timeframe for when alcohol will be positive on a drug test.

There are a small number of ways to detect whether alcohol is present in the system. This can be done through a urine test, blood test, hair follicle test, and a breath or saliva test. Additionally you might receive a false positive on a test if you have used some household products, such as mouthwash, before being tested.

Important Factors to Consider

What’s Your Drink?

What you drink, how much you drink, and the strength of your drink all influence the results of an alcohol drug test.

Biological Sex

Due to physiological reasons, women metabolise alcohol differently from men. Women typically have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of body water compared to men. Alcohol stays in a woman’s system longer than a man’s. Even if a man and woman are of the same height and weight, the man’s body will automatically dilute the alcohol more quickly than a woman’s. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol.


Age can play a part as to how long alcohol stays in the liver before it enters into the bloodstream and is metabolised. Younger people are more prone to drinking a larger quantity in a smaller amount of time, whereas those of an older generation may find that the amount of time alcohol is processed and expelled from the body takes longer. Age also plays a key role in whether an individual drinks responsibly or not. This will affect the amount drunk and therefore affect how long alcohol stays in the blood.

Body Size

A person’s body size and composition impact how fast or how slow alcohol is processed. This also includes muscle mass as well as body fat percentage.


Medication can interfere with the way in which alcohol is absorbed in the body. It can be dangerous to mix alcohol with some medications as they can exacerbate the effects of the alcohol, and increase intoxication. It is very important to speak with your GP or prescribing doctor about drinking alcohol and while on your medication.

Medications known to interact with alcohol include

  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Antibiotics
  • Sleep medications
  • Allergy medications
  • Diabetes medications


Your consumption of alcohol, how fast you drink, and the alcohol content in your drink all influence how long alcohol stays in your system. If you engage in binge drinking it can take twice as long for the alcohol to completely clear from your system. It is possible for your system to still have enough alcohol content in it the next morning that you could fail a urine or blood test.


Eating a meal and having food in the stomach prior to drinking can have a powerful influence on the absorption rate of alcohol. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer the absorption process and the slower the rate of intoxication.

Alcohol Drug Tests

The most common ways of detecting alcohol in the system:

  • Blood: Alcohol will test positive in the bloodstream for up to approximately 12 hours.
  • Urine: If using an EtG (ethyl glucuronide) test, alcohol can be detected for up to 3-5 days. If using a standard test it can be detected in the urine for up to 10-12 hours.
  • Hair: Similar to other drug tests, alcohol will be detected in the hair follicle for up to 90 days.
  • Breath: A breath test, also known as a breathalyser can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours.
  • Saliva: A saliva test can be positive for 24 up to 48 hours.

False Positives

The EtG test may produce a positive result from even the slightest exposure to alcohol which is present in many daily household products such as cooking extract, mouthwash, cleaning products, cosmetics, and hair dye. As such, it’s a less reliable test. If you take a breath or saliva test shortly after using alcohol-containing mouthwash or cough medicine, it may also create a false positive.

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How Long Does It Take to Sober Up?

Each person’s tolerance to alcohol will vary, and intoxication will appear differently depending on a number of factors such as age, weight and general health. This means that the time it takes to sober up will also differ from person to person. Your drinking habits will also impact the amount of time this takes. For example, if you’re someone who drinks to excess or regularly binges on alcohol, it will take longer to wear off.

The process of breaking down alcohol begins in the stomach. A little bit is broken down there, but the rest reaches the small intestine and is absorbed into the bloodstream. The liver begins to metabolise what it can, and the rest is distributed throughout the body. Small amounts of alcohol are also expelled through urine, sweat and breath.

It’s important to remember that just because you feel sober or believe your hangover has finally worn off, it doesn’t mean that the alcohol is out of your system. The best, and most accurate, way to measure how intoxicated you are is by checking the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) scale.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for people to misjudge just how intoxicated they are, even after they seem to feel better. Many people go on to get behind the wheel of a car, or operate other heavy machinery, often resulting in serious consequences.

In reality, alcohol sticks around much longer than you might expect, and even a small amount left in your bloodstream can be enough to trigger a positive result on an alcohol test. Understanding how long alcohol remains in your system could just save a life.

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Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at CATCH Recovery

Alcohol addiction treatment is available on an outpatient basis. Your treatment plan will ultimately be based upon your individual needs and circumstances. While residential rehab is considered to be the most intensive form of treatment for alcohol addiction, clinics like CATCH Recovery offer exceptional outpatient addiction treatment.

Effective treatment for any addiction consists of a medical detox where necessary, which can be provided by one of CATCH’s trusted partners. Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely agonising, so a medically supervised detox is always recommended where alcohol is concerned. Detox should then be followed by an intensive course of therapy.

While detox is an important part of overcoming physical dependency, treating the psychological aspects of addiction will provide you with the tools you need to maintain long-term sobriety. Psychological dependence is the term used to describe the emotional and mental components of substance use disorder. This is usually characterised by strong cravings for a particular substance or behaviour and the inability to function without it.

CATCH Recovery uses evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), grief and trauma therapy, one-to-one counselling sessions, group therapy and online therapy.

Finishing any programme can feel daunting. You may feel overwhelmed without the structure and safety you’ve become accustomed to. With this in mind, we have created an exceptional aftercare programme designed to prevent relapse and help you deal with the stressors of everyday life.

Our outpatient clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. If you need support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from the tele-health services we offer. If you require residential rehab, we also provide referrals to rehabs in the UK and Ireland. Call us today to discuss the different options that are available.

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