Studies have found that people of East Asian descent are more likely to have trouble metabolizing alcohol since they don’t produce enough of a key enzyme that helps metabolize alcohol in the liver. Instead, a toxic byproduct of alcohol builds up in the blood and liver, dilates blood vessels, and causes flushing (redness and heat) in the face and neck as well as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, and nausea. This reaction is known colloquially as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow.”
The following table shows the length of time it takes for your body to eliminate alcohol at varying BAC levels.
As you get older, your liver works more slowly, so it takes longer to excrete alcohol. Many aging adults also take medication that can affect liver function, slowing the process further.
Alcohol can be detected in your breath via a breathalyzer test for up to 24 hours.
Alcohol can be detected in urine for three to five days via ethyl glucuronide (EtG) metabolite or 10 to 12 hours via the traditional method.
Depending on the type of test used as well as your age, body mass, genetics, sex, and overall health, alcohol can remain detectable in your system from 10 hours to 90 days. When misused, alcohol can do as much (or even more) overall harm as many illegal drugs. People who misuse alcohol also risk developing physical and psychological dependence and alcohol use disorder.
Knowing how long alcohol (ethanol) remains in your system is important for avoiding dangerous interactions with medications as well as impairments in your physical and mental performance. While alcohol is not considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), it is illegal to sell or serve to anyone under the age of 21 in the United States. The metabolism of alcohol has been studied in detail, but there are many individual factors that determine how long it can be detected in your body and how long it will take to be eliminated.
If you’ve been drinking heavily and/or regularly, suddenly stopping or cutting back on alcohol can cause physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. The severity will depend on how long you’ve been using alcohol and how much you normally drink. In severe cases, you can experience a possibly life-threating type of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens (or DTs), which can occur from two days to up to a week after your last drink.
Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time can result in alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of six people per day die of acute alcohol poisoning. Drinking too much alcohol, or combining alcohol with other drugs or medication, can cause the areas of your brain that support your breathing, heart rate, and other basic life-supporting functions to begin to shut down.
Alcohol is active and detectable in your system from 10 hours to 90 days, depending on your individual metabolism and the test method used.