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How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

How Is Alcohol Processed in the Body?
Alcohol is metabolized in the liver, which takes about an hour to metabolize 1 ounce of alcohol. Food can slow down the rate at which alcohol enters the body. Men and women tend to absorb alcohol at different rates due to men having more water in their bodies than women.

The body follows a pretty straightforward process when digesting alcohol. So the length of time alcohol stays in the system has more to do with how much a person drinks than any other factors. If you’ve ever had more than your “fair share” of drinks, you may recall a point where the “buzz” started to turn bad. After a certain point, the blood and tissues become a reservoir for any alcohol that’s not been metabolized. If this happens too many times, damage to the brain and tissues of the body will most likely develop.

How Is Alcohol Digested?

Alcohol is one the most accessible depressant drugs on the market as seen by the high rates of alcoholism in the US as well as around the world. As a depressant, alcohol slows down central nervous system processes, which affects just about every physical and mental activity carried out by the body. In effect, the body readily accepts and absorbs alcohol as soon as you take a drink.

Unlike food or other types of drugs, alcohol requires little to no digestion in terms of needing to break it down into a digestible form. Once in the stomach, 20 percent of the alcohol moves directly into the small blood vessels that carry water and nutrients throughout the body. The remaining 80 percent moves into the small intestines where it enters another group of small blood vessels that travel through the body.

The rate at which alcohol enters the body slows down when ingested with food. Slower absorption rates help to increase the time it takes a person to get fully intoxicated.

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Liver Metabolism Rates

Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, it travels to the liver where it’s metabolized. According to the State University of New York, the liver metabolizes alcohol at the same rate for everybody, regardless of weight, sex or race. Of course, rates will be considerably slower for someone suffering from liver disease or a serious liver condition.

On average, the liver takes one hour to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. For most people, one ounce of alcohol will produce a .015 blood-alcohol concentration. This means someone with a .015 blood-alcohol level will have little to no alcohol in their bloodstream after 10 hours have passed. So the more you drink, the longer alcohol stays in the system.

Liver metabolism rates also affect how alcohol will make you feel if you continue to keep drinking. Once a person’s blood-alcohol levels go above .05 to .055, alcohol’s negative effects start to increase. So feelings of calm, happiness and relaxation start to turn into depression, irritability and disorientation. These changes represent the two-phase or “biphasic” effect of alcohol in the body. Once a person reaches the second phase, damage to the brain and body is more likely.

*Health Conditions Caused by Alcoholism

Alcoholism is known for its damaging effects on the body over time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, people who suffer from alcoholism and have a long history of use are at risk of developing serious, chronic conditions as alcohol damages different areas of the body. Some of the more common alcohol-related conditions include:

  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum

Alcohol Absorption

Alcohol is absorbed into the small blood vessels that attach to the stomach and small intestines. Alcohol is also absorbed into the blood and tissues of the body when excess amounts remain in the bloodstream. So someone who’s drinking faster than the liver can metabolize will start to accumulate alcohol in their blood and body tissues. This means once a person’s blood-alcohol concentration exceeds .055, the blood and body tissues start to absorb any excess amounts.

When comparing men versus women, body chemistry can also affect a person’s alcohol absorption rate, according to Brown University Health Education. A man’s body tends to have more water content than a woman’s, with men averaging around 61 percent water compared to 52 percent for women. Any amount of water content will help to dilute alcohol concentrations in the body, so the higher the water content, the less concentrated alcohol levels will become. Lower body-water content can also make a woman’s body more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol.