How long does alcohol stay in your system?

Understaing BAC: How long does alcohol stay in your system?

Most of us are aware that overindulgence in alcohol can lead to unpleasant consequences, such as alcohol addiction and a host of medical problems that may necessitate some form of alcohol addiction treatment. However, we are often surprised to learn and grossly unprepared for how long alcohol stays in your system.  So how long does alcohol stay in your system? Let’s take a closer look at how BAC works.

The truth is, alcohol hang out much longer in the body than most people expect. Also, misconceptions about how long does alcohol stay in your system has proved problematic for many people.  Erroneous beliefs that drinking several cups of black coffee or taking a cold shower will expedite the elimination of alcohol often lead to risk-taking that results in legal penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) or accidents with serious injuries or fatalities.  In reality, even a small amount of alcohol lingering in your bloodstream may impair driving and influence a breathalyzer test.

David J. Hanson Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Sociology of the State University in New York has been studying the effects of alcohol consumption for over 40 years. The outcome of his research has been helping to debunk some of the myths surrounding the question of how long does alcohol stay in your system. His research shows that the length of time alcohol stays in the body has more to do with how much alcohol is consumed than body size and weight.  In fact, there is evidence to prove that the rate at which digestion of alcohol occurs varies little from person to person.

Studies show that the body metabolizes alcohol at the rate of 0.005 every twenty minutes. Based on this digestion process, every hour that a person is drinking only .015 of the alcohol in your body is actually being metabolized and eliminated. As such, a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 typically takes over five hours for elimination to be completed.  The following is an hour by hour breakdown of just how long alcohol stay in your system

Beginning with a BAC of 0.08 ….

BAC after one hour = 0.065%

BAC after two hours = 0.05%

BAC after three hours = 0.035%

BAC after four hours = 0.02%

BAC after five hours = 0.005%

The problem of slow dispensation of alcohol from the system usually present a greater concern during the long holiday season from Halloween through New Year’s.  During this time, many people get caught up in back-to-back social situations where they are presented with easy access to alcohol and multiple drink options.  And, since the body takes a methodical approach to alcohol elimination, the consumption of several drinks within a short period of time can present a problem for those already struggling with alcohol addiction and especially for people whose tolerance levels for alcohol has not been developed. Many find themselves engaging in risky behavior that can cause harm to themselves and others.

Once the alcohol travels from the bloodstream to the liver, the metabolic process begins. After consuming several drinks within a relatively short period of time, blood and tissues become saturated with alcohol that has not been metabolized. After a certain point, if alcohol consumption continues, the risk of damage to important functions body functions, including the brain, increases.

A standard alcoholic drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 6 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.  Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the following is an example of the effects of various levels of alcohol in the body:

  • After two beers or .02 BAC levels loss of judgement and the inability to focus on more than one task at a time may occur.
  • After three beers or .05 BAC levels there is reduced coordination, inability to track objects and difficulty steering the wheel of a car.
  • After four beers or .08% BAC levels study subjects had trouble controlling driving speed, experienced faulty reasoning and difficulty processing information.
  • After five beers or .10% BAC levels, there was obvious reduction in reaction time, inability to brake when necessary and difficulty staying in driving lane.
  • After Seven beers or .15% BAC levels, there was serious loss of control of motor skills.

Alcohol addiction that can cause serious social, health and legal problems often begin with a few back to back events where over-consumption of alcohol or binge drinking occurs. Keep in mind that it is not possible to accurately determine how much alcohol will stay in your system based on how long you have been drinking.  Rather, it is better to pay attention to how much alcohol you are consuming which ultimately impact how much and how long alcohol stays in your system, even after you stop drinking.


If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.