How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Alcoholism is the most severe form of problem drinking and describes an intense, often uncontrollable, desire to drink. Sufferers of alcoholism will often place drinking above all other obligations, including family and work, and may build up a physical tolerance or experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop.
Alcoholism is sometimes known as alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder. It’s slightly different from ‘harmful drinking,’ an occasional pattern of drinking which can cause damage to your health. An example of harmful drinking is drinking too much at a party and risking a fight or argument. This pattern may develop into alcoholism if that kind of harmful drinking becomes a habit and happens regularly.
According to 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) , 85.6 percent of people ages 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime. In addition, 25.8 percent of people ages 18 and older said they engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Only about 7.3 percent of adults ages 18 and older who had alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year received any treatment in the past year.
However, an estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.
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If you may want to know how long alcohol will stay in your system and how long the detection window lasts, just read through this article. After all, alcohol impairs your brainpower and reflexes. It also doesn’t play well with certain medicines. How long alcohol stays in your system depends on your liver’s ability to process it.
The level present is measured in blood alcohol concentration or BAC. It also depends on several external and internal factors, some of which are unique to every person. Factors like age, weight, sex, and medical history all play a part in how concentrated the alcohol in your urine is after drinking.
Urine tests can detect alcohol or ethanol itself or certain alcohol byproducts. The type of urine testing can also make a difference in whether the alcohol someone consumes is still detectable more than one day later.
Depending on the body system and test used, alcohol detection times may vary. Alcohol detection tests can measure alcohol in the blood for up to 6 hours, on the breath for 12 to 24 hours, urine for 12 to 24 hours (72 or more hours with more advanced detection methods), saliva for 12 to 24 hours, and hair for up to 90 days.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?
Only about 1 to 2 percent of the alcohol an individual drinks leaves the body in their urine. The ethanol in alcohol can be detected in an individual’s urine within an hour of drinking. This typically remains the case for up to 12 hours after the alcohol is consumed. This timeframe can change based on a number of individual factors.
EtG (ethylglucuronide) is a byproduct of ethanol (alcohol that one drinks) and glucuronide a common biological compound made in the liver that binds various drugs and toxins in the body that allows them to be excreted in the urine . When a person drinks, even relatively small amounts of alcohol, EtG is formed and can be detected in the urine.
EtG can be found in the urine much longer than alcohol in the blood or breath. After a few drinks, EtG can be present in the urine for up to 48 hours, and sometimes up to 72 or hours or longer if the drinking is heavier.
Can the EtG amount tell how much alcohol I consumed?
Not really. While higher amounts of EtG might indicate larger amounts of alcohol consumption, the exact number is influenced by several factors: the amount and when it was consumed. The longer the time since consumption, the lower the EtG level. Also, some people might convert more alcohol into EtG than others or excrete it more quickly. Finally, there is a maximum amount of EtG that can be measured, so drinking above that limit might not raise EtG more than can be detected (it’s called the ceiling effect). It was designed to detect “any drinking”, not heavy drinking .
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Who Takes EtG Tests?
EtG tests are used to detect alcohol abstinence or non-compliance under circumstances in which drinking is not allowed, including the following:
- Alcohol treatment programs
- As legally required for a DUI/DWI probation
- Liver transplant patients
- Professional monitoring programs (e.e, airline pilots, healthcare professionals, etc.)
- Court cases (e.g., child custody)
EtG test is not typically used in workplace testing programs as it does not measure a person’s current level of impairment from alcohol. Furthermore, because alcohol is legal in most areas of the U.S., it’s not a commonly administered test because alcohol could have been consumed days before a person is required to work. And if they show signs of impairment, it is not really a helpful tool on the spot.
What Happens During Ethanol Urine & EtG Alcohol Tests?
Alcohol testing is performed for different reasons. It can be detected in urine, saliva, blood, sweat, breath, and even hair follicles. You may be asked to take an alcohol test in a police investigation or as part of an alcohol treatment program.
There are different types of tests for different parts of your body, and each one has multiple uses. For instance, if you’re being tested in a medical setting for intoxication, doctors are more likely to take a blood sample. In a legal setting, such as after an accident or a suspected DUI, you’re likely to be given a breath test.
Regardless of what part of the body the test is for, most alcohol tests are looking for one of two chemicals: ethanol or ethyl glucuronide (EtG).
Ethanol Urine Tests
While 92-98% of alcohol is metabolized in the liver, the remaining 2-8% leaves the body through urine, sweat, and breath. Ethanol is beverage alcohol that can be detected in urine up to one or two hours after the alcohol has left the body.
When it comes to ethanol urine tests, there’s going to be a small lag as the body filters the alcohol from the blood into the bladder. Urine alcohol levels generally peak 45 to 60 minutes after alcohol ingestion. But once it’s there, it can be detectable for up to 12 hours.
How Ethanol Tests Are Used
Ethanol urine tests are not the most accurate, partly because the alcohol concentration in urine tends to lag behind the actual concentration of alcohol in the blood. Also, ethanol is created naturally in the body by bacteria.
If you have diabetes, a yeast infection, or if you’re producing ketones like on the keto diet, your body can naturally create enough ethanol to trigger a false positive. This is especially true if the urine sample is left out at room temperature, where the microorganisms can continue to ferment glucose and create more alcohol.
To combat inaccurate readings, you might be asked to give a second urine sample a half-hour after the first one. This serves as a comparison to give a better picture of how long the alcohol has been in the bladder.
EtG Urine Tests
EtG is shorthand for ethyl glucuronide, a substance that’s created when the liver metabolizes alcohol. It’s generally used for situations where the timing of the drink doesn’t matter, such as when the individual is required to be completely abstinent. This is because EtG hangs around in the body far longer than ethanol does.
The EtG test has been called the “80 hour test,” but in reality, it can register a positive up to five days later, depending on how much alcohol the person drank. There’s no hard and fast rule, but here’s a snapshot of real-world test results:
- One beer was detectable 16 hours later.
- Six shots of vodka taken in 3 hours was detectable 54 hours later.
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How EtG Tests Are Used
EtG tests are considered the gold standard of alcohol tests because they are much more accurate than other tests. However, they are not helpful for situations where the timing of the alcohol is important. For example, in a suspected DUI, an EtG test may register a positive even though the person drank alcohol the day before and isn’t actually intoxicated anymore.
Accuracy of Urine Testing for Alcohol
Urine testing such as EtG test is an inexpensive, popular, and less invasive way to detect alcohol in someone’s system. And since alcohol can sometimes remain detectable in the urine for up to two days after it is ingested, it is an accurate indicator of a person’s alcohol consumption.
But the amount of alcohol present in the urine is typically about 1.33 times greater than the amount of alcohol found in the bloodstream. This can sometimes result in tests that conclude a person drank more alcohol than what was realistically consumed. It is thereby a good rule of thumb to have at least two urine samples collected about 30 minutes to one hour apart for more accurate results.
Detection of Alcohol Byproducts in Urine
Alcohol itself in urine has a relatively short detection window — usually less than a day. But alcohol byproducts, such as ethyl glucuronide (EtG), can be detected in a person’s urine for up to three days after they have consumed their last drink.
Other lab tests might also test the urine for ethyl sulfate (EtS). EtS is another type of metabolic substance or metabolite that signals the presence of alcohol in a person’s system .
These tests are often more reliable than traditional urine testing and allow for a lengthened detection window, so they are often the testing method of choice by courts to enforce probationary requirements and by rehab programs to ensure effective treatment and identify a possible relapse.
But these tests are not more commonly used in the place of traditional urine testing because they have drawbacks.
There are several disadvantages to EtG/EtS urine testing, including:
- Higher cost
- Inability to determine the amount of alcohol consumed
- Inability to differentiate between ethanol from alcoholic drinks and alcohol from other products, such as an over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, some mouthwashes, body sprays, and hand sanitizers
Many common products purchased at grocery stores or pharmacies contain ethanol, which can cause a positive result in a drug test for EtG. These products include over-the-counter, alcohol-based cold and flu medications (e.g., NyQuil), food products (e.g., sauerkraut, balsamic vinegar, vanilla extract), and personal products such as mouthwashes. Additionally, certain popular drinks sold in stores (e.g., kombucha) may contain significant amounts of alcohol. It is also important to know that supposed non-alcoholic beverages may contain up to 1% ethanol by volume.
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Alcohol has a short life span in the body. Alcohol metabolism is when the body breaks down the alcohol and eliminates it from the body.
When a person consumes alcohol, it enters the digestive system. About 20 percent of the alcohol from a single drink moves directly to the blood vessels. From there, it’s carried to the brain. The rest of the 80 percent goes to the small intestine, then directly to the bloodstream.
Since the alcohol goes to the brain, lungs, and other tissues, a person may feel the effects of alcohol almost immediately after they’ve had a drink. The effects of alcohol may continue to build for about 15 to 45 minutes. In the last step of the alcohol life cycle, the liver enzymes break down the alcohol into its by-products and remove them from the body.
Factors affecting how long the effects of Alcohol will last
Many factors affect how long the effects of alcohol can last. Primarily it depends on the time your body takes to efficiently and quickly break down and eliminate the alcohol. Here are some other factors:
- The type and amount of alcohol consumed
- Liver’s health
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Your body processes alcohol at the rate of around one standard-sized drink per hour, but booze can be detected in your blood, breath, and urine for a long time afterward. So, how long does alcohol stay in your urine? The effects of alcohol can vary from person to person, but one thing’s for sure, alcohol abuse can have harmful effects on your life. And alcoholism can cause permanent damage to the brain and body.
If you’ve tried to quit in the past but ended up drinking or using, that’s a clear sign you need professional help. Get them the safest help they need and deserve. Our team at We Level Up NJ specializes in creating an ideal environment and providing effective therapies.
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 NIAAA – https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
 NIAAA – https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh28-1/30-37.htm
 NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7244915/
 NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4107122/