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Here’s why it takes some people longer than others to process the alcohol they drink.

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Ever wonder why some people appear to be able to drink more than others before they appear visibly intoxicated? It’s often assumed that it’s because some people can just handle their alcohol better than others.

But the fact is that how drunk or sober you may be is affected by how quickly your body metabolizes the alcohol you drink. Below is an explanation of how alcohol is processed by your body and how long it stays in your system.

How is alcohol processed by the body?

When you drink alcohol, it goes into your stomach. While there, stomach enzymes begin to break down the alcohol, stopping some of it from going into your bloodstream. After your stomach, the alcohol travels to the small intestine and then hits your bloodstream and your brain. That’s when you start feeling it’s effects. Your liver eventually removes about 90% of the alcohol from your blood. The rest comes out through your kidneys, lungs and skin.

Not everyone has the same level of stomach enzymes that break down alcohol. This may explain why some people get intoxicated more quickly than others when they drink. Women tend to have lower levels of these enzymes than men and people who drink regularly typically have lower enzyme levels than people who rarely drink. The fewer of these enzymes you have, the more easily alcohol can go right into your small intestine and enter your bloodstream.

How long does alcohol stay in your system?

Each person metabolizes alcohol at a slightly different rate. Your gender, age and body size can all affect this process. So too can any health conditions you have and some medications you take. Additionally, how much and what you drink also affect how long it takes for your body to metabolize alcohol.

On average, it takes about 60-90 minutes for alcohol to reach peak levels in your blood after you start drinking. In about 4-5 hours, your body gets rid of about half the alcohol in your system. It takes about 25 hours for the body to get rid of all of it.

How long can alcohol be detected in your body?

This refers to how long a test can detect traces of alcohol in your body. The length of alcohol detection depends on what type of test is used and how sensitive it is. Here’s a chart showing the maximum amount of time alcohol can be detected in various body systems after you consume it:

Blood

12 hours

Breath

24 hours

Saliva

48 hours

Urine

5 days

Hair

90 days

Keep in mind that these tests can detect trace amounts of alcohol. They are not a measure of how long it takes for your body to metabolize alcohol. However, alcohol detection tests may be affected in part by how much you drink and how quickly your body processes and eliminates the alcohol in your system.


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Date Last Reviewed: January 17, 2022

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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