How long alcohol stays in the body matters for a variety of reasons. It matters because the presence of alcohol could cause problems for someone who needs to take prescription medications that don’t play nice with alcohol. It matters because we have laws about doing certain things when under the influence of alcohol. It matters because detection is part of making sure lawbreakers don’t violate the terms of their parole and probation.
That’s a lot of important reasons why it matters that we understand how long alcohol remains active in the human body. When trying to figure whether or not someone has recently been drinking alcohol, a urine test is going to give the fastest and easiest to understand results.
In the sections below, the information is going to focus on how long does alcohol stay in your urine. While the information is going to be somewhat technical in nature, it’s still important that we all have some level of understanding on the topic for the reasons we mentioned above.
What Factors Go Into Calculating How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?
Before getting into the actual calculations related to how long does alcohol stay in your urine, there must be an understanding of what factors play a role in the determination process.
No two human bodies function the same. Certain factors will affect how a person’s body metabolizes alcohol. Here is a list of the most relevant factors:
- Gender – Females have more body fat and less water content, which translates to slower metabolism
- Body fat – fat adsorbs alcohol and holds it longer
- Genetics – There is a genetic link to how someone’s body metabolizes alcohol
- Ethnicity – Asian cultures seem to have more trouble processing alcohol through their body systems
- Age – Liver function slows during the aging process, slowing the time it requires to process alcohol
- Food consumption – food in the stomach will slow the body’s ability to process the ethanol in liquor
- Medication – the presence of certain prescription medications in the body can slow or speed up the excreting of alcohol
- Drinking Habits – Frequency of drinking and the amount someone consumes during a drinking session
How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol
After learning about which factors play a role in the metabolic process, it’s time to look at the metabolic process itself. While reading this information, you might want to keep in mind that experts define a standard drink as 12 ounces of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or one drink with 1.5 ounces of hard liquor in it.
The moment someone starts drinking alcohol is the moment their body will start reacting to it. With that first drink and every drink thereafter, the alcohol goes straight into the stomach and small intestines. That is where the body immediately starts breaking down alcohol molecules.
Once the alcohol breaks down, it gets distributed throughout the body through the bloodstream. As it reaches the central nervous, it acts as a depressant, which slows down certain body functions.
As the intake of alcohol increases, intoxification begins. The signs of intoxication include:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Loss of inhibitions
- Loss of motor function and coordination
- Slurring of speech
- Increase in blood pressure
- Loss of ability to think logically and make good decisions
Meanwhile, the body’s blood alcohol concentration or content (BAC) starts rising. At every level of BAC, the amount of time alcohol will stay in the system increases. That’s going to ultimately affect how long does alcohol stay in your urine.
The human body metabolizes alcohol at a rate of 0.016 BAC per hour. There is nothing anyone can do to increase or decrease this process. We all know that the legal limit of intoxication in most states is between .06% and .08%. At the .08% level, it would take the body about 5 hours to return to a BAC of zero. That’s under the presumption the individual has a healthy liver. With an unhealthy liver, it would take longer for the body to process and expel alcohol.
Even when the body’s BAC returns to zero, alcohol is still detectable for a much longer period of time. Here is a list of the ways (with times) testing can detect the use of alcohol:
- Breathalyzer test – up to 24 hours
- Blood test – up to 12 hours
- Saliva test – up to 12 hours
- Hair follicle drug test – up to 90 days
- Traditional urine test – up to 12 hours
- Ethyl glucuronide (EtG) metabolite test (urine) – 3 to 5 days
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Urine?
As we indicated above, the answer to the question of how long does alcohol stay in your urine depends on the testing method. For a quick answer, a traditional urine test would be preferable. In that case, the alcohol would be detectable for about 12 hours after the individual’s last drink. If someone wanted a more meaningful and realistic answer, they would use an ethyl glucuronide (EtG) metabolite test.
As the name suggests, an EtG test measures the presence of ethyl glucuronide in the urine. Ethyl glucuronide is detectable in the human body for as long a five days. This is the kind of testing someone might have to go through if there were to be legal ramifications from a positive test. Therein lies the rub.
An EtG test is so sensitive that it can detect alcohol found in household products. If the person going through testing had exposure to such items, it could cause their test to come back with a false positive. When that happens, it leaves the victim with a lot of unnecessary explaining to do.
In regards to how long does alcohol stay in your urine, this might matter to you if you suffer from the disease of alcoholism. If that’s the case, you need to think about getting treatment. While in treatment, you will have to go through testing in the form of a urine test. Based on the information we provided above, you now know how long does alcohol stay in your urine. You should also know ahead of time exactly what is going to happen if you have been breaking the rules of treatment.