There are many conflicting ideas about how long alcohol stays in a person’s system as well as what can affect the length of time it will take for a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to once again reach zero (including age, tolerance, gender, and type of alcohol consumed). In truth, none of these factors actually play a part in the length of time alcohol takes to leave your system.
Alcohol’s Metabolization Rate
According to the State University of New York, “Alcohol is metabolized at the rate of .015 of BAC every hour.” One drink will usually cause a BAC around .02. This means that, after having one drink, it will likely take the alcohol content a little over an hour to leave your system. The University’s website lists several more common BACs and the time it takes for that level of alcohol to leave an individual’s system.
- BAC .05 = over 3 hours
- BAC .08 = over 5 hours
- BAC .10 = almost 7 hours
The middle level is that which is considered to be legally impaired in many states and, therefore, it is illegal to drive. Alcohol can last in a person’s system for a very long time, especially when the individual has been consuming a large amount in either a short or long period of time.
Are There Factors that Affect the Timeline?
While many individuals assume that beer or wine takes less time to leave their systems than hard liquor, this is untrue. According to the NHTSA, “A drink is a drink is a drink.” One type of alcohol does not stay in a person’s system any longer than another.
In addition, a person’s weight, gender, age, or tolerance will not make alcohol leave their system any faster. “A total of about ten percent leaves through the breath, perspiration, and urine,” but the rest needs to be absorbed which will not take more or less time based on a person’s physical characteristics (SUNY). However, there are some factors that can affect the results of metabolization somewhat.
Eating food, especially food high in protein, while drinking can cause the metabolism of alcohol to slow down. It won’t leave the system faster, but it may affect the individual less intensely. Drinking a glass of water between alcoholic beverages can also cause a similar effect. However, the alcohol is still in the person’s system, and no amount of drinking water, eating meat and cheese, or guzzling coffee can change that.
When you decide to drink, you should strongly consider the time it takes for alcohol to leave your system and plan accordingly. You should never drive when you are still affected by the substance, but even if you feel lucid, your blood may still have a considerable alcohol content.
This is why it is important not to try and gauge yourself once you’ve been drinking and to come up with a safe plan for getting home before you go out. Just one drink can continue to affect your BAC for an hour or more which is why you should always be careful and remember that once you’ve started drinking, the substance will take a while to leave your system completely.