Wellness Guide: How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your Body?

Let's get this out of the way first — alcohol metabolism, which is the process of processing and eliminating alcohol from the body, is different for everyone. There are oodles of factors at play when you're talking about the rate your body clears alcohol, from the meds you take to how much you've eaten that day to your body size to what kind and how much alcohol you're drinking and even how old you are. 

There are, however, general guidelines as to when someone can expect to completely eliminate alcohol from their system — on average, the human liver can deal with one standard drink per hour (a standard drink is defined as, for example, a 12-ounce 5% alcohol beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 shots of hard liquor). 

Breaking down alcohol starts immediately in your stomach, but this can take longer for some of us than others due to the presence (or absence) of certain enzymes. Dr. Jamile Wakim-Fleming told the Cleveland Clinic, "These enzymes help divert some of the alcohol from going into your bloodstream." There are people who lack some of these enzymes, and women, in particular, tend to have fewer than men. Additionally, if you drink on a regular basis, that also can lower the number of enzymes present in your stomach, and some of East Asian descent might not have them either. Those with the enzymes, in other words, get the metabolism process started earlier than those who don't.

What slows down alcohol metabolism?

While clearing one standard drink per hour may sound pretty reasonable, there are those pesky factors we've already mentioned that can slow down the process and keep your blood alcohol level higher than you might think. Having a full stomach prior to drinking, for example, can drastically slow down the process of metabolism. So too can taking liver medications, which can be compounded by age (as older people are more likely to take these medications, serving up a two-for-one whammy in the alcohol metabolizing department). 

Other medications, such as those meant for depression or anxiety, certain antibiotics, and allergy and diabetic medications, can impact the rate of alcohol absorption (ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can even consume alcohol while taking your medications). Also, the less you weigh, the faster you metabolize. And no matter your body size, if you're not pacing yourself, your liver will have a more difficult time dealing with the onslaught of alcohol, and the metabolizing process will slow down. Also, having drinks with a greater alcohol content will slow the process down as well — don't think your liver will deal with that 7% craft beer in the same timeframe as a 5% domestic beer. 

Regardless of your stature, your age, your last meal, or the medications you're taking, if you are out and plan to have even one drink, it's crucial to get a ride from someone who hasn't had any alcohol — it's impossible to calculate how fast your liver is going to clear it even if you know every single factor that can affect your personal rate of metabolism.