How Long Does Alcohol Last? Intoxication, Effects & Withdrawal

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 22, 2023

Alcohol can affect people differently and last for varying lengths of time depending on several factors. The amount of alcohol a person drinks and how quickly they drink it are just two factors that can determine how long the effects of alcohol last.

How Long Does Alcohol Last?

Alcohol consumption is a socially acceptable form of substance use, but the safety of this practice and the effects of alcohol can vary depending on the amount of alcohol you consume.

In addition to the factors you control, the duration of drugs and alcohol depends on many individual factors, including age, sex, and personal medical history.

Read on to learn more about how long alcohol lasts so you can drink safely and responsibly.

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How Long Alcohol Lasts By Effect

How long alcohol lasts depends on how much you consume and the effect on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

BAC measures the percentage of alcohol that is in your bloodstream. You can estimate this number through breathalyzer tests (breath tests), or get an exact percentage from a blood test.

Your BAC can go up as early as 15 minutes after you start drinking.

Alcohol Intoxication

How long you stay intoxicated from alcohol depends on how high your BAC levels are. To put it simply, the higher BAC is, the longer intoxication will last.

Generally, the body metabolizes a standard drink in about one hour. Using this rule of thumb, if you have five drinks, the amount of time intoxication will last is about five hours.

Alcohol Effects

Drinking Alcohol has a surprisingly broad effect on the human body. Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that affects several parts of the brain.

In addition to these alterations in brain chemistry, alcohol can also affect your internal organs, including the liver and small intestine because it is metabolized through the digestive tract.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol

The effects of alcohol begin in the brain.

As your blood alcohol level rises you experience:

  • lowered inhibitions
  • impaired motor control
  • slurred speech
  • confusion

As your BAC increases, the short-term effects will become more exaggerated. You may have trouble with your memory and concentration. You can even black out and go into a coma.

These effects of alcohol can last as long as your body is processing it, which is about an hour per standard drink.

A standard drink includes 12 ounces (oz.) of beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits. So, if you have five standard drinks, it will take your body about five hours to metabolize them.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Alcohol doesn’t just affect you over the short term. There can be long-term effects as well.

Long-term effects of heavy alcohol consumption can include:

  • high blood pressure
  • cardiomyopathy
  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • pancreatitis
  • cancer

You can also do irreversible damage to your brain, your mental health, and your liver.

Liver damage from alcohol has been well documented. It can occur when enzymes in your body called alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase break alcohol down to acetaldehyde.

Acetaldehyde is carcinogenic, and excessive amounts of it can cause liver disease.

Alcohol Withdrawal

The length of alcohol withdrawal can be difficult to gauge because it depends on the person and their history of substance use. In general, withdrawal symptoms last for about five days.

If you have been drinking heavily for a long time, you may need to go through alcohol detox to help with the severity of the symptoms.

Detox can last between five and 10 days.

Factors That Affect How Long Alcohol Lasts

How long alcohol lasts in your system is not always straightforward. It depends on several factors, including how your particular body processes alcohol.

These are the most crucial factors to consider.

Rate Of Consumption

The rate of consumption can affect how long alcohol lasts. If you are binge drinking, for example, and consume several alcoholic beverages quickly, intoxication will last longer.

When your body is hit with processing a lot of alcohol suddenly, it can increase the length of time alcohol affects you. It can also put you at risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

Blood Alcohol Content

Your blood alcohol content will increase depending on the number of drinks you have and the type of alcohol you drink.

The effect of a glass of wine will be different than the same amount of hard liquor because hard liquor contains significantly more alcohol per ounce.


Your metabolism can also affect how long alcohol lasts. Everyone has the same enzymes that metabolize alcohol, but everyone’s metabolism is a little different.

Some people metabolize food and alcohol more quickly than others. This can affect the length of intoxication.

Drinking On An Empty Stomach

Famously, drinking on an empty stomach can affect how quickly alcohol kicks in and how long it lasts.

Alcohol is metabolized, in part, through the stomach. Eating food with alcohol slows down the effect of intoxication.


Your sex can affect how alcohol affects you. The levels of moderate drinking are lower by almost half for men.

This is because women frequently have fewer dehydrogenase enzymes that metabolize alcohol, resulting in a higher BAC than men when drinking the same amount.


Certain ethnicities are more easily affected by alcohol than others.

Everyone has the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, but studies have shown that people of Asian and African descent have variants of these enzymes.

These variants can result in an increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol.

Physical Conditions

Your weight and body fat percentage can also affect how long alcohol stays in your system.

Generally speaking, people who weigh more will experience the effects of alcohol more slowly. However, excess body fat may also extend the effects of alcohol and lead to a higher BAC.

How Long Is Alcohol Detectable?

Alcohol is detectable for a time frame of about six to 24 hours. As with drug tests, the difference in time depends, at least in part, on the type of test that is used.

From the time of your last drink, alcohol is detectable in the following windows:

  • blood test for up to six hours
  • urine test for between 12 and 24 hours
  • breath test for between 12 and 24 hours
  • saliva test for between 12 and 24 hours
  • hair test for up to 90 days

Factors That Affect Alcohol Detection Times

How much you drink will increase the length of detection times by an alcohol test.

When alcohol is metabolized, it creates the metabolite ethyl glucuronide. The more alcohol you have to metabolize, the more ethyl glucuronide accumulates.

Alcohol screenings specifically test for ethyl glucuronide, so binge drinking or drinking frequently can increase detection times.

FAQs On How Long Alcohol Lasts

If you want to know more about how long alcohol lasts in your system, read through the frequently asked questions below.

The equivalent of one standard drink of alcohol stays in your liver for about an hour. The more alcohol your drink, the more the toxic byproduct acetaldehyde does damage your liver.

Only if you drink the same volume of hard liquor as you do of wine. Hard liquor has a higher percentage of alcohol by volume.

Drinking 5 oz. of hard liquor versus 5 oz. of wine will result in a much higher BAC level.

Alcohol withdrawal for people who have abused it heavily can have a range of symptoms. Mild symptoms can include irritability, tremors, agitation, and anxiety.

However, severe symptoms can include hallucinations, delirium, and seizures.

If you have been facing alcohol addiction for a long period, you should seek medical advice on whether or not you should go through alcohol detox.

The only true cure for a hangover is time. You have to let the symptoms work their way out. Sleep can help.

However, many so-called hangover cures that claim to sober up miserable people quickly can do more harm than good.

For example, drinking hot coffee can make the symptoms worse because coffee, like alcohol, is a diuretic that aggravates the dehydration caused by alcohol.

Find Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder Today

If you are facing an alcohol use disorder and want an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, you can find options for alcohol treatment in your region.

Call our helpline today and learn how we can guide you or your loved one to the treatment program that best fits your needs.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 22, 2023
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