Before your system eliminates alcohol and drugs, your body first processes them in the same that it does to medications, food, and other substances. However, the effects of drugs and alcohol tend to last for weeks, days, or hours depending on a variety of factors.
These factors include, but are not limited to:
The kidneys, liver, respiratory organs, and digestive organs all work hand in hand to metabolize and eliminate most of the drugs and alcoholic beverages you take. As such, these intoxicating substances can be detected in your system by testing your hair, urine, blood, and breath.
Although most experts in the public health sector now agree that drug and alcohol abuse should not be punishable offenses, the truth is that a great majority in the population is subjected to drug tests. These include athletes, government officials and spies, and the children of strict parents.
However, most people don't even realize just how easy it is to fail these tests - since most drugs and alcohol can be detected in your hair, blood, and urine even after the effects of these intoxicating substances have long subsided. Therefore, even if a couple of days have passed since you last took drugs or drank alcohol, there will still be a great deal of chemistry and biology happening before your sample gives a negative on the test.
In the guide below, you will learn more about alcohol and drugs, how long they stay in the system, the main types of drug tests used, and more:
So, exactly how do alcoholic beverages and drugs get into the system and out? Once you take these substances and they are absorbed into your bloodstream - which may occur through a syringe, the digestive tract, or the lungs - the only way your system can eliminate them is through excretion.
Depending on what you took, some of these substances might pass right through your body relatively quickly and come out in your excretion. However, your system will eventually release most of the rest of the substance through sweat and urine. Before this happens, however, your body needs to metabolize them into water-soluble metabolites or molecules.
This process often occurs in the liver, an organ of the body that contains such catalysts as the Cytochrome P450 enzymes that ensure that the drugs/alcohol you took become oxidized.
As a direct result, the non-polar molecules that have no overall charge and cannot be dissolved in water will become negative - much in the same way that a drug user feels on their comedown from the substance they abused. Typically, these metabolites may also be ionized in such a way that by the time your liver is done with them, they will be ready to dissolve.
At this stage, the acute effects of the substance will have long worn off. After that, these soluble metabolites will dissolve into the water in your blood and get filtered right out by your kidneys, at which point you will excrete them as urine.
However, since this process tends to take some time, it means that drug testers can easily catch any drug user or alcoholic while the drug metabolites are still in their blood and urine.
Still, you need to keep in mind that the way drugs and alcohol work is different - mostly with regards to how the system excretes them. Since these substances have to be converted into their accompanying soluble metabolites before your body can excrete them, it follows that the speed at which this may occur will largely depend on the type of metabolites it creates, as well as on the concentration of these metabolites.
For instance, most drug abusers only take LSD in small doses that rarely exceed the 100 to 200 mg mark. This means that only very small amounts of its metabolites may be detected in your system.
Additionally, most LSD metabolites tend to pass through and out of the system quite fast. The main metabolite - 2-oxo-3-hydroxy LSD, for example, cannot be detected in the bloodstream and will only present itself for a few days in small quantities in your urine.
The amount of time it will take for drugs and alcohol to stay in your system and leave your body mostly depends on the substance's half life. This refers to the length of time it normally takes for the kidneys and liver to break down half the amount of the substance in the blood stream and filter it.
Therefore, if the half-life of the drug you took is a hour, you will only have half as much of it in your blood after one hour as you did when you took it. This means that you would only half a quarter of the substance left in your system after two hours, and an eighth after three hours.
For medical purposes, therefore, drugs are considered be to out of the body after 5 half-lives, at which point only about 3% of the substance will still be left in your system. However, what is clear is that all drugs and addictive substances have their own half-life - which range from a couple of seconds to several days.
Additionally, it is common knowledge that intoxicating substances such as heroin, alcohol, and marijuana - among others - will stay in the body long after you have stopped feeling their effects.
However, the length of time during which these substances are still detectable will depend on what you took. This duration may also be affected by any other medication you have been taking as well as any medical conditions you might have. It might also depend on whether the drug test is performed on your hair, urine, or blood.
To this end, the duration that a drug will still be detectable in your system will depend on a variety of factors. These include, but are not limited to:
However, you might be more interested in finding out exactly how long alcohol and drugs stay in the system after you have taken them. Contrary to what most drug tests promise, not every substance will leave a tell-tale chemical signature in your system for the same duration.
The moment you take a drug - whether you swallow, smoke, inject, or snort it - or drink alcohol, your body will start breaking it down. In the process, it will produce byproducts or metabolites of the substance.
It is these metabolites that linger in your hair, urine, and blood long after you feel the initial intoxicating effects of the drug. As such, drug testers will typically look for traces of these substance metabolites since they are the best indication that you used the drug in question rather than simply coming into accidental contact with the substance.
While most drug tests that are performed on the hair tend to be relatively accurate, any tests on the urine or the blood are generally unable to detect most drugs as long as you have not used anything for close to a week. For instance, heroin may be undetectable in your urine after 3 to 5 days.
As you will see in the sections below, traces of popular intoxicating substances such as alcohol, amphetamines, heroin, morphine, and LSD - among many others - will remain in your blood for about 12 hours (or less).
Read on to find out more:
Alcohol happens to be one of the fastest metabolizing addictive substances. As such, your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) will drop by close to 0.015 (roughly the same amount of alcohol in a single drink) after every hour.
NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) reports that a standard drink in the US contains around 14 grams of pure, undiluted alcohol. This is the equivalent of the same amount of alcohol you'd find in 1.5 ounces of the popular 80-proof liquor, 5 ounces of regular table wine, and about 12 ounces of ordinary beer.
However, you still need to be careful with your alcohol consumption - particularly with regards to mixed drinks. Although most of these alcoholic beverages may not taste quite as strong as - say - whiskey or vodka - they contain about 2 to 4 drink's worth of pure alcohol. Accordingly, your body tends to take longer to process them.
In the same way, when you use strong alcohol, it will often dehydrate your body and deplete its supply of the helpful vitamin B1. This vitamin is essential to the maintenance of certain brain structures - including those that are vital for memory and remembrance.
Strong alcohol also tends to disrupt your sleep patterns. As a direct result, when you sleep while you are drunk, you are more likely than not to get less than high quality rest and feel a bit sleep deprived the following day.
As you might already know, this type of sleep deprivation often impairs normal mental functioning and leads to slower reflexes. It may also increase your risk of falling asleep at crucial times - such as when you are operating heavy machinery or while driving.
In the same way, the hangovers caused by the excessive use of alcohol also tend to be dangerous. The alcohol you took might also leave you impaired - meaning that you won't be able to drive or perform a variety of other delicate tasks for close to 16 hours after the substance has been cleared out of your body. More crucial is the fact that drinking alcoholic beverages in the long term may cause severe damage to your brain and liver.
That said, the duration in which alcohol will stay in your body (with a BAC of 0.08), urine, saliva, and breath, will depend on a variety of factors. Even though alcohol tends to pass right through the digestive tract and system, it does not require much digestion.
After you take a drink, 20% of the substance will move straight into your blood vessels where it will be conveyed through the brain and right to the brain. The rest of the alcohol will then enter the bloodstream after it is absorbed through the small intestines. This process will slow down if you still have some food in your stomach and intestine. It is for this reason that you tend to take longer to become intoxicated if you are full.
Once alcohol has entered the bloodstream, your system will deliver it to the liver for metabolism. Although different people tend to get intoxicated by alcohol from different volumes of the substance and at different rates, a healthy liver may metabolize the alcohol at roughly the same rate for different people regardless of weight, race, and sex.
However, there is more that determines the speed at which alcohol will leave the body other than just the rate of metabolism in your liver. Some of the other factors that will affect this speed include:
However, on average, your liver might metabolize an ounce of alcohol per hour. Additionally, your blood alcohol level - for most people - from a single alcohol ounce rises to around 0.015 meaning that this amount of alcohol will pass right out of your system every hour. Similarly, the legal limit for people who have drunk alcohol and are driving is a blood alcohol level of about 0.08. This amount of alcohol will take close to 5 hours, 30 minutes to leave your body.
However, the process is somewhat different when you start taking alcohol at a higher rate than your liver can comfortably metabolize it. More particularly, once your blood alcohol level goes up to 0.055, your body and blood tissues will start absorbing the extra alcohol and produce such unpleasant effects as memory loss, disorientation, vomiting, nausea, irritability, and depression.
Where urine tests are concerned, alcohol will generally stay in the urine for anywhere between 12 and 36 hours. This will, of course, depend on the amount of alcohol you drunk although some tests may detect it for up to around 48 hours. In fact, the most advanced urine tests might detect the substances produced after alcohol has been metabolized for close to 80 hours after your last drink.
In the same way, it is interesting to note that alcohol may still be detectable on your breath within the 24 hours since you last drunk. Like other intoxicating substances, alcohol might be detected in your hair for over 90 days after your last consumption. It can also be detected through a saliva swab, with traces of alcohol being found 10 to 24 hours later.
To this end, you may want to note that when you consume alcohol your liver will metabolize close to 90% of the content. The remaining 10% will then be eliminated in your urine, blood, and breath.
The State University of New York reports that the system metabolizes alcohol at a rate of 0.015 of BAC per hour. Therefore, when you drink just enough such that your blood alcohol concentration goes up to this level, it will take about a hour for your system to eliminate the substance.
Still, BAC tends to vary from one individual to the next based on weight, age, the amount of alcohol consumed, activity levels while drinking, and the amount (if any) of food in the body. In general, alcohol stays in the system for anywhere between 1 to 12 hours.
Although it will still be detectable in your urine, saliva, blood, and breath, alcohol is usually screened through blood and breath tests. A breathalyzer (or a breath analyzer) will normally be used to measure the alcohol concentration on your breath. Typically, you will be required to exhale into the breathalyzer's mouthpiece and the machine will estimate how much ethanol (the active ingredient in all alcoholic beverages) in your exhalation. This test is mostly performed by law enforcement agents, in schools, and in the workplace setting.
People abuse amphetamines because of their ability to stimulate the CNS (central nervous system) and provide a surge of sharpened mental focus and energy. These drugs, as you might imagine, have a high potential for use and abuse, as well as for tolerance, dependence, and eventual addiction.
Some of the street names for amphetamines include speed, reds, crosses, and black beauties. The effects from a single dose also lasts for anywhere between 2 and 4 hours although the drug may still be detected in the urine close to 48 hours after you last used it, while hair tests will detect it for about 90 days.
Even though most of the drugs that are based on amphetamine tend to improve performance, the NHTSA reports that they may also promote high risk behavior and cause inattention. Users, for instance, who are still on these stimulants tend to speed and change lanes rapidly - making it dangerous to drive while intoxicated with these substances.
That said, the half-life of these stimulants will depend on the type of drug you used. Consider the following:
a) Amphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall): Half-life of between 10 and 12 hours
b) Methamphetamine (Desoxyn): Half-life of anywhere between 6.4 and 15 hours
c) Methylphenidate (Concerta and Ritalin): Half-life of between 2 and 3 hours
However, medical professionals do prescribe amphetamines. In these instances, the drugs are safe for you to use - but only if you do so as you were instructed by your doctor or physician.
This means that when you use them outside the dosage recommendation might cause you to become tolerant and dependent and you will eventually start abusing the drugs. If you abuse them in the long term, the dopamine system in your brain will be damaged, and you may experience schizophrenia-like psychosis, which is characterized by auditory and visual hallucinations, violent or erratic behavior, and paranoid delusions.
In case the amphetamine abuse goes on long enough, the drugs may deplete the dopamine levels in your brain. This might lead to symptoms that are quite similar to Parkinson's disease.
This class of intoxicating substances suppresses activity in the CNS. As such, doctors tend to prescribe barbiturates to reduce anxiety, prevent seizures, and promote sleep among patients.
However, some people abuse these drugs when they use them for non-medical purposes. Among these are those who use barbiturates to achieve the common sedative effects of the substances.
In terms of their duration in the system, barbiturates such as Phenobarbital might be in your body for close to 140 hours. Shorter-acting drugs like Seconal, on the other hand, may only remain in the system for around 40 hours. However, these short-acting barbiturates might still be detected in your urine close to 5 days after you took them, while the long-acting varieties are detectable for as long as 3 weeks.
Classified as tranquilizers, benzodiazepines tend to come with fairly long half-lives. As a direct result, they may linger in your system for most of the 24 hours following your last dose. This means that you should not perform delicate tasks or drive while still intoxicated on these tranquilizers.
Consider the following half-lives of most of the common benzodiazepines:
However, most benzodiazepines will take over 24 hours to completely clear from the system. As a direct result, using these tranquilizers on a daily basis may build up the concentration of the substance in your blood and fat. This is why you should never take benzodiazepines for more than 2 to 4 consecutive weeks.
Some of the effects that you may experience from long-term and prolonged use of these drugs include, but are not limited to:
Additionally, you might want to note that benzodiazepines tend to act on the CNS. By so doing, they will affect how your brain responds to GABA neurotransmitters. This is why they are typically prescribed in medical settings to prevent seizures and muscle spasms, promote sedation, and control anxiety. However, drug users often misuse such tranquilizers as Ativan, Xanax, and Valium for non-medical reasons.
That said, the duration that these drugs will stay in the system will mostly depend on how frequent your doses were, your body weight, the dose of the substance, as well as the potency of the benzodiazepines.
In particular, drugs like Valium and Xanax might still be detected in your urine close to 7 days after your last dose. In general, however, the urine detection time frame for most of these drugs ranges between 2 and 5 days.
A powerfully addictive CNS stimulant, cocaine tends to act on the brain. In the process, it produces a surge of energy combined with a rush of elation. Whether you inject, snort, or smoke it, the drug will take effect on the brain several minutes after you use it.
Close to quarter of a hour after the dose, the blood levels of the drug will reach a peak. After this, the blood levels will start declining. Still, the cocaine may be detected through blood tests for close to 12 hours after you last used the drug.
On the other hand, if you abuse cocaine on the regular, its byproducts might still be detectable in your urine about 2 weeks after your last dose. Hair analysis, however, may reveal traces of cocaine for 3 or 4 months.
In comparison to most of the other intoxicating substances, cocaine tends to enter and leave the bloodstream quite fast. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) reports that this drug may reach its peak levels in your blood 30 to 60 minutes after you administered it.
From there, cocaine has a half-life of close to 50 minutes. However, the degree of intoxication that the drug will cause varies from one person to the next. After you use cocaine, you may experience a crash lasting from 9 hours to 4 days.
This crash may come with insomnia or sleepiness, fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, as well as cravings for more of the drug. Long term drug use might also rewire the reward system in your brain, which is why cocaine makes so many people vulnerable to physical and psychological dependence, as well as addiction.
A highly addictive narcotic, heroin is derived from the plant opium poppy. A couple of minutes or seconds after you take it, the drug may produce feelings of sedation and euphoria - depending, of course, on the method of administration.
Intravenous injection, for instance, will produce the fastest rush and deliver the heroine straight to the brain in a matter of seconds. The reaction times tend to be a bit longer when you snort or smoke the drug.
That said, the system will eliminate this substance quite fast - sometimes as fast as 8 minutes after you last took heroin. Depending on the frequency of use, the amount you used, your weight, and your age, the drug might be detected in your urine close to 48 hours after your last dose.
The NHTSA further reports that the half-life of heroin is quite short, and ranges from about 2 to 6 minutes. After that, your body will typically metabolize the drug into morphine.
However, heroin is quite like codeine because the latter will also be metabolized by your system into morphine. Hydrocodone (Lortab and Vicodin), on the other hand, will metabolize into Dilaudid (or Hydromorphone) while Percocet (Oxycodone) will metabolize into Opana (Oxymorphone).
Consider the half-lives of these substances:
Using these opiates in the long term, however, is dangerous because it may damage your endorphin system - the same system that controls how your system experiences and deals with pain. When you combine this damaging effect with the dependence and tolerance that often accompanies regular opiate abuse, you can see why the drugs often lead to addiction.
A derivative of the Cannabis plant, marijuana is often abused because of the effects of its active ingredient - the sedative drug THC. 3 to 8 minutes after you use marijuana, you may feel its effects.
However, the THC content will remain in your system much longer than that - even if you are just a casual or an one-time user. Unlike other fast-acting substances, such as cocaine and heroin, the THC will be stored in the body and may remain detectable up to 4 weeks - particularly if you are a long-term user.
The body stores the THC in its fat cells, which later release this active ingredient slowly but surely into the bloodstream. If you are a casual user, the byproducts arising from the cannabis may be detectable in your urine for close to 5 days after you took the drug while cannabis use can be detected in chronic users up to 30 days after the last dose. If you take the drug orally in your food, the urine detection window might be extended.
Still, marijuana use - particularly in the long term - is quite dangerous. It may, for instance, cause impairments in information processing, attention, and memory. These effects may last for months or years after you stop using the drug. Your body may also become tolerant to marijuana, which will eventually lead to dependence and addiction.
Consider the following list of the detection times for some of the most commonly used and abused substances:
Irrespective of how you use the substances listed above, you should keep in mind that chronic drug use (apart from abusing alcohol) means that your body may retain the substance in its system much longer after your last dose.