Alcohol and the Body
Alcohol takes a long journey through the body, and as it moves through the system, it’s attacked on all sides until it’s broken down and expelled through the urine. In general, the body views alcohol as a toxin, and a variety of systems exist that can mobilize quickly to remove the alcohol the user takes in and restore the body’s delicate system to normal. In general, it’s safe to say that the body can metabolize about one drink in an hour. But, this can vary dramatically from person to person. A variety of factors come into play when determining exactly how long alcohol stays in the system.
As mentioned, alcohol uses the digestive tract to move through the body. This system is highly variable, depending on:
- The time of day
- The presence of other food
- The amount of alcohol consumed
- The amount of water consumed
A person who hasn’t eaten anything at all that day who drinks alcohol may be able to metabolize that alcohol incredibly quickly. Nothing stands in the way of the alcohol moving through the system with ease. But if that person were drinking late at night, after eating a meal full of heavy starches, that digestion process might be severely slowed. The alcohol must wait its turn to move through the system, which is crowded with other items it must work through.
Gender has a specific role to play in this process. According to a study published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, women participating in a study of alcohol metabolism reached significantly higher rates of blood alcohol content (BAC) than men. This is an important finding for one main reason: The higher the BAC reaches, the longer it takes the body to process the alcohol. In general, most people can clear about 0.015 percent BAC per hour. If women reach higher rates of BAC, the alcohol will stay in their systems for much longer, as their bodies have more work to do to clear the alcohol.
Similarly, according to a study published in the journal Alcohol Research and Health, specific enzymes in the liver and stomach are needed in order to metabolize alcohol, and not everyone has these enzymes. In fact, in some families, the enzyme is distorted or doesn’t exist at all. These people may metabolize alcohol at a much slower rate, due to the influence of this genetic issue.
Taking all of this information into account and determining when alcohol has completely left the body can be difficult for the average drinker. In fact, it might be impossible to make a perfect estimate. In order to do the math properly, the user would have to be positive that the last sip of alcohol had been metabolized and was flowing in the bloodstream. Then, the user would have to know his or her specific BAC. With this information in hand, the user could perform complex math to deduct 0.015 percent per hour and come up with a reasonable time when the alcohol was cleared. It can be difficult to get this calculation just right, and the results may still be highly inaccurate.