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Alcohol & Health
Treatment
Helping Alcoholics
Where Does My Call Go?
Updated on July 31, 2023
5 min read

How Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test & For How Long?

Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test?

Alcohol can show up on different drug tests. However, how long alcohol will appear on a drug test depends on various factors. 

Different methods of testing detect alcohol during different timeframes:

Breath

A breathalyzer (or breath test) is one of the most popular alcohol testing devices. Alcohol testing with a breathalyzer measures the amount of ethanol in your breath.4 This means that it’s best used immediately after drinking alcohol. Breathalyzers can detect ethanol levels within 24 hours of consuming alcohol.

Blood

A blood test can detect alcohol in your system for weeks after you drink it. Blood alcohol tests are typically testing for ethanol or phosphatidyl ethanol.4  A blood alcohol test detecting ethanol can typically detect alcohol within 12 hours after drinking. A phosphatidyl ethanol (PEth) test can detect alcohol for up to 12 days. 

In some cases, healthcare providers will also check liver function tests (LFT). 

Urine

Alcohol may show up in a urine test for days after consumption. It can be detected in urine within an hour after drinking alcohol.4 

Its maximum concentration peaks after 5.5 hours. Depending on how much alcohol you consume, a urine test can still detect alcohol 24 to 80 hours after you drink it. 

The ethyl glucuronide in urine can be detected on a test for up to 5 days after drinking.

Hair

A hair test for alcohol is less common. That said, testing a hair sample is the best way to test for alcohol consumption over a longer period. 

A hair sample can trace alcohol for up to six months.4 It can also detect drug use for up to a year.

Meanwhile, saliva only retains traces of alcohol for the first few hours to the day after consumption.

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Factors That Influence Alcohol Detection Time

Several factors influence alcohol detection time. These include:

  • How much you drink: The more alcohol you consume, the longer it will take for your body to break it down.
  • How quickly you drink alcohol: The faster you drink, the harder it is for your body to keep up and break down the alcohol.
  • The type of drug or alcohol testing tool: A breathalyzer works best when used immediately or shortly after drinking alcohol. On the other hand, a hair test is helpful for long-term testing. But if your hair falls out quicker than average, this can affect the test.

What About False Positives?

You can get a false positive with a drug or alcohol test (even if you don’t drink alcohol). 

Many household products like mouthwash and hand sanitizer contain alcohol. If you use these products, some drug and alcohol testing tools may pick them up and mistake them for drinking alcohol. 

Can I Sober Up Faster From Alcohol?

Some people believe drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, forcing vomit, eating bread, and more can help them sober up faster. These are myths

Sobering up from alcohol takes time. Your liver metabolizes alcohol at about one standard drink per hour. Some people's livers aren’t functioning at normal levels, and it may take longer to metabolize alcohol.

The only way to get sober is by waiting.7 Plus, things like mixing caffeine with alcohol and forcing vomit can be dangerous.

That said, eating food can certainly help treat the symptoms you may be experiencing and prevent a hangover. Likewise, food slows down the rate at which your blood absorbs alcohol.3 This is why you should always eat before and/or while drinking alcohol. 

Drinking water can help dilute the alcohol in your system and rehydrate you. It also helps flush out toxins. Fruit juices that contain vitamins B and C are also helpful in flushing out toxins.6

Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose

The symptoms of alcohol overdose can be very severe and even fatal. The symptoms of alcohol overdose include, but aren’t limited to, the following: 9

  • Confusion
  • Stupor
  • Difficulties with coordination and motor skills
  • Trouble remaining conscious
  • Inability to wake up
  • Vomiting with or without gag reflex
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Dulled responses
  • Poor reaction time
  • Low body temperature
  • Clammy skin
  • Bluish skin
  • Paleness

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of an alcohol overdose, call for emergency medical help immediately. Don’t wait for it to be too late.

An alcohol overdose can cause irreversible damage and even death. Oftentimes, people are unaware that they have drunk too much.

Do You Have a Drinking Problem? Signs of Alcohol Misuse

In 2021, 60.0 million people ages 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month.1

Some common signs that you may have a drinking problem include, but aren’t limited to: 1

  • Always thinking about alcohol and craving it
  • Experiencing an inability to limit or cut back on alcohol intake
  • Having mood swings when not drinking alcohol
  • Drinking alone often
  • Finding yourself lying about or making excuses for alcohol consumption
  • Allowing alcohol to stand in the way of work, school, or family responsibilities and obligations
  • Allowing alcohol to get in the way of passions and hobbies

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can damage your physical and mental health and all aspects of your life and relationships. If you or someone you know is struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help immediately.

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Treatment for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

Professional help is available for people who misuse alcohol. Treatment options include:

  • Inpatient rehab: Inpatient rehab involves staying in a facility and receiving medical care while participating in individual and group therapy.
  • Outpatient rehab: Outpatient treatment is an option for those who can’t commit to a full-time rehabilitation program. It usually involves attending therapy sessions and meetings on a more flexible schedule.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps people recognize and change destructive thought patterns.
  • Holistic therapy: A holistic approach focuses on various aspects of the person’s life to address all areas of health.
  • Alcohol abuse support groups: Support groups provide a safe and supportive environment for people to share their experiences and learn new coping skills. 

You may also choose to explore more than one treatment option. For example, going to rehab and therapy simultaneously can help treat both the physical and mental effects of alcohol abuse. 

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Summary

Alcohol can be detected in different ways, such as using a breathalyzer or blood test. However, various factors affect how quickly alcohol leaves your system.

It's important to understand the danger and signs of alcohol misuse. Professional help is available if you or someone you know needs treatment for alcohol misuse or addiction.

Updated on July 31, 2023
9 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Rehm J. "The risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism." Alcohol Res Health, 2011.
  3. Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” Harvard Health, 2014.
  4. How Long Do Drugs and Alcohol Stay in Your System?” DNA Legal.
  5. How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Urine?” Orlando Recovery Center, 2018.
  6. How To Sober Up Fast: 5 Methods You Can Try.” Anaheim Lighthouse, 2020.
  7. Myths, Facts and Alcohol.” Myths, Facts and Alcohol | Center for Wellness Promotion | UNC Charlotte.
  8. A Positive Test without Drinking?” The POST.
  9. Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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