Reviewing How Quickly the Body Metabolizes Alcohol

On behalf of The Berger Firm April 14, 2019

A common refrain that you may hear over and over in campaigns aimed at people avoiding drunk driving charges is “drink responsibly.” Does this mean that you should never get behind the wheel after having even as much as a sip of alcohol? Many come to us here at The Berger Firm with this question, yet unfortunately, there is no easy answer to it. While ideally, you would have a designated driver or an alternative means of transportation to take you home after drinking, the mere presence of alcohol in your system does not warrant drunk driving charges (or else there would not be a legal blood-alcohol content limit).

An understanding of exactly how long alcohol stays in your system will help you to know when it might be safe to drive after drinking. While you ingest alcohol just like any type of food or drink, it is not digested in the same manner. Most if it permeates through the lining of the organs of your digestive tract and ends up in the bloodstream. Information shared by American Addiction Centers shows that it then arrives at your liver, which will metabolize up to 90 percent of it by releasing an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.

A number of factors influence your body’s alcohol metabolism rate, such as:

  • Your age

  • Your ethnicity

  • Your sex

  • Your body fat content

  • The amount of food in your stomach

Generally, however, it is estimated that in an adult male, the body can metabolize the equivalent of one standard drink (which would lower your BAC by roughly .015). If you are a woman, that rate is likely slower (as is the amount of alcohol needed to become impaired). More information on understanding how alcohol affects the body can be found throughout our site.