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How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?

How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?

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Breathalyzers & Drunk Driving

You may be worried about how long does alcohol stay on your breath? Motorists can be stopped and required to take a breath test by police at the scene of a road traffic accident, if a police officer suspects a motorist may be driving under the influence of alcohol, or if a motorist commits a moving traffic offense.

Alcohol abuse is a life-threatening condition that can lead to a constant health crisis, alcohol use disorder, and may even be fatal. Immediate help is the only way to avoid harm to yourself or a loved one. Fortunately, safe and comfortable alcohol detox is attainable if you seek professional help rather than detox by yourself and face harmful withdrawal symptoms.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [1], every day:

  • About 32 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 45 minutes
  • In 2020, 11,654 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths — a 14% increase from 2019
  • In 2020, there were 2,041 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where a driver had a BAC of .01 to .07 g/dL
  • About 30% of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher)
How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?
Motorcyclists ages 35-39 have the highest percentage of deaths with BACs of 0.08% or greater (38% in 2016). [2]

These deaths were all preventable. First, we have to understand what is Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, or by a blood test.

Blood alcohol level results may be given in different ways, including the percentage of blood alcohol content (BAC). Typical results [3] are below.

  • Sober: 0.0 percent BAC
  • Legally intoxicated: .08 percent BAC
  • Very impaired: .08–0.40 percent BAC. At this blood alcohol level, you may have difficulty walking and speaking. Other symptoms may include confusion, nausea, and drowsiness.
  • At risk for serious complications: Above .40 percent BAC. At this blood alcohol level, you may be at risk for coma or death.

If you refuse to take a breathalyzer or think the test wasn’t accurate, you may ask for or be asked to take a blood-alcohol test.

Source: Alcohol breath testing – National Center for Biotechnology Information

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Why Drinking and Driving are So Dangerous?

Alcohol is a depressant; it sedates the central nervous system. One of the first areas of the brain to be affected is the cerebral cortex, which controls judgment, self-control, and inhibitions. Alcohol’s sedating effects impair a driver’s decision-making skills and coordination. As a result, an impaired driver cannot quickly and decisively avoid an accident or even conduct routine driving maneuvers.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System Breath Test

A breath test and blood alcohol test may be used to find out if you:

  • Have been drinking and driving. In the United States, .08 percent blood alcohol level is the legal alcohol limit for drivers who are aged 21 and over. Drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system when driving. [4]
  • Are legally drunk. The legal alcohol limit for drinking in public varies from state to state.
  • Have been drinking while in a treatment program that prohibits drinking.
  • Have alcohol poisoning. A life-threatening condition that happens when your blood alcohol level gets very high. Alcohol poisoning can seriously affect basic body functions, including breathing, heart rate, and temperature.

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How Long Can Alcohol Stay in My System?

The rate of absorption of alcohol depends on several factors. It is quickest, for example, when alcohol is drunk on an empty stomach and the concentration of alcohol is 20-30%. More than 90% of alcohol is eliminated by the liver; 2-5% is excreted unchanged in urine, sweat, or breath.

On an empty stomach, blood alcohol concentration peaks about one hour after consumption, depending on the amount drunk; it then declines in a more or less linear manner for the next four hours. Alcohol is removed from the blood at a rate of about 3.3 mmol/hour (15 mg/100 ml/hour), but this varies in different people, on different drinking occasions, and with the amount of alcohol drunk. [5]

On average, the liver can process 1 ounce of alcohol every hour, and it can be detected in the blood for several hours and in the urine for several days. It can also take 6 to 12 hours before the alcohol fully clears out of your bloodstream causing alcohol hangovers.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?
Several evidence-based treatment approaches are available for alcohol abuse.

Alcohol is never completely safe. Continued alcohol abuse can shorten your lifespan. Drinking alcohol can cause alcoholic cirrhosis, it occurs after years of heavy drinking. Alcoholic liver disease is treatable if it is caught before it causes severe damage. In case of severe damage, the liver cannot heal or return to normal function.

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How Long Does Alcohol Stay on Your Breath?

After you stop drinking, alcohol can linger on your breath, saliva, or urine for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Like other drugs, alcohol can also be detected on your hair for up to 90 days. But again, what you consume determines how long it’ll take for the alcohol to clear out of your system.

  • Beer: 5% alcohol
  • Malt liquor: 7% alcohol
  • Wine: 12% alcohol
  • Hard liquor: 40% alcohol

Drinking more potent alcoholic drinks can accelerate the absorption rate. This causes alcohol to stay in your system for more extended periods.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Excessive alcohol use is a leading preventable cause of death in the United States, shortening the lives of those who die by an average of 26 years. [6] Alcohol abuse includes:

  • Binge drinking is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks on an occasion for a woman or 5 or more drinks on an occasion for a man
  • Heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for a woman or 15 or more drinks per week for a man
  • Any alcohol use by pregnant women or anyone younger than 21

11 Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Healthcare professionals use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to assess a person and determine if the alcohol abuse is severe or if one has developed alcohol use disorder. Severity is based on the number of criteria a person meets based on their symptoms—mild (2–3 criteria), moderate (4–5 criteria), or severe (6 or more criteria). [7]

A healthcare provider might ask the following questions to assess a person’s alcohol abuse symptoms.

In the past year, have you:

  1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  4. Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  5. Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unprotected sex)?
  9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
How Long Does Alcohol Stay On Your Breath?
People with severe alcohol abuse may need medical help to avoid withdrawal if they decide to stop drinking.
  1. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  2. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

Any of these symptoms of alcohol abuse may be cause for concern. The more symptoms, the more urgent the need for change.

Alcohol Rehab Inpatient Treatment Near Me

How long does alcohol stay on your breath? The more alcohol you consume, the longer it will stay in your blood. So if there’s alcohol in your blood, it can be detected in your breath. Over time, alcohol abuse can lead to chronic diseases and other serious problems, including alcohol use disorder and problems with learning, memory, and mental health.

Many people with early signs of alcoholism do recover, but setbacks are common among people in alcohol treatment. Seeking professional help early can prevent relapse to drinking. Behavioral therapies can help people develop skills to avoid and overcome triggers, such as stress, that might lead to drinking. Medications also can help deter drinking during times when individuals may be at greater risk of relapse (e.g., divorce, death of a family member).

If you or someone you love is seeking safe, secure, and compassionate resources for alcohol abuse treatment, We Level Up is here for you. Call us and speak with an addiction counselor today about our levels of care.


[1] Drunk Driving available from: – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
[2] Impaired Driving: Get the Facts – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Available from:
[3-4] Blood Alcohol Level – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health
[5] Alcohol breath testing – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[6] Excessive Alcohol Use – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Available from:
[7] Alcohol Abuse Source: Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder available from:

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