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A doctor shares how long alcohol stays in your body

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How long alcohol stays in your bodyAlina Nechaeva

If you drink alcohol, you'll know how quickly booze can start to take effect. One minute you're enjoying a relaxed Sunday brunch and the next you're dancing on the table with a mimosa in hand. But do you know how long alcohol stays in your system?

If the answer is no, it's well worth brushing up on the topic because of the various ways alcohol changes your body... from an increased heart rate to a decreased reaction time, there are plenty of side effects you ought to be aware of.

Of course, the key with any alcoholic treat - should you choose to indulge - is to drink responsibly. But if you're reading this wondering how long until you'll be rid of that headache caused by one glass of wine too many, we've got answers for you.

FYI, this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or your relationship with alcohol - and remember there are strict alcohol limits for drivers.

happy young woman wearing bridal gown holds glass of red wine as she dances at party
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How long does alcohol stay in your system?

"It takes, on average, one hour for your liver to remove one unit of alcohol from your body," Dr Bhavini Shah from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor tells Cosmopolitan.

"One unit of alcohol could be a small glass of wine (125ml), half a pint of beer, or a single spirit and mixer (25ml)."

Sounds simple, right? Well, it's not quite so straightforward. Additional factors including your height, weight, and body composition can contribute to how long alcohol remains in your system, explains the expert, because it all comes down to your metabolic rate.

For this reason, your sex could also come into play. "There have been some studies to suggest that females make less of an alcohol processing enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase in the liver compared with males. This allows a greater proportion of the alcohol to potentially reach other organs, exposing them to the toxic effects of alcohol," says Dr Shah.

Additionally, females typically have a lower percentage of water in their bodies compared to males, meaning "the alcohol absorbed becomes more concentrated."

How can you tell if you still have alcohol in your system?

Okay, let's take this question in stages.

Dr Shah begins, "One or two units of alcohol increases the heart rate, expands blood vessels, and gives a slight 'buzz' which commonly makes people feel more sociable or talkative.

"After four to six units, alcohol begins to impact your nervous system, decreasing reaction time and affecting areas of the brain associated with decision making, resulting in poorer judgement and potentially more reckless behaviour."

With us so far? Good, we're moving onto hangover territory.

"After eight units, your vision and sleep will be affected and you will have consumed more alcohol than your liver can process in one night, resulting in a hangover.

"And after ten units, your coordination will be highly impaired and you can expect symptoms of nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting, as well as dehydration and headaches. After 12 units, you are at great risk of alcohol poisoning," warns Dr Shah.

How to get rid of alcohol in your system

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This might not be what you want to hear, but it turns out there's not much you can do to change how long it takes for alcohol to leave your system. "Your body will metabolise alcohol at its own rate and there is not much evidence that you can speed up this natural process," says Dr Shah.

That being said, there are steps you can take to reduce the symptoms associated with hangovers. Intrigued? Say no more. “Going to sleep is a good way to let your body naturally remove alcohol from your system by itself."

Dr Shah adds: "Drinking water is also essential as it will prevent the dehydrating effects of the alcohol and reduce the impact of headaches. You should also try to eat bland foods as these will increase your blood sugar without upsetting your stomach."

(Note: if you're worried about your relationship with alcohol or fear you may be dependent upon it, speak to a doctor or trusted organisation, such as Alcohol Change UK.)

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