Alcohol Drug Test: Everything You Need To Know

Alcohol Drug Test: Everything You Need To Know


Alcohol is a toxic substance and acts as a depressant that may contribute towards dependence. Alcohol has become a part of socializing, and consuming heavy amounts can impair physical and mental abilities.

According to the Controlled Substances Act, alcohol is not considered to be a controlled substance. In the United States, it is considered illegal if sold or served to anyone less than 21 years of age.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

After a person consumes alcohol, it enters the stomach and small intestine. The substance then enters the bloodstream and affects all the organs in the body including the heart and brain. Most of the alcohol gets metabolized in the liver and eventually excreted through the kidneys, skin, lungs and urine.

Some factors such as body mass, liver function and the amount of alcohol consumed influences how long the alcohol stays in the system. Alcohol can be found in breath, sweat and urine as long as the liver metabolizes the alcohol. About 5% of alcohol gets eliminated from the body through sweat, respiration and urine.

Alcohol metabolism occurs at a constant rate. If a person consumes more alcohol than the liver can metabolize within an hour, the substance will be held in the blood. The alcohol content present in the bloodstream is called blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Alcohol Breathalyzer device is used to check the BAC.

Heavy drinking leads to elimination of vitamins and minerals from the system, which can make a person feel sick or fatigued.

Factors That Affect BAC

There are many factors that can control alcohol metabolism such as physical and mental health, genetic, food, etc., and increase the alcohol content in the blood.

  • Gender and Body Weight:  The rate at which the alcohol gets metabolized in men and women are different. Dehydrogenase is an enzyme in the stomach that helps in breaking down the alcohol. This enzyme as well as water content is less in women and this is the reason why women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men despite consuming the same alcohol quantity. Hormone levels also influence blood alcohol levels in women.
  • Age:  Older people may get intoxicated faster than young individuals due to slow metabolism, decreased water content and loss of muscle mass.
  • Alcohol Consumption on a Full or Empty Stomach:  If you consume alcohol after eating food, the absorption of alcohol in the body will be slow. People who drink on an empty stomach will notice alcohol effects more quickly depending on the amount consumed.
  • Type of Alcoholic Beverage Consumed:  Some alcohol beverages have higher concentrations of alcohol. This can speed up the rate of absorption and cause the alcohol to stay in the system for longer period of time.

The body eliminates blood alcohol content at an average rate per hour. There is no accomplished method to speed up the elimination process and some alcoholic beverages take longer time to break down than the others. The only way to eliminate alcohol is to wait until the liver metabolizes all the substances.

Alcohol Drug Test

Alcohol drug tests may be performed in different scenarios such as random drug testing or post accident testing at work, if suspected to be driving under the influence by police officers, medical reasons, etc. The presence of alcohol can be detected by urine, blood, saliva, breath and hair.

  • Breath Drug Test:  Breathalyzer can detect alcohol within a short period of time, i.e., 24 hours. It measures the blood alcohol concentration and any value above 0.02 is considered unsafe for driving or performing any tasks.
  • Urine Drug Test:  The ethanol component in alcohol can be found in an individual’s urine within an hour of consumption. Traces of alcohol metabolites can be detected in the urine specimen between 12 and 48 hours after the last drink. Advanced testing methods are used to measure alcohol for about 80 hours after the last drink.
  • Blood Drug Test:  Alcohol can surface in the blood for up to 12 hours.
  • Saliva Drug Test:  This oral swab drug test detects the presence of ethanol (byproduct) in the saliva. Alcohol ingestion can be detected within the past 24 to 48 hours in the oral fluids. This test is a bit expensive than the urine test, but easy to administer.
  • Hair Drug Test:  Since this provides a longer detection period, even alcohol can be detected in the hair for up to 90 days.

Urine, blood and hair tests are frequently employed in legal, civil and forensic testing, but less frequently administered in workplace. Urine tests have the potential for cross-reactivity to other products and may produce inaccurate results.

EtG/EtS Urine Testing

Alcohol itself can be detected in the urine only for a short time (less than 12 hours), but the byproducts such as ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulfate (EtS) can be detected for a longer period of time (3 days after last drink).

EtG and EtS testing methods offer extended detection period, hence are believed to be more reliable than the traditional urine testing method; however, these methods have drawbacks that limit from being administered.

Disadvantages of EtG/EtS Testing:

  • It is expensive than the traditional testing method.
  • Cannot detect the quantity of alcohol consumed.
  • Cannot differentiate between ethanol from alcoholic beverages and alcohol from other products such as mouthwash, hand sanitizers, cough and cold medicines, body sprays, etc.

False Positive Alcohol Drug Test

EtG test is highly sensitive and can detect alcohol even at low levels. Some everyday household products such as mouthwash, hand sanitizers, cleaning products, cooking extract, cosmetics, hair dye, etc., may produce an unexpected positive result due to incidental exposure. For instance, if you take a breath test or a saliva test after using a mouthwash that contains alcohol, there are chances that the alcohol residues may be found and produce a false positive.

Breathalyzer tests also can produce false positives:

  • Consuming alcohol just before the test.
  • Some foods such as ripe fruits, energy drinks can alter readings.
  • Medical conditions related to gastrointestinal (GI) such as acid reflux, heartburn or taking any GI medications can also lead to inaccurate read.

Bottom Line

According to WHO, alcohol consumption contributes to millions of deaths every year globally as well as causes poor health and impairments in millions of people. Excessive drinking can impair a person’s physical and mental abilities as well as lead to development of irreversible consequences and chronic diseases.

Avoiding alcohol consumption and staying sober can help benefit overall health and wellness as well as coming out clean on a drug test.

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