How to Clean Your System of Alcohol: A Recovery Guide

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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Those who occasionally indulge in drinking too much on a night out often think about the potential consequences with their hangover. However, for individuals who have become reliant on alcohol, the situation may mean life-or-death.

In this article, I discuss the duration of time alcohol remains in your body, the ways in which the body metabolizes alcohol, the difference between flushing it out and detoxifying it, and recognizing when addiction has become a problem.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

A lot of us are interested in a straightforward response to this inquiry. However, beer, wine and liquor all have distinct ways in which they are metabolized in the body. The time it takes for alcohol to be eliminated from your body increases as you consume more. The impact of a single drink can differ greatly based on various factors.

  • The quantity of alcohol you drink
  • How often you drink
  • Other health conditions you might have
  • Your age and weight
  • Biological sex
  • Your body mass
  • Food eaten prior to drinking
  • Medications
  • Whether you have existing liver damage
  • Genetic factors

Your body removes alcohol at the rate of about one drink per hour. So it can take three to seven hours to metabolize (process) one to four drinks, depending on the above factors. For heavy alcohol users, it takes two to four weeks of abstinence to bring down levels in the liver.

Understanding How the Body Metabolizes Alcohol

There are many factors involved in the way alcohol is broken down and eliminated by the body. There are genetic factors, with variations in the enzymes that break down alcohol. There are also environmental factors, such as the amount of alcohol consumed.

Alcohol is swallowed and then enters the digestive system, stomach and small intestine. About 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach. The remainder is absorbed in the small intestine and then the bloodstream where it circulates throughout the body.. 

Most processing of alcohol takes place in the liver. It can process about one ounce of liquor in an hour. The most common way alcohol is metabolized (broken down) involves two enzymes. The first metabolizes alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance and known carcinogen. The second metabolizes this further to the less toxic acetate. This is then broken down to water and carbon dioxide for ease of elimination through the bloodstream. breath, urine, sweat, vomit and feces.

Although acetaldehyde is short-lived, it has the potential to cause significant damage to the liver and the gastrointestinal tract. Some metabolism also happens in the pancreas and the brain, causing damage to cells and tissues. If excess amounts of alcohol are consumed, and repeatedly, it accumulates in the blood and other tissues, causing damage to the brain and tissues.

Alcohol Flush vs Detox

A healthy liver is robust and able to renew itself. Long-term alcohol abuse can affect the liver’s ability to repair and renew its cells, leading to permanent liver damage.

Many of us wonder if a “Dry January” month of avoiding drinking is enough to “reset” your liver back to normal. Of course, stopping drinking alcohol for any length of time will help. Some research suggests liver function begins to improve in as little as two to three weeks. 

Many products claim to detox and cleanse your liver but they haven’t been adequately tested in clinical trials or approved by the FDA. Many liver detox products are also sold as weight loss cleanses. However, there is no clinical data to support the efficacy of these cleanses. 

There are medical treatments for liver diseases. But nothing shows that detox programs or supplements can fix liver damage. In fact, detoxes may harm your liver. Studies have found that liver injuries from herbal and dietary supplements are on the rise. 

Many others believe that drinking certain beverages or doing physical activity can help break down alcohol more quickly. However, it is a myth that these methods are effective, including:

  • Exercising
  • Eating after drinking
  • Vomiting
  • Drinking coffee, energy drinks or similar beverage
  • Taking a cold shower

Drinking lots of water does not affect the speed of alcohol metabolism in the body. But it can help push off a hangover or reduce its severity.

However, drinking excessive amounts of water can lead to water intoxication or poisoning. This affects brain function with the swelling of cells, including brain cells. It increases pressure in the brain,with symptoms like confusion, drowsiness, and headaches. It can then cause high blood pressure and a slowed heart rate.

A full detox is needed for the most benefit, and how much time that takes depends on a variety of personal factors. Alcohol detox programs are medically supervised and staffed with licensed therapists. They may be outpatient community-based clinics or residential where you live in a center with others who are detoxing. Residential detox with rehab is the most beneficial for those struggling to stay sober.

An alcohol detox program includes medications to assist with the emotional and physical symptoms of withdrawal. As well, there are a variety of therapy programs to help develop insight into your addiction and follow strategies to develop and maintain long-term sobriety.

When Alcohol Becomes an Issue

There are a number of stages with alcohol abuse:

  1.  Occasional abuse and binge drinking
  • Experimentation. Some binge drinking
  • For men, five or more alcoholic beverages within two hours
  • For women, four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol at one time is dangerous, and can even lead to coma or death

2: Increased drinking

  • More frequent alcohol consumption 
  • Drinking every weekend instead of just drinking at parties once in a while

3: Problem drinking

  • Frequent, uncontrolled alcohol abuse eventually leads to problem drinking 
  • While any form of alcohol abuse is problematic, the term “problem drinker” refers to someone who starts experiencing the impacts of their habit

4: Alcohol dependence

  • Alcoholism has two dimensions: dependence and addiction 
  • You can be dependent on alcohol, but not yet addicted
  • Dependence forms after the problem drinking stage 
  • Your attachment to alcohol has taken over your regular routine 
  • You’re aware of the negative effects, but no longer have control over your alcohol consumption.

5: Addiction and alcoholism

  • You no longer want to drink just for pleasure 
  • A physical and psychological need to drink
  • Tougher to quit drinking
  • Long-term risks of heavy drinking include:
  • Liver damage
  • Heart disease
  • Brain damage
  • Malnutrition
  • Mental health disorders, including an increased risk of suicide

When to Seek Help

The short answer: the sooner the better. You should reach out for help as soon as you recognize the negative impacts of alcohol. Perhaps a loved one, friend or work colleague has spoken to you with concern and caution. But, there are many questions you can ask yourself, or others may ask you. Some include:

  • Have you ever tried to stop drinking for a week or longer but only lasted a few days?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you trouble at home?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you trouble with your job?
  • Have you ever felt the need to have a drink in the morning to curb shakiness
  • Do you have blackouts?

You can use screening tools such as CAGE

  • Have you ever felt the need to cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves (an eye-opener)?

Help Is Available

At The Encino Recovery and Detox Center, we don’t just treat addiction; we nurture the spirit, heal the mind, and empower individuals to reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one is on the precipice, seeking a way out of the darkness of alcohol addiction, remember that help is just a call away. Your journey to wellness, purpose, and a brighter tomorrow begins with that first step.


Alcohol’s Effects on Health. Research-based information on drinking and its impact. 2022. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

How Long Does It Take Your Liver to Detox From Alcohol?. 2023. Cleveland Clinic.

Gonzales M. 2023. How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System (Blood, Urine and Saliva)?

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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