You’ve knocked back a few drinks and things start looking a little fuzzy. How long until it all comes back into focus? It’s hard to say.
Your liver can metabolize about one standard drink per hour, but that doesn’t mean that your buzz will wear off that quickly. How alcohol affects you, how drunk you get, and how long it lasts depends on several factors.
Not everyone defines drunk the same way. You may think that you’re sober once you’re able to walk in a straight line, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t drunk. It all comes down to your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
BAC is the amount of alcohol in your blood compared to the amount of water in your blood. In the United States, you’re considered legally drunk if you have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter (dL).
How much alcohol gets you to that concentration or higher, how long it stays in your system, and the duration of the effects vary based on a range of factors, including your body composition and how quickly you’re drinking.
Generally, though, most people consider themselves drunk when they experience:
- impaired judgment
- lowered alertness
- muscle incoordination
- slurred speech
- trouble concentrating
You can’t really predict how long you’ll stay drunk, and try as you might to stop being drunk faster, there’s nothing you can do to lower your BAC once you’ve started drinking.
Here’s a look at all the variables that affect how long drunkenness lasts.
How much you’ve had
How much alcohol you consume plays a role in how long you’ll stay drunk.
Alcohol enters your bloodstream
Keep in mind that it isn’t just the number of drinks you have, but also the type, since some bevvies have higher alcohol content than others.
How fast you knock ’em back
Your body needs time to metabolize each drink. The faster you consume your drinks, the higher your BAC. And the higher your BAC, the longer you’ll stay drunk.
Your body weight
When it comes to booze, size totally matters because it determines the amount of space that alcohol can diffuse in the body.
This means that if you go out drinking with a friend who weighs more than you do, your BAC will be higher and it’ll take you longer to sober up even if you both drink the same amount.
Sex always makes it into the mix, doesn’t it? In this instance, we’re talking about your biological sex.
Males and females metabolize alcohol differently because of differences in body composition. Females tend to have higher body fat percentages, and fat retains alcohol, leading to higher BAC and staying drunk longer.
Female bodies also tend to contain less water to dilute alcohol and produce less of the enzyme dehydrogenase, which helps the liver break down alcohol.
What’s in your belly
Whether or not you’ve eaten affects how quickly alcohol enters your bloodstream.
Having food in your stomach slows absorption, while drinking on an empty stomach has the opposite effect. The faster alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream, the higher your BAC, and the longer it’ll take to sober up — especially if you keep drinking.
Drinking regularly overtime can lead to developing a tolerance to alcohol. This means that your body adapts to having alcohol, so you need more to feel the same effects that you did before.
Heavy drinkers can function with higher amounts of alcohol in their bodies than those who don’t drink as often, but this doesn’t mean they’re not drunk.
Just because you can “hold your drink” and don’t feel intoxicated doesn’t mean that you’re not. Again, it all comes down to your BAC.
BTW, tolerance often goes hand-in-hand with dependence, which is one of the stages of alcohol misuse. If you find that you need more alcohol to feel its effects, it might be time to take a closer look at your drinking habits.
For added support and guidance, consider reaching out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357).
Certain medical conditions, especially those that affect kidney or liver function, can affect how quickly alcohol is metabolized and how it affects you.
If you’re looking to sober up faster, you’re out of luck. There’s no way to lower your BAC other than just waiting it out.
That said, there are things that you can do to make yourself feel better after having a few too many.
To shake off some of the effects of being drunk, try:
- Sleeping. A nap can do wonders when you’re drunk. Time is the only thing that can get your BAC down, so you might as well spend that time ensuring that you feel refreshed and alert later.
- Exercising. Some
older studiessuggest that exercise may help speed up rate of metabolism of alcohol, but this has yet to be conclusively proven. Still, physical activity does increase alertness and energy levels, and can also improve mood, making it worth a try if being drunk has you in a funk.
- Hydrating. Drinking water and other nonalcoholic beverages won’t help get the alcohol out of your bloodstream faster, but you may feel less sluggish and avoid a wicked hangover. Even better, start hydrating before your first alcoholic drink.
- Drinking coffee. Coffee is known to increase alertness. Having a cup or two when you’re intoxicated can help if you’re feeling groggy.
It can’t be stressed enough: Feeling sober doesn’t mean you aren’t still impaired. Even if you’re feeling totally like your usual self, your BAC may still be over the legal limit. Plus, your reaction time and general alertness likely still aren’t great, even if you feel fine.
The risk of an accident increases significantly when you drink. While a BAC of .08 or over can get you into legal trouble, any amount of alcohol can interfere with your ability to drive safely.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1,878 people were killed in 2018 in alcohol-related crashes involving drivers with BACs of .01 to .07 g/dL.
If you’re questioning whether enough time has passed since your last drink and if it’s safe to drive, err on the side of caution for yourself and others on the road and find a ride.
There are so many variables at play when it comes to BAC that you can’t predict or control how long you’ll feel drunk or actually be above the legal limit. Your best bet is to ride out your buzz while your body does its thing.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.