You might be surprised at just how fast alcohol begins to take effect. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take that first sip. The effects kick in within about 10 minutes.
The effects and how pronounced they are vary from person to person, but alcohol’s initial effects kick in pretty darn quick, even if you don’t immediately notice them.
Experts typically talk about alcohol in terms of standard drinks. Alcohol content varies significantly between different drinks and brands, so having a standardized idea of what’s in a typical drink helps keep everyone on the same page.
In the United States, one standard drink contains approximately 0.6 ounces, or 14 grams, of pure alcohol.
Common standard drinks
Each of the following is considered one standard drink:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of table wine
- 3 to 4 ounces of fortified wine, such as port or sherry
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, such as vodka or whiskey
Your body absorbs alcohol into your bloodstream much faster when you drink on an empty stomach.
Once you swallow, the liquid goes to your stomach, where roughly 20 percent of it is absorbed into your blood. From there, it passes to your small intestine, where the rest is absorbed into your bloodstream.
If you have food in your stomach, it’ll prevent the alcohol from passing into your small intestine too quickly. The longer the alcohol stays in your stomach, the slower the onset of its effects.
Drinking on an empty stomach causes this whole process to happen much faster. This intensifies the effects and makes them come on faster. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) peaks about 1 hour after you drink on an empty stomach.
The number of drinks you have and whether or not you have food in your belly aren’t the only variables when it comes to how quickly alcohol takes effect.
Here’s a look at some other factors that play a role.
What you drink
The type of drink you consume makes a difference, too. Carbonated drinks, such as champagne or a whiskey soda, enter your system
On an empty stomach, a drink with 20 to 30 percent alcohol absorbs the quickest.
That means something like port, which has 20 percent alcohol, would raise your BAC faster than beer, which has significantly less alcohol, but also faster than something like vodka, which has 40 percent alcohol.
How you drink
Yes, how you drink matters. If you chug back a drink, those big gulps will get more alcohol into your body a lot faster. Sipping, on the other hand, allows the effects to kick in more gradually.
Your biological sex
Females metabolize alcohol at a different rate than males, even if they weigh the same.
- Females have less body water to dilute alcohol, resulting in a higher concentration of blood alcohol.
- Females typically have higher body fat, and fat retains alcohol.
- Women produce less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme the liver releases to break down alcohol.
The more you weigh, the more space alcohol has to spread out. Diffusing the alcohol throughout a bigger space means you end up with a lower BAC.
Certain prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and recreational drugs can have adverse interactions when paired with alcohol. Be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before drinking.
Your menstrual cycle
Who knew? The rate at which your body absorbs alcohol changes throughout your menstrual cycle.
You’ll absorb it faster during ovulation and just before your period.
It depends on a lot of the factors discussed above as well as how much you’ve had.
Alcohol is removed from your blood at a rate of around 3.3 millimoles per hour.
To put this into perspective, this is how long the following drinks remain in your system:
- small shot of liquor: 1 hour
- pint of beer: 2 hours
- large glass of wine: 3 hours
No one wants to be the person who went a little too hard.
Here are some best practices to avoid getting too drunk too fast:
- Eat at least 1 hour before drinking.
- Sip your drinks slowly.
- Avoid shots, which you’re likely to down rather than sip.
- Don’t drink more than one standard drink per hour.
- Alternate between alcohol and nonalcoholic drinks, preferably water.
- Limit or avoid carbonated drinks, like champagne, sparkling wine, and cocktails mixed with soda.
- Sit down when drinking, since doing it while standing tends to make people drink faster.
Alcohol kicks in pretty quick. You’ll typically start feeling the effects within about 10 minutes or so, depending on the strength of your drink and how fast you drink it.