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How Long Does It Take to Become Sober After Getting Drunk?

Written by Gerard Bullen | Edited By Editorial Team

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Hundreds of thousands of Americans began 2022 the way they begin most years – with massive hangovers from drinking too much alcohol than is good for them. Many of them will be wondering the same thing: “How long am I going to be feeling like this?” and “How long will it take for me to sober up?

How Long Does It Take for Alcohol to Leave Your System?

Although it can be affected by several different factors, most people “sober up” at around a similar rate: 0.015% per hour, which equates to 0.25-0.30 ounces of ethanol, or between half to one standard drink of alcohol every hour.

The actual time it takes for someone to sober up is dependent on the amount of alcohol they consumed and the speed at which they consumed the alcohol.

However, the actual rate for the metabolism of alcohol from the bloodstream of each individual can be affected by the following factors:

  • Their age
  • Their weight
  • Their stomach contents (while drinking alcohol)
  • Any medications they may be using, and
  • The health of their liver

Most hangovers last for the majority of the next day, with the uncomfortable symptoms slowly disappearing during that time.

The only sure way of avoiding a hangover from alcohol is to drink moderately or, simply, not at all.

Photo of young people drinking alcohol outdoors

The Effects of Drinking Alcohol: Drunkenness & Hangovers

Alcohol is undoubtedly America’s favorite drug, and a huge swathe of its population are regular alcohol drinkers.

A nationwide survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association in February 2021 found that nearly 1 in 4 adults reported drinking more during the past 12 months to manage stress caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Of particular concern, it was found that the largest increases in alcohol consumption were seen among women with children younger than 5 (323%), Black women (173%), Black men (173%), and Hispanic women (148%).

Additionally, another new study by nonprofit research institute RTI International, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), found that general alcohol consumption across the U.S. increased by 39% from February to November 2020.

Binge-drinking increased 30% during the same period.

What is Binge Drinking?

BINGE DRINKING

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above.”

This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in around 2 hours.

Photo of two people drinking tea

What Happens When Alcohol is Consumed?

Everyone experiences the effects of drinking alcohol differently. However, certain things generally occur when a person’s alcohol consumption is too high, including drunkenness and hangovers.

Alcohol’s effects on the body, and importantly, the brain, begin when the first sip is taken.

Here are the most common temporary effects you will notice when consuming alcohol:

Effects of Alcohol on The Body & The Brain

  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness
  • Mild euphoria
  • Giddiness
  • Mood changes
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impulsiveness
  • Slow / slurred speech
  • Nausea / Vomiting
  • Head pain
  • Loss of coordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of consciousness or memory loss: “blackout”
  • Difficulty focusing or making decisions
  • Changes in hearing, vision, and perception

Several of these effects will appear relatively quickly, often after the first drink, such as a more relaxed mood or lowered inhibitions.

However, other effects, such as slurred speech or the loss of consciousness, normally develop after several drinks.

Effects directly related to dehydration (a common side effect of drinking alcohol), such as nausea, headache, and dizziness, may not appear for a few hours and mostly depend on what you drink and how much, and if you also drink water.

Although the effects of alcohol are temporary, several of them can lead to dangerous or unwanted situations.

For example, impulsiveness, a loss of coordination, and changes in mood can affect both judgment and behavior, which could include accidents (such as automobile crashes), injuries, and unsafe sex.

What is the Scientific Advice for Drinking Alcohol?

According to the ​​2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended: “To drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.”

Drinking Guide

Guide to Alcohol Content of Different Beverages (by Unit of Alcohol)

Measuring Alcohol Consumption: Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Alcohol consumption is measured – in both the field of medicine and the U.S. legal system – by an individual’s blood concentration level – known as BAC.

BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT (BAC)

BAC is defined as “the percentage of alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) in a person’s bloodstream. It is calculated in grams per 100 mL of blood, so a BAC of 0.08 means your blood is 0.08% alcohol by volume.

BAC can be measured from either blood, breath, or a urine test.

In the case of a Breathalyzer™, the average blood-to-breath ratio is legally considered to be about 2100:1. Therefore, this means that 1 mL of blood has 2100 times more ethanol than 1 mL of air from the lungs.

Photo of a man opening a beer bottle inside a car

Driving Under The Influence (DUI)

In U.S. legal terms, the BAC for being charged with driving under the influence (DUI) is considered to be 0.08%.

An individual with a BAC of 0.08% is considered inebriated and unable to operate a vehicle safely in the eyes of the law.

Many regular drinkers may not even feel any effects at this level of alcohol consumption; however, they will still have the same impairment as light to moderate drinkers.

Additionally:

  • BACs between 0.10 and 0.12 means motor coordination and judgment have become significantly impaired – most people are noticeably intoxicated at this level.
  • BACs between 0.13 and 0.20 means the individual has complete impairment of motor control, blurred vision, and a major loss of balance.
  • BACs between 0.25 and 0.30 means severe intoxication and mental confusion, with nausea, vomiting, and more.
  • BACs higher than 0.30 are considered dangerous, and an individual can suffer a loss of consciousness, alcohol poisoning, coma, and even death.

Furthermore, it is worth remembering that the number of drinks an individual consumes is not an accurate guide to their level of intoxication.

What Happens When Alcohol Consumption Stops?

Once alcohol consumption ends, the body will slowly start to metabolize the alcohol in the bloodstream, thereby steadily lowering the BAC. For someone who has consumed too much alcohol inevitably ends up with a hangover.

Hangovers: Signs & Symptoms

Commonly, people experience several of the following symptoms during this process:

  • Impaired cognitive functioning
  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Feelings of general malaise
  • Headache
  • Nausea or stomach ache
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme thirst
  • Racing heart, jitteriness, and sweating

Additionally, people who have been drinking heavily for an extended period often experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms even after their initial hangover passes.

Photo of a sick looking woman

Sobering Up After Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Contrary to popular belief, myths, and old wives’ tales, the process of sobering up from a night of excessive alcohol consumption can’t be speeded up with endless cups of black coffee, cold showers, or “the hair of the dog” – another drink of alcohol.

None of these will affect the time it takes for alcohol to leave your system and for you to feel better.

There is no fast or best method for sobering up, and there is no instant cure for a hangover. The only truth is this: it takes as long as it takes.

The answer to sobering up and getting over a hangover is time, and only time.

How to Prevent Hangovers – Produced by ACS Reactions

Hangover symptoms, however, can be eased by specific medications, such as headache tablets and something to settle the stomach, such as antacids, which work by neutralizing the stomach acid to relieve an upset stomach.

Additionally, eating food and drinking plenty of water to rehydrate can help your body return to normal.

The Power of Sleep

If there is a “best way” to sober up, it’s by sleeping. It won’t speed up the process whatsoever, but it will allow your body to rest and recover.

7 Ways to Avoid Getting Drunk & Morning-After Hangovers

If you can’t avoid drinking alcohol, you must learn to “drink smart.” Changing how you drink can help you avoid getting drunk and the morning-after hangover.

Here are our 7 ways to prevent alcohol intoxication or avoid getting too drunk on a night out:

  • Drink in moderation or consume no more than 1 drink per hour
  • Drink a glass of water after every drink or two
  • Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach
  • Avoid drinking games or attending events where there is pressure to drink a lot
  • Count exactly how many drinks you are consuming*
  • Avoid drinking hard liquor
  • Do not combine alcohol with other substances, including prescription medications

* You can even use a simple phone app now to keep an exact count of the number of drinks you consume. Apps such as DrinkControl or the University of Michigan’s Stay In The Blue will do this for you.

Are You Concerned About Your Alcohol Consumption?

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: 5th. Edition) states that you may have an alcohol use disorder if you find yourself experiencing two or more of the following during the previous month:

  • Drinking more or for longer than was intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop alcohol use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption
  • Craving alcohol
  • Failing to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite having social problems caused by the effects of alcohol
  • Important social, work or recreational activities are stopped or reduced because of alcohol use
  • Drinking in physically dangerous situations
  • Continuing to drink even though it is known to have negative effects on your health
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping alcohol use

Sobering Up: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • How much does your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) – the level of alcohol in your bloodstream – decrease every hour?

Your BAC drops at a rate of around 0.015 per hour.

  • How long does it take for your BAC to return to 0?

It all depends on the amount of alcohol you consume. For example, after a night of heavy drinking, it can take your body more than 18 hours to completely sober up.

So, if you had a BAC of 0.20, it would take your body over 13 hours to reach a BAC of 0, and if you only had one drink, your maximum BAC would be about 0.02%, and your alcohol level would be back to 0 in just over an hour.

  • Does eating sober you up?

Eating after drinking alcohol will not help sober you up any quicker or cure your hangover.

Food may make you feel better by providing nutrients to your body, but it will not affect your BAC. However, eating before or while drinking can help slow the absorption of alcohol.

  • How do I know if I’m sober enough to drive?

How you can drive after drinking alcohol depends completely on your consumption. If you had one standard drink, your BAC should return to 0 within 1-2 hours.

However, as mentioned previously, if your BAC is 0.20% or higher, it can take 13 hours or more to sober up.

To be safe, you shouldn’t drive until the alcohol in your blood has metabolized completely to prevent a DUI conviction.

  • Can you sober up instantly?

No, this is impossible. There is absolutely no way to speed up how quickly your liver breaks down the alcohol in your bloodstream. You have to let your body do the work and give it time.

  • Does water sober you up faster?

For every standard alcoholic drink you consume, you should drink 1 x 8-ounce glass of water to prevent dehydration.

Drinking water will also limit how much alcohol you drink, and it does help with the ensuing hangover.

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We offer an accredited intensive outpatient drug treatment program, helping our clients successfully recover from various substance addictions, including alcohol use disorder – commonly known as AUD or alcoholism.

At SpringBoard Recovery, we accept most major health insurance coverage. Our clients travel from all over the U.S. to receive personalized treatment with us, with many staying in our on-site, substance-free Recovery Housing accommodation.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

External Sources:

  • Bowling Green State University, Ohio. Alcohol Metabolism. 2022. Available at BGSU.edu.
  • American Psychological Association (APA). One Year On: Unhealthy Weight Gains, Increased Drinking Reported by Americans Coping with Pandemic Stress. March 2021. Available at APA.org.
  • RTI International. Trend of Increased Alcohol Consumption Held Steady as Pandemic Dragged On, New Survey Results Show. August 2021. Available at RTI.org.
  • Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Binge Drinking. December 2019. Available at CDC.gov.
  • ​​Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  • University of Texas, Austin, Texas. Blood Alcohol Concentration. 2022. Available at UTexas.edu.
  • YouTube. How to Prevent Hangovers, ACS Reactions. December 2015. Available at YouTube.com.
  • DrinkControl. DrinkControl App. 2022. Available at DrinkControlApp.com.
  • University of Michigan. Stay In The Blue App. 2022. Available at UHS.UMich.edu.
  • Google Books. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: 5th. Edition (DSM-5). 2022. Available at Google.com.

Author: Gerard Bullen

Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for many years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form, and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.

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