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How Long Does It Take To Sober Up After Drinking?

Everyone reacts to alcohol differently, so sobering up may not look the same from one person to the next. Whether it's a casual drink at a social gathering or a night of heavy drinking, the effects of alcohol vary widely based on individual factors. Many factors come into play when you drink and how the alcohol will affect you.

The body's typical rate of expelling alcohol is around .015% per hour. This rate is the same for everyone, regardless of age, weight, gender, and size. This is equivalent to .25 to .30 ounces of ethanol — around half to one drink of alcohol per hour.

From the occasional sip of a standard drink to instances of binge drinking, understanding the dynamics of alcohol in your body is crucial. The time it takes to sober up mostly depends on how much alcohol they consume and how fast they consume it. Keep reading to learn how long it takes to sober up after drinking!

How Much Alcohol Do You Need To Raise Your BAC?

Many factors go into alcohol consumption and your reaction to it. Age, height, weight, size, and metabolism all impact how much alcohol it takes to become intoxicated. Some people will feel their first drink, while others may need three to feel tipsy.

Just because you may not feel completely inebriated does not mean your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) isn’t rising. Similarly, if you don’t drink often, you might feel it more intensely even though your BAC is not above the limit. The more alcohol you consume, the higher your BAC will be.

How Does Alcohol Raise Your BAC?

For every standard alcoholic beverage you consume in an hour, your BAC could rise between .02% and .05%. Weight and gender tend to have more of an impact on how quickly someone’s BAC levels rise.

For instance, a 115-pound woman might raise her BAC by .05% for every drink they have, while a 220-pound man will only raise his by .03%. The more you drink in an hour, the higher your BAC will rise.

If you know you’ll be driving and are planning to have alcohol while out, you should limit yourself to one to two drinks over a two-hour period. Most people will also make sure to eat while drinking or have a glass of water to sober up if they know they are driving.

However, all you need is a BAC level of .08% to be over the legal limit when driving to be arrested. That’s hardly a drink a half in one hour for a small woman and no more than two for a larger man.

Understanding Standard Drink Sizes and Alcohol Content

Sobering up is not just a function of time — it's also about understanding what we consume. A “standard drink” in the United States typically contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol, found in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

These measurements provide a framework for understanding how much alcohol we're actually consuming, which is crucial in gauging how long it will take to sober up. However, not all drinks are created equal.

The alcohol content can vary dramatically between different types of beverages. Some craft beers can have twice the alcohol content of a standard beer, and the same goes for wines and spirits. This variance means that one drink in your hand could be equivalent to two standard drinks in terms of alcohol content.

The relationship between the drink in your glass and your BAC is a crucial one. As you consume alcohol, your BAC rises, and understanding this relationship helps in making informed decisions about drinking.

It's a delicate balance, as exceeding certain BAC levels can impair judgment, coordination, and reaction times, which is why understanding standard drink sizes and their alcohol content becomes a cornerstone in responsible drinking.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol and Binge Drinking?

People turn to alcohol for various reasons, from celebrating special occasions to unwinding after a long day. In many cultures, it's a social staple, a way to connect and share moments. But, it's important to be aware of how alcohol, especially when consumed in excess through binge drinking, can impact both physical and mental health.

Initially, alcohol often serves as a mood enhancer, providing a sense of relaxation and euphoria. It's not uncommon for individuals to use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or social discomfort. However, this relief is temporary and can lead to a false sense of dependency on alcohol for emotional management.

Physically, heavy drinking takes a toll. It can lead to a range of negative effects, from short-term impacts like nausea and hangovers to long-term health issues, including liver damage and heart problems. Alcohol can also impair judgment and coordination, leading to accidents and injuries.

Mentally, the effects can be equally challenging. Drinking alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, which can lead to fatigue and a diminished ability to handle stress. This cycle can create a reliance on alcohol, as individuals might continue drinking to avoid these discomforts, not realizing that alcohol is contributing to their persistence.

In fact, binge drinking can acutely impair cognitive functions, leading to memory lapses, poor decision-making, and, in extreme cases, blackouts. These experiences can have lasting emotional and psychological impacts, contributing to feelings of guilt, regret, and lowered self-esteem.

Understanding these consequences is vital. Recognizing the reasons behind alcohol consumption and its potential negative impacts empowers individuals to make more informed decisions about their drinking habits, especially when considering the process of sobering up and maintaining overall well-being.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Depending on how you are testing for alcohol in the system, there can be a variety of lengths of time it could be detectable. If pulled over while driving, a cop might ask you to do a breathalyzer or blood test.

There are four main ways to test for alcohol in your system: urine, blood, saliva, and hair. Alcohol will show up on these tests for only a certain amount of time after drinking.

  • Urine: Alcohol will usually show up on a urine test for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours, but sometimes only eight hours, depending on how much you drank.

  • Blood: Up to 90 days.

  • Saliva: Between two and 48 hours.

  • Hair: Up to 90 days.

Driving After Drinking

So you might wonder: when is it okay to drive after drinking? The short answer to this is: never. It’s not in your best interest to get behind the wheel even six hours after taking your last drink if you’ve surpassed the legal limit in one night.

This means that if you only had one drink in one hour, with food and water, you are likely good to go with a BAC that is below the legal limit. If you have had multiple drinks over a short period, your BAC is likely too high to drive yourself anywhere safely.

If you’ve been drinking and aren’t sure if you’re good to drive, the safest thing you can do is call up a car service or friend to take you home. Better safe than sorry!

Sobering Up: How Long It Takes

Sobering up and lowering your BAC go hand-in-hand, but many alcohol users don’t think of it that way. Most people begin to feel like they are sober before their blood alcohol levels are normal. You may feel fine to drive the next morning, but you could get pulled over and still test above the legal limit.

Some factors impact how long it takes a certain individual to actually sober up. Knowing what these are can help you make informed decisions when drinking.

Factors for Sobering Up

When you stop drinking, your body metabolizes the alcohol you’ve consumed. There’s no real way to speed up the process of sobering up; it simply takes as long as it takes!

The main factors that contribute to how long it takes for someone to sober up are:

  • How many drinks you had: The amount of alcohol you consume impacts your blood alcohol content (BAC), and the more you drink, the longer it takes for your body to metabolize the alcohol and sober up.

  • How quickly you drank them: Rapidly drinking alcohol can lead to a quicker increase in BAC, causing more pronounced effects of alcohol and potentially extending the time needed to sober up.

  • Whether you ate before drinking: Eating before or while drinking can slow the absorption of alcohol, potentially reducing impairment and altering how long alcohol stays in your system.

  • How frequently you drink: Regular substance use can affect how your body processes alcohol; habitual drinkers might find their bodies metabolize alcohol differently than occasional drinkers.

  • Gender: Women tend to have a higher BAC for longer than men, mainly due to differences in body composition and alcohol metabolism, affecting the duration of sobering up.

  • Overall health and well-being: A person's general health impacts how efficiently their body processes alcohol, with healthier individuals potentially experiencing shorter sobering up times.

  • If a person has alcohol use disorder or not: Individuals who struggle with substance abuse may experience longer or more complex sobering up periods, as their bodies might be more accustomed to the presence of alcohol.

Many people view sobering up as how they are feeling after a night of drinking. Some people claim that something traumatic happening can “sober them up” within minutes, but this is not possible.

What is happening is that cortisol or adrenaline can make you feel sober when you’re not. Your body will metabolize the alcohol at the same rate, no matter who you are.

Calculating the Time You Need

The first step in figuring out how long you’ll need to sober up is to multiply the number of drinks you’ve had in a night by .03%. If you had eight beers in two hours, your BAC would be .24% minus .030% for the two hours your body was able to metabolize the alcohol at the rate of .015% an hour. That means a person who has had eight drinks in two hours likely has a BAC of .21%.

To know when your BAC will be below the legal limit of .08%, you’ll subtract .015% every hour. The following is a chart that explains how a person with .21% BAC level will metabolize the alcohol in their body as time passes.

At 9 a.m., you will have reached below the legal limit, which means you shouldn’t be driving a car before then. The alcohol won’t exit your system completely until 2 p.m.

Myths of Sobering Up

Many people will give you their tips and tricks on how to sober up fast, but they might not be as reliable as you think. Many old wives' tales get passed around that don’t have the effect that you think they do.

  • Drinking water: Drinking water won’t lower your BAC, but it will help you to hydrate your body as you drink. This might affect your hangover the next day by reducing the symptoms.

  • Eating: Eating will not sober you up. If you eat before you start drinking, it might take a bit longer for you to feel the effects of the alcohol and reduce your likelihood of a hangover.

  • Drinking coffee: Your BAC will remain the same, but you may feel slightly more alert.

  • Cold showers: Similarly to drinking coffee, a cold shower can help make you feel more alert but doesn’t lower your BAC levels.

  • Exercise: Sweating can help you feel better during your hangover but won’t change your BAC levels.

  • Vomiting: You are likely to feel better after a night of drinking when you vomit, but it won’t change your BAC levels.

In separating fact from fiction, it's important to remember that while these measures might offer temporary relief or a psychological boost, they don't accelerate the body's process of sobering up.

The reality is that sobering up is a gradual process, and your body needs adequate time to metabolically clear the alcohol. This awareness is key to making responsible choices and ensuring both your safety and the well-being of others after drinking.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

While the process of sobering up after a night of drinking varies for each individual, taking time and patience, there's a more serious consideration for those who have been drinking heavily over a longer period: alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the range of symptoms that can occur when a person who has been drinking heavily for a prolonged period suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol intake. It's a signal from the body, indicating its adjustment to the absence of alcohol.

What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Feel Like?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms vary widely among individuals, as people experience alcohol's effects differently. They can range from mild symptoms like headaches and nausea — akin to hangover symptoms — to more severe ones like tremors, anxiety, and, in extreme cases, seizures.

While these symptoms are part of the body's natural detoxification process, it’s important to seek medical attention if experiencing severe symptoms such as seizures, hallucinations, or extreme confusion, as these can be signs of a serious condition known as delirium tremens.

Detox, the period during which the body clears itself of alcohol, is a critical step for those looking to overcome dependence on alcohol. This process can be challenging, not just physically but emotionally too, as cravings can often be intense. These cravings are a natural response of the body readjusting to the absence of alcohol.

For many, especially those with a long history of heavy drinking or an alcohol use disorder (AUD), addiction treatment programs or support groups can be incredibly helpful. Seeking healthcare during this phase is about safety, support, and guidance through a significant life change. Medical professionals can provide medication to ease withdrawal symptoms, making the detox process more manageable.

Remember, navigating the path through alcohol withdrawal and detox is an intensely personal journey. It takes time, and each person's recovery journey is unique. Yet, there's a universal element in this process: the invaluable role of self-compassion and the presence of a supportive community.

Find Support Through Sober Sidekick

Not everyone is aware that even if you feel sober, your BAC could still put you in dangerous positions. Dealing with alcohol addiction and maintaining a normal life can be difficult and somewhat impossible to do on your own.

That is not to say you can’t do it — we believe that addiction can’t stand in the face of community and connection.

Support in these times is essential, and Sober Sidekick is here to help. By downloading the app on Android or iPhone, you can join a community of individuals looking to be sober and stay sober. Send words of encouragement, update everyone on your journey, and learn tips on maintaining sobriety — all at the tip of your fingers.


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