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How Long Does It Take For Alcohol To Wear Off?

Everyone processes alcohol differently based on various factors. The rate at which your body metabolizes alcohol determines how long it takes for you to get drunk and sober up.

Most people feel the effects of alcohol in their bodies for approximately 12 hours. As their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises and decreases, they experience drunkenness that fades into a hangover. Many factors affect how long alcohol stays in your system, including:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Stomach content when consuming alcoholic drinks
  • Medications
  • Liver health
  • Speed at which alcohol was consumed
  • How much alcohol was consumed

Alcohol Effects & Hangovers

Everyone experiences drunkenness differently, but in general, certain things occur when a person's alcohol consumption is too high. For example, as your BAC level drops after an alcohol binge, you’ll likely experience:

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

People who have been drinking heavily for an extended period might experience withdrawal symptoms even after the initial hangover passes.

SUMMARY

The length of time alcohol stays in the system is different for everyone. It is influenced by factors such as age, weight, current health state, and many more. To avoid the negative effects of alcohol, drink moderately.

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Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and Sobering Up

Several factors determine a person’s BAC and how long it takes to sober up. This means two people can consume the same amount of alcohol but experience different effects. Factors that determine a person’s BAC include:

  • Number of drinks consumed and alcohol content of those drinks
  • Amount of time it takes to consume drinks
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Medications
  • Whether or not drinks were consumed on an empty stomach

Most adults have only a mild impairment or less when their BAC is .08 or lower. This is why .08 is set as the legal limit by many states when it comes to drinking and driving. Once someone reaches this point, he or she is considered inebriated and unable to operate a vehicle safely.

Between .10 and .12 BAC, motor coordination and judgment become significantly impaired. Most people are noticeably intoxicated at this level. Between .13 and .20, a person has complete impairment of motor control, blurred vision, major loss of balance, and might be described as “sloppy.”

At .25 to .30 BAC, a person is usually severely intoxicated and will experience mental confusion, nausea, vomiting, and more. Higher BAC levels than this could result in loss of consciousness, coma, and possibly death.

SUMMARY

Blood alcohol concetration (BAC) is a percentage of how much alcohol is present in the bloodstream. The legal limit for drinking and driving is .08. Anything higher than this would result in impaired judgment and coordination.

Factors That Determine How Long It Takes to Sober Up

The length of time it takes to sober up depends on how long it takes your body to metabolize alcohol. Most people feel normal within several hours, depending on how much they drank.

People who have an alcohol use disorder experience “sobering up” differently. It could be weeks or more before they begin to feel like themselves again. Even if they detox and there is no more alcohol in their system, it will take time to adjust. The amount of time it takes someone with an AUD to sober up is affected by:

  • How long they’ve been drinking excessively
  • Severity of their AUD symptoms
  • Severity of their withdrawal symptoms during detox 

What Is The Quickest Way To Get Sober?

Can a cold shower sober you up? Can drinking coffee while drunk sober you up?

Most people have heard these and other myths associated with drinking alcohol.

The truth is there is no sobering up or hangover cure. Eating food and hydrating help your body return to normal and feel better after a drinking binge, but time is the only true way to sober up.

In some cases, you might feel better by employing a mythical “cure” such as drinking coffee. It’s true, you might feel better because caffeine is a stimulant. However, it’s not helping your body process alcohol any faster. You are just counteracting alcohol’s tendency to make you feel tired.

Anything you do that counteracts the symptoms of drunkenness or a hangover gives the appearance of helping, but it’s just masking a symptom, not speeding up the process.

What Is the Best Way to Sober Up?

While there is no way to force the alcohol out of your system or to sober up fast, sleep is the best way to sober up. Sleep allows your body to rest and recover. Any time you're asleep helps your body break down alcohol.

Drinking plenty of water and going to sleep will help your body metabolize alcohol. You should wake up and feel more alert than you did before.

SUMMARY

Every person metabolizes alcohol differently. The older a person gets, the more difficult it is to metabolize alcohol. Thus, alcohol stays in the body longer. There are two known ways that help flush alcohol out of your system: sleep and hydrate.

Tips to Avoid Becoming Too Drunk

Changing the way you drink can help you avoid situations where you need to sober up quickly. Here are 5 ways you can avoid getting too drunk:

1. Count your drinks

It's easy to lose track of the amount of alcohol you've consumed. Especially if you're playing drinking games or changing locations frequently. Tracking the number of drinks you've had can help keep you from getting too drunk. It can also help you improve your drinking habits.

You can keep track of your drinks on a piece of paper, or use an app on your phone, such as DrinkControl or IntelliDrink.

2. Measure your drinks

If you're drinking mixed drinks or cocktails, be sure to measure your drinks. A standard drink of liquor is 1.5 oz of an 80-proof spirit. Free pours and "double" shots will get you intoxicated much more quickly.

A standard drink of wine is 4-ounces, and a standard drink of beer is 12-ounces of a four percent alcohol. If you have a generous pour of wine, or a craft beer with nine percent alcohol, you're consuming more than one drink.

3. Slow down

It takes your body at least one hour to process a drink. Drinking more than one drink per hour will likely make you impaired, even if you don't realize it. It's best to take small sips, interact with friends, and do activities other than just drink while consuming alcohol.

4. Alternate with water

An easy trick to reduce the amount you drink is to alternate each drink with a glass of water. Many people use soda water as a non-alcoholic beverage to sip on between drinks. This gives your liver time to metabolize alcohol and reduces the amount of alcohol you consume.

5. Eat snacks

Eating snacks can help you slow down your alcohol consumption. Take a break from drinking and eat some food. This will give your body a chance to metabolize alcohol.

SUMMARY

If you can't avoid alcohol drinking, learn to drink smart. Counting and measuring your drinks, drinking slowly, eating snacks, and drinking alternately with water will help you avoid becoming drunk.

Alcohol Use Statistics

85.6

Percent

Of Americans ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol in their lifetime.

25.8

Percent

Of Americans ages 18 and older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the last month.

14.5

Million

people have alcohol use disorder (AUD).

How to Sober Up: Common Questions and Answers

How much does your BAC drop per hour?

Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) drops .015-.017% per hour.

How long does it take for BAC to go to 0?

After a night of heavy drinking, it can take your body more than 18 hours to completely sober up. For example, if you had an alcohol level of .20%, it would take your body over 13 hours to reach a BAC of 0.

However, if you only had one drink, your maximum BAC would be about .02% and your alcohol level would be about zero within one hour.

Does eating sober you up?

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

How do I know if I'm sober enough to drive?

When you can drive after drinking alcohol depends on how much you consume. If you had one standard drink, your BAC should return to 0 within one to two hours.

However, if your BAC is .20% or higher, it can take 13 hours or more to sober up. Therefore, you should not drive until it wears off completely to prevent drunk driving consequences.

Can you sober up instantly?

No. There is no way to speed up how quickly your liver breaks down the alcohol in your blood. You have to let the alcohol run its course.

Does water sober you up faster?

For every standard alcoholic drink consumed, you should drink one 8 ounce glass of water. Drinking water prevents dehydration and limits how much alcohol you drink, leading to slower impairment. Water does not cure "drunkenness" but it does help with hangovers.

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Resources

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Corinne O’Keefe Osborn. “How to Sober Up.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 31 July 2018, www.healthline.com/health/how-to-sober-up#myths.

“It Takes Time to Sober Up | University Health Service.” Uhs.Umich.Edu, uhs.umich.edu/time-to-sober-up

Sweeny, K., & Krizan, Z. (2013). Sobering up: A quantitative review of temporal declines in expectations. Psychological Bulletin, 139(3), 702–724. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029951, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-25378-001?doi=1

Hopkins, Matt, and Paul Sparrow. “Sobering up: Arrest Referral and Brief Intervention for Alcohol Users in the Custody Suite.” Criminology & Criminal Justice, vol. 6, no. 4, Nov. 2006, pp. 389–410, doi:10.1177/1748895806068576. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1748895806068576

Horder, Jeremy. “Sobering up? The Law Commission on Criminal Intoxication.” JSTOR, The Modern Law Review, July 1995, www.jstor.org/stable/1096461.

Jennings-Ingle, Sandra. “The Sobering Facts Alcohol Withdrawal - ResearchGate.” Research Gate, Nursing Made Incredibly Easy, Jan. 2007, www.researchgate.net/publication/232138969_The_sobering_facts_alcohol_withdrawal.

Keller, Kimberly S. “Sobering up Daubert: Recent Issues Arising in Alcohol-Related Expert Testimony.” HeinOnline, St. Mary's University School of Law, 2004, heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals%2Fstexlr46&div=15.

Alcohol facts and statistics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), February 2020, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

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