how long does being drunk last

How Long Does Being Drunk Last?

Maybe it’s your first time drinking alcohol – and maybe you are curious as to how long you are going to be drunk. Well, that would depend on how many you drink, among many other factors. Read on below to learn more about the factors that can affect the length of your drunkenness.

The Metabolism of Alcohol in the Body - How long will it take you to sober up?

The Metabolism of Alcohol in the Body

Most of the alcohol you drink heads straight to the stomach – and the small intestines right thereafter. It is then absorbed into the blood and shuttled onto the liver, the primary organ for alcohol metabolism. Here, the alcohol is broken down by alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that helps transform alcohol into acetaldehyde. This is then converted to acetate, which can be broken down into water and carbon dioxide – substances that can be excreted by the body easily. 

How Long Can Alcohol Stay in the Bloodstream? 

The liver can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol at a certain time – and that is one unit of alcohol (10 ml or 8 grams) per hour. 

For reference, one unit refers to one small shot of liquor with 40% alcohol. The standard bottle of beer (330 ml) that has 5% alcohol comprises of 1.7 units. 

To wit:

  • If you drink a pint of low-strength lager – which is equivalent to 2 units of alcohol – your body is going to need 2 hours before it can completely metabolize the liquor
  • Should you consume a large serving of red wine – which is equivalent to 3 units of alcohol – it will take your body approximately 3 hours to metabolize that drink. 

So what happens to the alcohol that cannot be metabolized by the body for the meantime? They are left circulating in your bloodstream, rendering you ‘drunk’ until the liver is finally able to metabolize it. The body can only excrete a minimal amount of alcohol – and that is 0.015 grams/100 ml per hour. With that being said, the more you drink, the more time you are going to need to get sober. 

What Affects Alcohol Absorption and Metabolism? 

As has been mentioned, the liver can only metabolize one unit of alcohol per hour. This is the standard, although it may be faster – or slower – depending on the presence of the following 5 factors:

1. Gender 

The women are at the losing end of this spectrum, as they tend to absorb alcohol faster than men. As per the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) chart, a 140-pound woman could easily register a BAC of 0.07 after taking 2 drinks. On the other hand, it takes at least 3 drinks for a 140-pound man to have an almost-similar BAC of 0.08. 

As to why ladies absorb alcohol faster, researchers attribute it to several causes. For one, ladies have a smaller water concentration in their bodies – so alcohol cannot be ‘diluted’ well in the body. 

Alcohol dehydrogenase action in female stomachs is said to be slower as well, which is why more amounts of alcohol get to enter the bloodstream. 

Because women tend to get drunk faster – even at low amounts – this puts them at a higher risk of developing alcoholic liver disease, heart failure, and brain damage, to name a few. 

2. Body Weight

When it comes to drinking, it’s better to be heftier than to be thin. The more weight you have, the more areas alcohol can circulate inside your body. This explains why after 4 drinks, a 240-pound man only has a BAC of .06. A 120-pound man, on the other hand, is expected to have double the rate at .12. With that being said, if you and your ‘slender’ friend drink the same amount of liquor, chances are he’s more likely to get drunk faster. Compared to you, he’ll most likely be buzzed for a longer period as well.

3. Food Intake

The food you ate before drinking – or the lack thereof – affects the absorption process. If you haven’t eaten anything – or if you ate just a little – then your stomach can empty itself immediately into the small intestines. Such leads to the faster absorption of alcohol into your system. 

With that being said, if you consume a rich meal before drinking – or while drinking – the slower the alcohol absorption process will be. That’s because it will take the stomach quite some time to digest the food – and deliver it to the small intestines. 

Such was proven in the study of Jones and Jonsson. According to the results, the men who a hefty meal before drinking absorbed alcohol 3 times slower than those who drank on an empty stomach.  Results also show that the men who ate were able to eliminate alcohol at a faster rate of 50% – compared to the opposing group at only 36%.

4. Medication Use

The intake of certain medications can make you drunk for a longer time. According to Weathermon and Crabb, drugs such as Ranitidine, Nizatidine, and Cimetidine can reduce the first-pass metabolism in the stomach. This pertains to the stomach’s ability to metabolize a small amount of alcohol. Unfortunately, the said drugs can interfere with the said process.  

Because the stomach is unable to metabolize some amounts of alcohol, the liver has to deal with more amounts of alcohol. As a result, you get drunk longer – as it has no choice but to let the remaining alcohol stay longer in the circulation.

Aspirin and other anti-ulcer medications, on the other hand, can inhibit the action of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Expectedly, takers of these drugs usually end up more buzzed compared to their non-medicating comrades. 

5. Drinking Habits

Chugging can make you drunk for a longer time. If you think that drinking a large amount of alcohol right away can make you less drunk, then you’re wrong. 

As has been mentioned, the liver can only metabolize a certain amount per hour. If you go past the threshold, you’ll end up straining your body. Your cognitive and motor functions will be direly affected – you might even die along the way! 

With that being said, if you want to feel ‘less drunk,’ know that it’s better to sip alcohol slowly.  Not only will this give you some time to enjoy your drink, but it will also buy your liver some time to metabolize alcohol efficiently. 

Wrapping It Up

Many factors can lengthen or shorten your drunken state. The volume that you consume, your gender, weight, drinking habits, food, and medication intake all play a role in your body’s metabolic processes. So the next time you go out for another drink, keep these factors in mind. These will help you pace your drinking – so you don’t end up wasted, unable to remember last night’s events. 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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