How Long Does it Take to Sober Up From Alcohol? 

How long it takes to sober up after drinking alcohol varies from person to person. However, the rate at which the body expels alcohol is always .015% per hour. This is the rate regardless of a person’s sex, size, or body type. But how much you drank does affect how long it takes to sober up. The more you drink the longer alcohol is in your body.

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In most cases, .015% is about one drink per hour. It would take about 1 to 2 hours for your body to be free of alcohol after a single bottle of beer or a standard glass of wine. 

How Long Does it Take to Sober Up to Drive?

Although most law enforcement officials recommend not driving after consuming any alcohol, the legal limit is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% in most states. It takes about one to three drinks for most people to have a BAC of .08% and be guilty of what is legally considered drunk driving.

Of course, if you’re out with friends having a few drinks, figuring out your BAC is probably the last thing on your mind. To determine if you are sober enough to drive, you need to multiply the number of drinks you’ve consumed by .03%.

Sober Up From Alcohol

Of course, if you’re out with friends having a few drinks, figuring out your BAC is probably the last thing on your mind. To determine if you are sober enough to drive, you need to multiply the number of drinks you’ve consumed by .03%.

Let’s say you drink five beers in about two hours, giving you a BAC of about .15% (it is a little lower because by the time you finish drinking, your body has metabolized a drink or two). Metabolizing the alcohol at .015% per hour, as everyone does, will take you approximately nine hours to be alcohol-free. Alcohol metabolism is the only factor that affects how quickly you sober up after you’ve begun drinking.

Legally, you don’t need to be alcohol-free to drive. However, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .15%. You’d need another five or six hours before your BAC is .08% (if that’s the legal BAC for driving in your state). You’ll likely begin to feel sober before that, but if subjected to a blood test, you’re at risk of getting ticketed.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

To get an idea of how long alcohol stays in your system, you need to consider the various types of BAC tests. Law enforcement usually administers a breathalyzer or blood test if you are pulled over, but these aren’t the only tests given for alcohol.

You can expect a positive result for approximately this many hours if you undergo any of the following tests:

  • Urine — up to 12 to 24 and up to 80 hours, depending on how recently and how much you drank
  • Saliva — up to 2 to 48 hours
  • Blood — up to 90 days
  • Hair — up to 90 days

Remember, this doesn’t mean you aren’t sober for this long. It just means traces of alcohol remain in your system for this length of time.

Factors That Affect How Long it Takes to Sober Up

It’s impossible to predict how long someone will take to sober up after drinking. There are also varying definitions of what it means to be sober. One person might behave soberly after several drinks and a high BAC, while another person has just a small amount of alcohol and seems drunk.

The factors that affect how long it takes someone to sober up include:

  • How many drinks they consumed
  • How quickly they drank
  • Weight
  • Sex (females usually have higher body fat percentages, which means their BAC stays higher longer)
  • Whether you ate before drinking
  • How often they drink
  • Their overall health

Keep in mind, these things do not change how quickly the body metabolizes alcohol, aside from the first two - the number of drinks consumed and the time spent drinking. Everyone’s body metabolizes alcohol at the same standard rate. These factors affect how quickly and the degree to which you get drunk. Your BAC is only affected by time.

Myth and Truths About Sobering Up Fast 

There are many myths about sobering up fast. Unfortunately, the only way to sober up is to wait for your body to metabolize the alcohol you’ve consumed. There are no tricks to sobering up fast. You can’t speed up the rate at which your body burns off alcohol.

Some of the most common myths associated with getting sober fast include:

  • Drinking coffee — you’ll feel more alert, but your BAC remains the same. 
  • Exercise — sweating might help you feel better from your hangover, but it doesn’t speed up the process of sobering up. The same is true for spending time in a sauna.
  • Consuming activated charcoal — although it might seem as if adding something to your system to absorb alcohol could help sober you up, it doesn’t have any effect on your BAC.
  • Vomiting — again, you might feel better after vomiting when you are hungover as long as you don’t allow yourself to get dehydrated, but it doesn’t reduce your BAC.
  • Cold shower — exposure to cold works in much the same way as coffee after consuming alcohol. It helps you feel more alert, but it doesn’t affect BAC.
  • Eating — alcohol consumption combined with food does nothing to help you sober up. This is the case even if the food is starchy or high-fat.
  • Drinking water — you’ll feel better consuming water while drinking alcohol or after, but it won’t sober you up. 

Time is the only thing that affects how quickly you sober up. 

Waiting for your liver to perform its natural process of removing alcohol from your system is your only option. With a BAC of .015, which is about one standard alcoholic drink for most people, will be metabolized in about an hour, no matter who you are or what you do. 

What’s The Truth About Sobering Up Fast? 

Drink less. The less alcohol you consume the shorter span of time it takes you to metabolize the alcohol and be sober.

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Resources

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

 “Understanding Blood Alcohol Content (BAC):” College of Saint Benedict & Saint John’s University, https://www.csbsju.edu/chp/health-promotion/alcohol-guide/understanding-blood-alcohol-content-(bac).

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Updated on: December 18, 2020
Author
Kelly Jamrozy
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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