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Updated on July 28, 2021

How Long Does It Take to Sober Up?

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 equal to .25 to .30 ounces of ethanol, or between half to one drink per hour. This rate remains the same regardless of a person’s gender, 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 stays in your body.

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. If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08, it will be reduced by .015 per hour. Therefore it will take 5 to 6 hours for you to be completely sober and have all of the alcohol out of your system.

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%.

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.

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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.

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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 allows you to 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? 

The only way to sober up faster is to drink less. The less alcohol you consume the shorter span of time it takes you to metabolize the alcohol and be sober.

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states that you may have an alcohol use disorder if you find yourself doing two or more of the following in 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

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including:

  • Inpatient ProgramsInpatient treatment plans are a safe, comprehensive option for those who can't stay sober without medical supervision. You'll live in substance-free housing and have access to 24/7 care from qualified professionals. You'll undergo detoxification, behavioral therapy, and other services. These usually last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer. Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are also called intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Partial hospitalization programs provide similar services to inpatient programs. Medical services, behavioral therapy, and support groups are included. The main difference is in a PHP, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation (this varies by program). PHPs are suitable for new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient treatment is less comprehensive than inpatient or PHPs. These programs organize your treatment around your schedule. They provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment. People who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school are ideal patients. Outpatient programs may be a portion of your aftercare after an inpatient or partial hospitalization program.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detox and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. When combined with other evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.
  • Support Groups Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon are open to anyone with a substance use disorder. They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

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Resources

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“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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