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How Long Does Sobering Up Take (Really)?

July 6, 2022

Table of Contents

There is a wide variation in how long it takes different individuals to “sober up” after drinking alcohol. As a general rule of thumb, most people can metabolize one drink of alcohol per hour.[1] However, this varies widely between individuals. Some people may have one drink and still feel the effects several hours later. 

Factors That Slow Down or Speed Up Alcohol Absorption

There are many factors that affect how rapidly an individual metabolizes alcohol. Here are some factors that can affect your rate of alcohol metabolism

1. Concurrent Medications

Your liver processes alcohol, and if you're taking other drugs, it must work on them too. Put too many substances in your body at once, and you create a bottleneck in the liver that slows down alcohol metabolizing.[2] Over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and Tylenol are two examples of medications that, if taken with alcohol, can cause the effects of alcohol to last longer. 

2. Overall Health

If you are sick, dehydrated, or have any temporary or permanent damage to your liver, your liver works more slowly and you may be more sensitive to the intoxicating effects of alcohol[3]

3. Food Intake

Food sitting in your stomach blocks alcohol from interacting with the stomach lining and slows down absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Food also keeps alcohol from entering your intestines for digestion. Thus, if you eat before drinking, you may get less intoxicated than if you drink on an empty stomach.

Alcohol will move slowly into your bloodstream when your stomach is full. Your liver is able to keep pace if you don't drink too quickly.[1]

4. Sex

Women tend to have more body fat than men do, and this subtle change means women may get intoxicated slightly more quickly and stay intoxicated longer than their male counterparts.[4]

5. Genetics

There are many genes that affect how quickly we metabolize alcohol. Some people will feel more or less effects of alcohol based on their personal genetics, which can be hard to predict. 

What's the Best Way to “Get Sober”?

There is a ton of myth and mystery around ways to “sober up” more quickly, including taking a cold shower, hydrating, eating food, taking certain vitamins or supplements, drinking coffee, or self-induced vomiting.

Overall, none of these methods has been proven to be effective for decreasing the amount of time it takes to “sober up”. The best and only truly effective method is time.

If you know you are going to need to be sober by a particular time, the best way to ensure this is to plan ahead and minimize your drinking. If you are going out and planning on drinking, plan ahead of time how many drinks you are going to allow yourself, knowing your own body.

What if I Find Myself Frequently More Intoxicated Than I Intended?

If you find yourself in situations where you are frequently drinking more than planned, or find yourself frequently intoxicated longer, or hungover longer than you would like to be, you may be experiencing signs of unhealthy drinking habits.

If you are concerned about your drinking habits, don’t wait. Reach out for help from friends, family, or medical professionals. There are lots of treatment options, including behavioral support, therapy, groups, and even medications to help you abstain from alcohol or minimize bad outcomes from your drinking. Reach out today if you think treatment might be helpful for you.

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Alcohol Metabolism. Bowling Green State University. https://www.bgsu.edu/recwell/wellness-connection/alcohol-education/alcohol-metabolism.html. Accessed June 2022.
  2. Factors that Affect Intoxication. Bowling Green State University. https://www.bgsu.edu/recwell/wellness-connection/alcohol-education/factors-that-affect-intoxication.html. Accessed June 2022.
  3. Absorption Rate Factors. University of Notre Dame. https://mcwell.nd.edu/your-well-being/physical-well-being/alcohol/absorption-rate-factors/. Accessed June 2022.
  4. Alcohol Metabolism. Clinical Liver Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3484320/. November 2013. Accessed June 2022.
  5. Alcohol and Caffeine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/caffeine-and-alcohol.htm. April 2022. Accessed June 2022.
  6. Virtual Bar and Sobering Up. The University of Tennessee Chattanooga. https://www.utc.edu/enrollment-management-and-student-affairs/center-for-wellbeing/alcohol-and-other-drug-education/virtual-bar-and-sobering. Accessed June 2022.
  7. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: How to Predict, Prevent, Diagnose, and Treat It. Prescire International. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17323538/. February 2007. Accessed June 2022. 
  8. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2004/0315/p1443.html. March 2004. Accessed June 2022.

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