So you’re about to go on a romantic date, night out with friends or a party where alcohol is involved.
For various reasons, you want to know how much you can drink before getting drunk.
This article seeks to explain just that, alongside some tips on how to manage alcohol consumption so you’re just a bit buzzed, relaxed and having fun, but without getting drunk and numb.
How much wine, whisky or tequila does it take to get drunk?
In most countries, including the USA, UK and Canada, the legal definition of being drunk is 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC for short), meaning there’s 0.08 grams of alcohol per every 100 ml of blood in the body.
One thing to note is that men metabolize alcohol quicker than women, and because of this they can drink a bit more alcohol than women without getting drunk.
To reach the legal definition of being drunk, an average man of 180 lbs / 81 kg needs to drink either 3 beer cans, 3 glasses of wine, or 3 shots of whisky or tequila. An average woman of 140 lbs / 63 kg needs either 2 beers, 2 glasses of wine or 2 shots of whisky or tequila. These quantities must be consumed within 1 hour.
Weight strongly influences how much alcohol you can drink, since more weight automatically means more blood in your body, which raises the limits of how much alcohol you need to reach the 0.08% blood alcohol concentration.
The 2 charts below better explain how many standard drinks you can have for each weight category, for both men and women.
1 standard drink:
- A beer can of 12 fl. oz / 330 ml with 5% alcohol.
- A glass of wine of 5 fl. oz / 150 ml with 12.5% alcohol.
- A shot of whiskey, tequila or other liquors weighing 1.5 oz. / 50 ml with 40% alcohol.
One important takeaway from both charts is that how much alcohol you need to drink in just one hour.
There’s a good reason for that, since most people can metabolize roughly 1 standard drink per hour.
How much can you drink over time without getting drunk?
An average person can process around 0.015% of alcohol in 1 hour. This means that if you have 3-4 drinks in 20 minutes and reach 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (shortened to BAC), it will take around 6-7 hours or so to be completely sober again.
However, if you’re in the mood to drink, but not to get drunk, then a good strategy is to wait an hour or so between every bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor.
This will give your body the chance to metabolize some (or all) of the alcohol you consumed between every drink so you don’t overwhelm your system with alcohol.
Doing this will help you stay at in the sweet zone of being relaxed and uninhibited, but without tipping over into drunkenness.
That being said, here too there are differences between men and women and how each gender should dose themselves over time without getting drunk.
For an average man of 180 lbs / 81 kg:
Drinking 2 small bottles of beer, glasses of wine or shots of tequila in a few minutes will take you to a relatively relaxed and pleasant 0.05% BAC. After 90 minutes, your BAC will drop to around 0.025%. Having another bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of whisky will raise your BAC back up to 0.05%.
For women it’s a bit different, since they need less alcohol to reach the same blood alcohol concentration as men.
For an average woman of 140 lbs / 63 kg:
To reach 0.05% BAC, an average woman needs to drink 1 + 1/2 glasses of wine, bottles of beer or shots of liquor in a few minutes. After 90 minutes, your BAC will drop to around 0.025%. Drinking another half glass of wine or bottle of beer will push your BAC back up to about 0.05%.
Note that you don’t need to drink the exact quantities in the exact timeframes listed above. If you’re a guy, you can slowly sip 2 glasses of wine over the course of 90 minutes and have the same BAC as another guy who quickly drank them one after another and then stopped. The same idea applies to women.
Myth: mixing drinks makes you drunk quicker
Popular wisdom wisdom says mixing different types of alcohol will make you drunk a lot quicker.
There’s even rhyming guides such as: Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear.
That being said, science simply doesn’t back up the claim that mixing drinks increases the potency of alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol, it doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol it is.
In other words, you can have a bottle of beer, a glass of wine and a shot of liquor and be just as inebriated as if you had only 3 glasses of wine.
The reason many people still think mixing drinks makes you drunk faster is because mixing alcohol changes the psychology of drinking in a few subtle ways:
First is that harder drinks like whisky or tequila hit harder, but in smaller quantities, and raise your BAC quicker.
After 2 drinks you’re already at or close to the 0.08% BAC limit. You’ll absolutely feel this, which gives you the correct information so you can carefully dose your future alcohol intake for the rest of the party or night out.
However, if you start with a beer and sip at it for 30-40 minutes or so, you’ll have a pretty low BAC. This gives you a false sense of security that “there’s enough room” for another 2 shots of liquors without feeling drunk.
Once you have those however, the shots combined with the beer will absolutely push you over the edge – you’re now legally intoxicated.
The second reason is that most people have a rough idea of how much alcohol is too much for them.
However, people usually measure their alcohol limit in terms of their favorite drink. For example some people say they can drink only 1 Margarita’s worth, or 2 glasses of wine, or 3 bottles of beer etc.
Mixing different types of alcohol messes with your internal measuring system, especially with if you drink stuff you don’t normally do.
If you don’t have experience with a particular drink, it makes it hard to measure how much of a punch it packs so you risk going overboard thinking you’re within limits, when in fact you’ve blown past them.
Drinking on an empty stomach absorbs alcohol faster
20% or so of the alcohol you drink is absorbed by the stomach, while the remaining 80% or so is absorbed by the small intestine.
If you drink without having eaten anything, the alcohol will pass through your stomach much sooner, reach the small intestine faster and gets absorbed much quicker in the bloodstream.
Thus, it’s best to eat something a bit more consistent before drinking, or at least eat and drink at the same time.
Frequent drinkers have increased alcohol tolerance
The human body breaks down alcohol with the help of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.
Men have a higher concentration of alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes than women, and because of this they have a slightly higher alcohol tolerance compared to women, even when controlling for body weight.
The amount of alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes is fairly standardized among both men and women, with some exceptions.
Frequent or heavy drinkers claim the dubious bragging right of having an increased concentration of alcohol dehydrogenase, which increases their tolerance to alcohol.
This acquired alcohol tolerance allows frequent drinkers to drink somewhat more alcohol until they reach a BAC of 0.08%.