You may feel sober but are you really? Here’s how long it actually takes for alcohol to leave your system.
It’s been a long week and you’re at the bar kicking back with your friends. You’re enjoying a pint (or five) of beer, slowly getting tipsy and laughing at the bartender. Fast forward three hours and you’ve already downed a selection of beers, some weird cocktails, and three shots.
It’s 3.30am and you’re tired. You wanna go home.
The big question is: Are you really sober enough to drive home?
No. You’re definitely not sober enough to drive home.
Your body needs to clear out the alcohol from your system before you’re anywhere near sober. And there’s only one way to do that – the ethanol (alcohol) is metabolised by the liver, where enzymes break down the alcohol.
And because the liver is working so hard to metabolise the alcohol, it’ll be less able to deliver glucose to your body’s tissues, including your brain. Without enough glucose, your brain gets fatigued and hazy. You won’t be able to pay much attention or stay alert, and undeniably unfit to drive.
But I feel sober enough to drive!
Your body can only metabolise so much alcohol at any one time. Most of the time, you drink more alcohol than your body can get rid of in the same period.
A person typically metabolises 10ml of ethanol per hour.
10ml of ethanol (or 1 unit) roughly translates to one of the following:
- Slightly less than a 285ml can of beer
- 100ml glass or wine
- a shot of spirits
Which means, if you’ve had five cans of beer, you probably shouldn’t be anywhere near the steering wheel for at least five hours, despite how sober you feel. However, this number is an estimate and can change depending on your sex, weight, age, recent food intake, and more.
And no, there are no quick fixes for drunkenness. Cold showers and coffee won’t help.
Caffeine has absolutely no positive impact on intoxication. The only role caffeine plays is to give you an adrenaline rush, which masks the fact that you can’t focus and make smart decisions. This makes you feel like you are more alert and can drive, but the truth is, you can’t. Read why caffeine and alcohol don’t work.
How do I know when I’m sober enough?
Nursing a drink for 90 minutes before your next can help your body get rid of the alcohol while you’re consuming it.
As metabolic rates may vary by about a third, you should always give yourself a minimum buffer time of 2 hours for each drink before getting behind the wheel.
The best option however, is to appoint a designated driver, or grab a taxi. This is the only option that leaves no victims (well, except the designated driver who has to abstain from alcohol).