How Much Alcohol To Get Drunk? The science explained


Millions of people across the globe enjoy a drink of the many alcoholic beverages available. Everyone knows, the more you drink the more the alcohol affects you. For lots of different reasons, you might not want to get drunk so a key question you might ask yourself is… “How much alcohol to get drunk” or how many drinks will that be?

How much alcohol to get drunk?

Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The S...
Does Non Alcoholic Beer Taste The Same

The CDC says it takes the average 160lb adult male, 4 standard drinks to become drunk. That equates to 56g of alcohol or 2.4 ounces to get drunk. If you are lighter or female, it will on average take less alcohol to get you drunk. If you are a heavier male, it may take more alcohol than 56g to get you drunk.

What does drunk actually mean, what is the definition?

What exactly does it mean to be drunk? It needs to be a bit more precise than not walking too straight. What is the legal test or definition of being drunk?

A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% is classed as legally intoxicated in the US.

We now need to see how many standard drinks would get your BAC to 0.08%.

How do you feel at different blood alcohol concentrations?

As you drink more alcohol than your liver can metabolise, your BAC rises. The effects of a rising blood alcohol concentration has been tracked by many studies

Lots of informational websites include this data now.

  • 0.02% – Probably the lowest measurable BAC where you can track any brain issues. You may feel more relaxed and potentially make poorer decisions.
  • 0.05%: When you hit this BAC, your behaviour will may become over exaggerated. Speak louder and gesturing more are common. You may also begin to lose control of small muscles like the ones that control your eyes leading to blurry vision.
  • 0.08%: This is the current legal driving limit in the U.S and many areas around the world. It is also the legal definition of intoxicated in the US. You will likely lose some coordination, so your reaction times, speech, balance, and even hearing will deteriorate.
  • 0.10%: As we reach this BAC, reaction times and control will be reduced further. Your speech will be slurred, you think slower, and your coordination becomes poor.
  • 0.15%: Getting up to twice the legal driving limit now. You will have much less control over your balance and voluntary muscles. We have all seen someone who finds walking and talking difficult after a lot of alcohol. Falling and injuring yourself is a real possibility now.

What is a standard drink?

Alcohol comes in as many shapes, sizes, colours, strengths and flavours as you can image. It is extremely hard to distill all this down to a standard drink.

Luckily for everyone, the USDA have devised a list of “standard” alcoholic drinks. Each one contains the exact same amount of alcohol – 14g of alcohol (0.6 ounces). Hence the “standard” part.

Below is a list of the standard drinks, volumes and ABV that all give 14g of alcohol.

Drink and volumeAlcohol content
12fl oz Beer5%
5fl oz Wine12%
1.5fl oz Spirit40%
Standard Drinks

We can take any type of alcohol and work out what a standard version of it would be in terms of ABV and volume, to end up with 14g of alcohol.

I have written about how many beers, wines and gins it would take to get drunk

How many standard drinks to get drunk?

How many alcoholic drinks does the average adult need to drink to get to a BAC of 0.08% and drunk under the law?

The CDC tells us that the average 160lb adult male will need to drink 4 standard drinks to get to a BAC of 0.08%.

The 4 drinks equates to 14g x 4 = 56g of alcohol.

The 4 drinks also equates to 0.6 ounces x 4 = 2.4 ounces.

The 56g or 2.4 ounces needs to be drank over 1-2 hours at most or the liver will start to metabolise the alcohol, break it down and lower the BAC from the 0.08% target.

How does weight affect the amount of alcohol to get drunk?

How physically big you are has a huge impact on the amount of alcohol it takes to get you drunk. If you have ever been out drinking with friends, you might notice the larger ones seem they they have hollow legs compared to the smaller ones. 

Alcohol is distributed throughout the body so if you have more actual body, less of the alcohol will remain in your bloodstream, lowering your blood alcohol concentration.

Below is a table of how body size might affect the “4 drinks to get drunk” rule.

Number of standard drinks140lbs160lbs180lbs200lbs220lbs
1 (14g alcohol)0.030.020.020.020.02
2 (28g alcohol)0.050.050.040.040.03
3 (42g alcohol)0.080.070.060.060.05
4 (56g alcohol)0.110.090.080.080.07
5 (70g alcohol)0.130.120.110.090.09
BAC after standard drinks – adult male

How does sex affect the number of beers to get drunk?

Biological females get intoxicated quicker and with lower amounts of alcohol. This is due to a few reasons.

A female will on average be smaller than a male, they have circa 40% less alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that breaks down alcohol) than an equivalent male and they have a higher percentage of fat to lean mass so more of the alcohol is in their bloodstream.

Below is another table of how many standard drinks and grams of alcohol it would take a female of various sizes to get drunk. Remember the magic number to be classified as drink is 0.08% BAC

Number of Beers140lbs160lbs180lbs200lbs220lbs
1 (14g alcohol)0.030.030.030.020.02
2 (28g alcohol)0.070.060.050.050.04
3 (42g alcohol)0.100.090.080.070.06
4 (56g alcohol)0.130.110.100.090.08
5 (70g alcohol)0.160.140.130.110.10
BAC after standard drinks– adult female

What other factors affects how quickly you get drunk?

Ethnicity

Different ethnicities have variants of some key genetic components that are needed to break down alcohol and therefore their blood alcohol concentration spikes quicker.

Notable examples would be people of Asian or Native American descent can have reduced levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. This means they would get drunk quicker and on less beer.

Last meal

Nearly everyone knows if you drink on an empty stomach you will get drunk quicker. The local term we use here is “soakage”, as in you need some before a big session on the beer.

A large meal, close to when you are going to start drink, will lower the absolute peak of your blood alcohol concentration. The food delays the alcohol leaving your stomach and into the bloodstream.

Tolerance

The more you drink the more tolerance you can build up to the affects of alcohol.

Energy levels

If you feel especially tired or have had a lack of sleep, you will feel the intoxicating effects of alcohol sooner than if you were well rested.

Medication

If you mix alcohol with sedating prescription medications or illegal drugs then these can work to enhance the sedative affects of alcohol and make you feel drunk much quicker.

Mood

Believe it or not, having very strong motions like anger, fear or being lonely can bring on the affects of alcohol quicker. If you are out at a bar with the expectation of being drunk, you may well feel drunk sooner as well from the placebo effect.

Hormones

Some birth control pills or drinking at the premenstrual stage of a woman’s cycle can lead to higher blood alcohol concentrations.

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