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Drinking Habits

Can I Drive the Morning After Drinking?

April 9, 2024
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 9, 2024
18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 9, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
April 9, 2024
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
April 9, 2024
18 min read

The Dangers of Driving Hungover

  • The morning after drinking we may still be experiencing some residual intoxication. Even if we’re completely sober, hangovers reduce our capacity to focus, reason, and react.

  • Listen to your body. Don’t push it if you’re feeling out of it — it’s not worth the risk or the potential consequences!

  • Reframe gives you the tools to change your relationship with alcohol so you can say bye-bye to disruptive hangovers for good.

You raise a glass to your best friend, toasting another trip around the sun. Everyone cheers and throws back tequila shots. The night becomes a blur of bars, Uber rides, and just-one-more drinks. Yeah, it’s a Thursday, but it’s also your best friend’s birthday. What are you supposed to do?

The next morning, you’ve traded pounding club music for a pounding headache. You groan and drag yourself around the house, going through the motions of getting ready for work. It’s been hours since that last beer, but your head keeps swirling. You start to worry. Today is that huge pitch meeting — you’ve got to get to the office.

You slide behind the wheel and ask yourself: “Can I drive the morning after drinking?”

How Fast Does the Body Metabolize Alcohol?

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First, we have to understand that alcohol affects everyone differently. One friend falls asleep after three cocktails, while another seems lucid no matter how much they imbibe. The same is true for how our body processes all those drinks. While some people never experience a hangover, others feel sick all day. We owe these variations to biological and environmental factors.

After a night out, our liver converts those glasses of champagne and whiskey into carbon dioxide and water. (Want more in-depth information on these metabolic processes? Check out the details in our article about how alcohol is metabolized.)

How alcohol affects us is determined by the following individual differences:

  • Weight
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Genetics
  • Alcohol tolerance
  • Metabolism
  • Physical fitness

In-the-moment decisions like what we eat and how quickly we drink also impact the liver’s ability to metabolize alcohol. For example, eating closes the valve between the stomach and small intestine. The fattier the food, the longer the link is severed, slowing digestion, alcohol absorption, and intoxication. Certain medications intensify alcohol’s effects, too, making you feel drunker faster.

These factors will influence your driving ability come morning.

How Quickly Does Alcohol Wear Off?

So, let’s talk timeline. As soon as “real life” and responsibilities come back into the picture, you might start to wonder, “How many hours after I drink can I drive?” Our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) hits its peak 30 to 90 minutes after we finish our last drink. After that point, it decreases by around 0.015% each hour. A good rule of thumb is to remember that our body can only metabolize one drink per hour. We define one standard drink as a 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce pour of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor. (Some establishments may give you a heavy pour, resulting in more than one unit of alcohol per mixed drink).

When we drink multiple beverages back to back, the excess alcohol circulates in our bloodstream. The result? We experience the effects of intoxication — that is, until our liver filters out enough of the residual alcohol. That process can take up to 12 hours. After the 12-hour mark, we may still find ourselves impaired — this time by severe hangover symptoms.

Can I Drive the Morning After Drinking?

We do the right thing and get an Uber or cab home after a night of drinking. All that alcohol will wear off in time for work in the morning … right? We ask ourselves, “How many hours after drinking can I drive?” Maybe we’ll feel better after a few hours in bed? Not necessarily. Our liver obeys the one-drink-per-hour rule no matter how we spend our time, so “sleeping it off” is a myth. Coffee won’t help, either.

Even after a full night’s rest, we might still be intoxicated. Our body works hard to expel every trace of alcohol, but it can only do so much. If we drink until 3:00 a.m., for example, there’s not enough time to process a half-dozen beers before we drive to work. We’ll find ourselves under the influence when our alarm goes off. And that can have big implications for our next-day responsibilities.

How Alcohol Affects Your Driving

Alcohol affects our ability to make good decisions, and it also impairs our physical coordination. Before driving under the influence, consider these effects of alcohol on the brain.

  • Lowered inhibitions. Drinking gives us confidence, and that’s not always a good thing. Uninhibited drivers are more prone to recklessness, risk-taking, and aggression.

  • Reduced executive functioning. Executive functioning is crucial for complex tasks like driving. Alcohol weakens our ability to concentrate, multitask, and weigh the potential outcomes of our decisions. We’re also more likely to make knee-jerk judgments while under the influence without thinking things through.

  • Vision changes. Alcohol alters our vision, negatively affecting our depth perception and making us more sensitive to light. We may also experience blurred or double vision.

  • Loss of coordination. When we’re behind the wheel, every second counts. Drinking dampens our brain’s communication with our muscles, resulting in the deterioration of our motor skills. We may struggle to successfully engage the brakes, shift gears, or tap the accelerator. Imbibing also slows our reactions to obstacles, other cars, and pedestrians.

Waiting might not be enough to drive safely the morning after drinking. Psychological studies show that we’re just as impaired with a hangover.

Is Driving Hungover the Same as Driving Drunk?

Yes, driving hungover can be very similar to driving drunk.

Researchers have documented the effects of hangovers on simulated driving exercises. Study participants who drove the morning after drinking performed poorly. Their attention lapsed more often and for longer than in alcohol-free trials. When asked, those contributors characterized their hungover driving as less safe, predictable, wise, and responsible.

Building on this study, another team of psychologists examined the impact of hangovers on work commutes. Hungover participants struggled to successfully complete the simulation, even without residual alcohol in their systems. They broke traffic laws, lost control, and failed to pay attention. Their impairment was equivalent to intoxication at a BAC of 0.05 to 0.08%.

If you’re hungover, don’t drive! Don’t risk it — give your body more time to recover.

How Long After Drinking Can You Drive?

So, how long after drinking can you drive? The answer depends on three factors.

Consider the following before you put the key in the ignition:

  • How much alcohol you consumed
  • How quickly you drank
  • What time you stopped drinking for the night

Ultimately, the only way to get alcohol out of your system is to wait. You can’t rush the process with a cold plunge, steaming cup of coffee, or long night’s sleep. While intoxication will likely pass within 12 hours, you may be stuck with a hangover for a full 24 (or longer).

Summing Up

You know your body better than anyone, so be honest with yourself: are you ready to drive, or do you just want to get somewhere on time? Always wait until you feel 100% to get behind the wheel again! 

Alcohol doesn’t run your life — you do. If you’re tired of nights out affecting your work days, Reframe can help. Our evidence-based platform has everything you need to cut back on alcohol or quit drinking altogether. Ready to experience world-class coaching, a caring community, and in-app accountability? Download Reframe through the App Store or Google Play today!

Summary FAQs

1. Can you drive the next day if you drink?

Maybe, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. If you’re wondering, “How long after drinking can I drive?” Before you leave, do the math. Consider how much you consumed, how quickly you drank, and how much time has passed since you called it a night. If you feel impaired, don’t risk it.

2. How long will two beers show up on a breathalyzer?

Breath-testing tools can detect alcohol for 12 to 24 hours after consumption. Factors like your metabolism, weight, gender, tolerance, and body composition may impact your breathalyzer results.

3. Can you drive hungover?

No. It’s best to avoid driving when you’re inhibited by anything — including fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. Severe hangover symptoms can impair you just as much as intoxication.

4. How long should you wait to drive after drinking all night? 

To be on the safe side, avoid driving for 12 hours after your last drink. Many people wonder, “Can I drive 12 hours after drinking?” If hangover symptoms persist, you may need to refrain from driving for another 12 hours. Fatigue, loss of concentration, and dizziness impact your ability to react to road hazards.

5. Can a hangover cause a DUI?

Yes, a hangover can lead to DUI charges. The morning after drinking, your BAC may still exceed the legal limit.

6. What should I do instead of driving hungover?

If you need to be somewhere the morning after a night out, consider alternatives to driving yourself. Ask a friend to chauffeur you or use a rideshare app to get from A to B. You can also consider walking — light exercise and fresh air can do a lot to improve hangover symptoms!

Rethink Those Drinks — Try Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet hundreds of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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