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Alcohol and Mental Health

6 Frequently Asked Questions About Drinking Alcohol

February 16, 2024
19 min read
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Written by
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.
February 16, 2024
19 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.
February 16, 2024
19 min read
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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.
February 16, 2024
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
February 16, 2024
19 min read

Alcoholic drinks have been around ever since our earliest ancestors found some grains that were accidentally left to ferment and discovered the first happy hour 9,000 years ago. Fast forward to the Egyptians, who started brewing beer, and to the Greeks and Romans, who took wine drinking from casual hobby to high art with Bacchus and Dionysus as its ancient mascots. More recently, medieval Europeans were brewing beer like their lives depended on it — and sometimes they did. Water was a no-go, so beer was a safer option for daily hydration.

Today, we’re more aware that booze is not all fun and games — we know it can pose serious risks, especially if we overdo it. This health-conscious perspective means that questions about alcohol often come up. How long does it take for alcohol to leave your system? How can you get rid of a hangover headache? How long does alcohol stay in your liver? How much alcohol is in beer? What is the alcohol daily standard? And how can you sober up from alcohol fast? Let’s find out the answers to six frequently asked questions about booze and then look at recovery strategies that can help us get back on track.

1. How Long Does It Take for Alcohol To Leave Your System?

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From the moment we take our first sip, our body — which treats alcohol as a poison — starts working hard to remove it from our system. Our liver, at the forefront of processing alcohol, typically processes one standard drink per hour. However, this rate isn’t the same for everyone — it depends on how much we drank, our body size, age, gender, and our most recent meal. As our liver processes the alcohol, it continues impacting our brain function and motor skills. Here’s the rough timeline:

  • One standard drink. One drink usually takes about an hour to process.
  • Feeling the effects. We might start noticing changes within 10 minutes.
  • Peak BAC. Blood Alcohol Concentration typically hits its highest point about 30-90 minutes after drinking.

The Day After: Why We Might Still Feel Off

Why do we wake up feeling less than stellar, even after the alcohol is processed? One reason is that alcohol disrupts our sleep — but there are other reasons as well. While we may have metabolized the alcohol, our body could still be in recovery mode. This includes the dreaded hangover, characterized by headaches, nausea, and dehydration.

2. How To Get Rid of Hangover Headaches Quickly?

Now, speaking about those hangovers, is there anything we can do about them? Specifically, are there ways to get rid of the notorious hangover headaches?

We’ve all been there, waking up with a pounding headache after a night of revelry. Let’s explore the scientific reasons behind them and, more importantly, how to show them the exit door.

The Science of the Hangover Headache

The main reason behind hangover headaches? Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes us lose fluids and contributes to our headache as our brain temporarily shrinks away from the skull (don’t worry, it’s less scary than it sounds!). Plus, alcohol causes blood vessels to expand — a process known as vasodilation — leading to that throbbing sensation.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

That said, remember that moderation is key, and knowing our limits can save us from the dreaded next-day pounding in our heads!

3. How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your Liver?

We touched on the way the liver processes alcohol starting from the first sip. But how long does it actually stay there?

The liver is our body's primary filter, especially when it comes to alcohol. On average, it processes one standard drink per hour, but this can vary based on factors like body size and overall health. First, enzymes convert alcohol into acetaldehyde (a toxin), then into acetate, which is less harmful. It's a remarkable two-step process.

System Overload

Drinking more than our liver can handle leads to an acetaldehyde buildup. This accumulation is partly responsible for hangovers — a clear sign from our body that the liver is working overtime. The aftermath of heavy drinking includes dehydration, vitamin depletion, and the lingering presence of toxins.

Consistent heavy drinking can lead to serious liver issues such as fatty liver, inflammation, and cirrhosis. These conditions are more than just temporary setbacks — they can have lasting impacts on health.

4. How Much Alcohol Is in Beer?

As far as alcohol goes, beer is as typical as it gets, but what’s actually in it? We're not just talking about the flavors or hops here but focusing on the alcohol content.

The ABCs of Beer ABV

The alcohol in beer results from fermentation. Yeast transforms the sugars in the wort (unfermented beer) into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This natural process yields a spectrum of alcoholic strengths in beer. Typically, it ranges from about 3% to 12% alcohol by volume (ABV). This means for every 100 milliliters of beer, there are 3 to 12 milliliters of pure alcohol.

This variety gives each beer its unique character, from light and breezy to rich and robust. The beer universe is vast — lagers, ales, stouts, IPAs, and more, each with its unique ABV and flavor profile:

  • Light beers. These generally have an ABV of around 3-4%, and they’re the weakest in terms of intoxication potential.
  • Regular Beers. With an ABV of about 4-6%, these are the versatile, everyday choices.
  • Strong Beers. Beers above 6% ABV fall into this category, offering a deeper, more intense experience.

Mindful Beer Consumption

Because beers vary so widely, it’s important to always check the ABV on the beer label before purchasing. Plus, there’s a whole world of lower-alcohol beers to explore! It’s always fun to find new favorites.

5. How To Sober Up From Alcohol Fast?

Let's face it, we've all been in those unfortunate scenarios, desperately Googling "how to sober up fast" after a night of overindulgence. Spoiler alert: there's no magic bullet, but there are science-backed ways to ease the journey back.

When we consume alcohol, our body goes into overdrive to metabolize it. Alcohol is primarily processed in the liver, but it can only metabolize about one standard drink per hour — there’s no way around it, and no way to speed that process.

The Myth of Quick Fixes

We've all heard the tall tales: "Drink coffee, take a cold shower, or eat a greasy meal, and you'll be sober in no time!" Sadly, these are just myths. These actions might make us feel more alert, but they don't speed up the elimination of alcohol from our system.

6. What Happens When You Stop Drinking? Drinking?

And finally, we come to what might be the most important question of all: what happens to our bodies when we stop drinking alcohol? Cutting back our intake or eliminating alcohol altogether creates all kinds of positive changes.

​​Beyond the Bottle

Within the first 24 hours of our last drink, our body begins an incredible transformation. Our liver, the diligent detoxifier, starts to repair itself, reducing the risk of liver disease. Our sleep quality improves — not just in quantity but in restorative power, leading to more refreshing mornings.

After a week, our heart starts to reap benefits. Blood pressure drops, and the risk of heart disease diminishes. Our skin also gets a boost, rehydrating for a healthier glow.

Booze-Free Brain

Our brain, the central command, undergoes a recalibration process. Emotions become more vivid without alcohol’s numbing effects. Moreover, our cognitive functions, including memory, begin to sharpen. Daily tasks and information recall become easier, enhancing our overall mental agility.

Understanding Withdrawal

That said, stopping alcohol abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild discomfort like headaches and irritability to more significant challenges such as anxiety, insomnia, or mood swings. It's our body's way of readjusting to the absence of alcohol.

While withdrawal can be daunting, it's a pivotal part of the journey. Consider these symptoms signs that our body is healing and readjusting — that can empower us to stay the course!

Authentic Life

That said, once we’re past the initial discomfort, there are many additional benefits to look forward to. For one thing, our social interactions evolve. We find enjoyment in activities that don't center around drinking, allowing us to foster deeper, more authentic relationships.

Our wallets also benefit from this lifestyle change. The savings accrued from not purchasing alcohol can be redirected towards anything from a dream vacation to tech gadgets or a wardrobe update!

Recovery Strategies

Recovery Strategies

Here are some practical steps to help you avoid having a hangover the day after drinking, tips to help your body recover if you do end up with one, and ways to stay on track if you’re trying to cut back:

  1. Hydrate. Keep water handy if you do plan to be drinking. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it sends us on frequent trips to the restroom, leading to dehydration. Drinking water won’t sober us up faster, but it will help alleviate dehydration symptoms like headaches and dry mouth.

    The next day, replenishing electrolytes is just as crucial as hydration. Sip on coconut water or a sports drink, but watch out for high sugar content.

  2. Eat properly. A good meal before drinking and snacks while drinking can slow alcohol absorption. Make sure to eat well the day after, too — nutritious food helps metabolize the alcohol, stabilizes blood sugar levels, and supports liver health. Your body needs nutrients to bounce back! Opt for a healthy, balanced meal — think proteins, carbs, and vitamins. (Greasy pizza might have to wait.) Also, ginger is a natural remedy for upset stomachs, so sip on ginger tea or chew on candied ginger for soothing relief.
  3. Avoid “hair of the dog.” Contrary to popular belief, more alcohol only delays the inevitable and could lead to a habit. It's like pressing snooze on our alarm — it only postpones the moment we have to face the day.
  4. Prioritize sleep. Make sure to get enough rest — quality sleep is key for recovery. Sleep helps your body recover, and a short nap can do wonders. Just don’t snooze all day, or you’ll disrupt your sleep cycle.
  5. Plan alcohol-free days. Incorporate days without alcohol into your routine to give your body a rest and keep yourself from falling into deeply entrenched habits. These days will also give your liver a chance to recover.

  6. Get moving. Engage in light physical activity, like walking or stretching, to boost your mood and metabolism — think a leisurely walk in the park, not a marathon. Fresh air is a bonus! Regular exercise also helps your liver process alcohol more efficiently.

    And if you’re trying to cut back, redirect energy into a new exercise regimen — the endorphin boost rivals any happy hour!

  7. Try mindfulness meditation. Stress exacerbates headaches. Try a guided meditation to relax and refocus your mind. Deep breathing exercises can reduce stress and improve mental clarity — both if you’re recovering from a hangover and if you’re trying to cut back.

  8. Explore mocktails. Experiment with crafting non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a fun, hangover-free way to play bartender.

  9. Spend time in nature. Reconnect with the outdoors. Activities like hiking or gardening nourish the soul.

  10. Skill up. If you’re trying to watch your drinking and find yourself bored or frustrated, dive into learning something new. Try a craft, a language, or a sport — it's time to explore uncharted hobbies.

Summing Up

All in all, the questions we ask ourselves about our drinking habits and alcohol in general show how important it is to stay mindful of our patterns and of the role alcohol plays in our lives. What’s right for one person might not be right for another, and it’s ultimately up to us to decide what to do and where we want to go. So, let’s approach the questions about alcohol with a sense of curiosity and exploration, choosing a path that leads to the healthiest and most joyful version of ourselves.

Summary FAQs

1. How long does it take for alcohol to leave your system?

The time it takes for alcohol to leave your system typically ranges from one to three hours per standard drink, depending on factors like your body weight, metabolism, and the amount of alcohol consumed.

2. How can I get rid of a hangover headache?

Drinking plenty of water, eating a nutritious breakfast, and getting some gentle exercise can be effective ways to alleviate a hangover headache.

3. How long does it take the liver to process alcohol?

The liver typically processes one standard drink per hour, but this rate can vary depending on individual factors like body size and overall health.

4. How much alcohol is in beer?

Beer alcohol content, or alcohol by volume (ABV), varies widely, typically ranging from about 3% to 12%, depending on the type and brewing process of the beer.

5. How can I sober up fast?

While there's no fast-forward button to sobriety, taking care of our bodies, staying hydrated, getting rest, and being patient can make the journey back a bit more comfortable.

6. What happens when you stop drinking?

While stopping drinking abruptly can initially lead to withdrawal symptoms, in the long run the benefits are well worth it. In addition to physical recovery, leaving alcohol behind improves cognitive functions and fosters a more fulfilling lifestyle.

Ready To Learn More About Alcohol and Change Your Relationship With It?

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 millions 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 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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