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Drinking Habits

Myths About Drinking: Can You Sober Up From Alcohol in 30 Minutes?

Published:
July 5, 2023
·
16 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.
July 5, 2023
·
16 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.
July 5, 2023
·
16 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.
July 5, 2023
·
16 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 5, 2023
·
16 min read

We’ve all been there: a strong cocktail snuck up on us, we drank too much too fast, or maybe we simply had one drink too many. We’re now intoxicated and looking for a way to sober up — fast. But is this even possible? Can we sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes? And if so, how?

Can You Sober Up Fast?

We hate to break it to you, but if you’re wondering how to get sober fast, you simply can’t. We know, we know: the internet is filled with tips, tricks, and secret recipes on how to sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes. But the truth is that this is actually impossible to do. The fastest way to sober up from alcohol is to stop drinking and allow time to pass. 

However, we can do certain things to feel more alert and aware. We’ll explore some of these in greater detail below. 

Why It’s Impossible To Sober Up Fast

Why can’t we sober up from alcohol fast? It all comes down to how our body processes alcohol. 

When alcohol enters our stomach, it’s quickly absorbed into our bloodstream through our stomach lining and small intestine. We typically begin to feel the effects of alcohol within 15 minutes of drinking. Once in our blood, alcohol is rapidly transported throughout our entire body, which is why it affects so many different bodily systems

Most of the alcohol that enters our body eventually ends up in the liver, which is responsible for metabolizing it, breaking it down. This process is probably more time-consuming than we think: it takes about 1 hour or longer for our liver to process just one serving of alcohol out of our system. In other words, it takes 1 hour for our body to metabolize just one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot. The more servings we consume, the more time our body needs.

What Factors Affect the Rate Alcohol Is Processed?

Besides how much alcohol we consume, other factors affect how long it takes for alcohol to process through our system.

  • Our age. The older we are, the longer alcohol stays in our liver before it moves into our general bloodstream or is metabolized. Typically, older people have lower percentages of body water compared to those who are younger, which can also contribute to a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) and a slower processing time.
  • Our gender. Due to several physiological reasons, women metabolize alcohol differently from men. In fact, women tend to feel the effects of alcohol faster and longer compared to men, even when they drink the same amount and are relatively the same size. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol. Studies show that women have less aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), an enzyme used to metabolize alcohol in the stomach. 
  • Our weight. Our body size and composition can also influence how quickly alcohol is processed. Low-water fatty tissue cannot absorb alcohol to the extent that high-water muscle tissue can. In other words, people with more body fat generally have higher BACs. Similarly, someone who is extremely muscular but of shorter stature will have a higher BAC than someone of the same composition who is taller. 
  • Food consumption. Eating a meal and having food in our stomach before drinking can have a powerful influence on the absorption rate of alcohol. Food helps dilute alcohol and slow the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine, where alcohol is rapidly absorbed. Peak BAC could be as much as 3 times higher in someone with an empty stomach than in someone who has consumed food before drinking. 
  • Medications. Certain medications interact with alcohol and alter our metabolism, affecting how our body is able to process alcohol. Some medications slow the emptying from the stomach into the small intestine and liver, causing the alcohol to be rapidly absorbed. This results in higher BAC levels and intoxication that affects our body more quickly. 

Medications known to interact with alcohol include anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, ADHD medications like Adderall, diabetes medications, such as chlorpropamide, and cough and cold medicines.

Interestingly, alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours. It can also be detected in our urine for up to 72 hours and in our hair for up to 90 days. This doesn’t mean we aren’t sober during these times, it just means that traces of alcohol remain in our system much longer than we might expect.

What Can We Do To Feel More Alert and Awake? 

Although we can’t sober up from alcohol quickly, we can do some things to help feel more alert and to increase our awareness. It’s worth repeating, however, that none of these things will eliminate alcohol from our blood or lower our BAC: only time can do that.

Here are some things that can help us feel more alert and aware:

  • Taking a cold shower. Cold showers don’t lower our BAC levels, but they may help us briefly feel more alert. A cold shower can also give our metabolism a quick boost as our body expends energy trying to stay warm.
  • Eating food. Eating food before, during, and after drinking can help slow the absorption of alcohol in our bloodstream. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach means our body absorbs it faster, causing us to feel the effects of alcohol more rapidly. Any foods can help, but carbohydrates — such as bread, pasta, or potatoes — slow down how quickly our body absorbs the alcohol. Eating during or after drinking may make us feel less intoxicated, but it doesn’t mean we’ve sobered up or that the alcohol is no longer in our system. 
  • Drinking water. Staying hydrated by drinking water or even diluting drinks with ice can slow down how quickly we feel alcohol’s effects. Drinking water with alcohol can also help prevent dehydration. A general rule of thumb is that for every alcoholic drink we have, we should also have a full glass of water. Staying hydrated throughout a night of drinking can help us avoid a hangover the next day. But keep this in mind: drinking water does not help us sober up. 
  • Sleeping. Sleep allows time to pass, and time is the only thing that actually sobers us up and helps get alcohol out of our system. The more sleep we get, the more sober we’ll feel, as sleep gives our liver time to do its job by metabolizing the alcohol. 

Even if we can improve our alertness and awareness, it’s important not to drive or make important decisions until alcohol is fully out of our system. This can take at least several hours, depending on how much we’ve consumed.

Tips for Avoiding Intoxication 

We’ll never have to worry about sobering up if we avoid alcohol or consume it in moderation. Moderation management and mindful drinking can be particularly effective at helping us make more intentional choices. Here are some other tips for avoiding intoxication: 

  • Count your drinks. It’s easy to lose track of the amount of alcohol we consume. Try using a notepad app in your phone to document every drink you have in one sitting — whether at a party, dinner, or event. This can help you become more aware of how much you’re consuming. You can even take this one step further by limiting yourself to one drink every hour. 
  • Sip slowly. Savor each drink, taking slow sips and staying active, such as chatting with friends. It can help to stick to drinks that take time to finish, such as beer or wine (as opposed to shots or mixed drinks, which are intended to be gulped down).
  • Don’t mix high ABV drinks. Mixing different types of alcoholic drinks — particularly those that have a high concentration of alcohol — can rapidly bring up BAC levels and make us more intoxicated. Mixing drinks may also cause us to consume a larger amount of alcohol in a short period of time. 
  • Hydrate. For every alcoholic drink you have, try consuming a full glass of water. This helps us not only stay hydrated, but it limits the amount of alcohol we consume by keeping us fuller. It also gives our liver time to break down the alcohol. Even moderate levels of alcohol cause dehydration, and drinking water can slow this effect down.
  • Eat something. It’s best not to drink on an empty stomach, so make sure to eat before drinking or snack while you’re drinking. Having food in our stomach slows the processing of alcohol. Eating can also help us drink at a slower rate, since we’re doing something instead of solely drinking.

If you’re looking to cut back on your alcohol consumption but not sure where to start, Reframe can help. We’ve helped millions of people not only change their relationship with alcohol, but establish healthier lifestyle habits that lead to improved wellness.

We’ve all been there: a strong cocktail snuck up on us, we drank too much too fast, or maybe we simply had one drink too many. We’re now intoxicated and looking for a way to sober up — fast. But is this even possible? Can we sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes? And if so, how?

Can You Sober Up Fast?

We hate to break it to you, but if you’re wondering how to get sober fast, you simply can’t. We know, we know: the internet is filled with tips, tricks, and secret recipes on how to sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes. But the truth is that this is actually impossible to do. The fastest way to sober up from alcohol is to stop drinking and allow time to pass. 

However, we can do certain things to feel more alert and aware. We’ll explore some of these in greater detail below. 

Why It’s Impossible To Sober Up Fast

Why can’t we sober up from alcohol fast? It all comes down to how our body processes alcohol. 

When alcohol enters our stomach, it’s quickly absorbed into our bloodstream through our stomach lining and small intestine. We typically begin to feel the effects of alcohol within 15 minutes of drinking. Once in our blood, alcohol is rapidly transported throughout our entire body, which is why it affects so many different bodily systems

Most of the alcohol that enters our body eventually ends up in the liver, which is responsible for metabolizing it, breaking it down. This process is probably more time-consuming than we think: it takes about 1 hour or longer for our liver to process just one serving of alcohol out of our system. In other words, it takes 1 hour for our body to metabolize just one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot. The more servings we consume, the more time our body needs.

What Factors Affect the Rate Alcohol Is Processed?

Besides how much alcohol we consume, other factors affect how long it takes for alcohol to process through our system.

  • Our age. The older we are, the longer alcohol stays in our liver before it moves into our general bloodstream or is metabolized. Typically, older people have lower percentages of body water compared to those who are younger, which can also contribute to a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) and a slower processing time.
  • Our gender. Due to several physiological reasons, women metabolize alcohol differently from men. In fact, women tend to feel the effects of alcohol faster and longer compared to men, even when they drink the same amount and are relatively the same size. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol. Studies show that women have less aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), an enzyme used to metabolize alcohol in the stomach. 
  • Our weight. Our body size and composition can also influence how quickly alcohol is processed. Low-water fatty tissue cannot absorb alcohol to the extent that high-water muscle tissue can. In other words, people with more body fat generally have higher BACs. Similarly, someone who is extremely muscular but of shorter stature will have a higher BAC than someone of the same composition who is taller. 
  • Food consumption. Eating a meal and having food in our stomach before drinking can have a powerful influence on the absorption rate of alcohol. Food helps dilute alcohol and slow the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine, where alcohol is rapidly absorbed. Peak BAC could be as much as 3 times higher in someone with an empty stomach than in someone who has consumed food before drinking. 
  • Medications. Certain medications interact with alcohol and alter our metabolism, affecting how our body is able to process alcohol. Some medications slow the emptying from the stomach into the small intestine and liver, causing the alcohol to be rapidly absorbed. This results in higher BAC levels and intoxication that affects our body more quickly. 

Medications known to interact with alcohol include anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, ADHD medications like Adderall, diabetes medications, such as chlorpropamide, and cough and cold medicines.

Interestingly, alcohol can show up in a blood test for up to 12 hours. It can also be detected in our urine for up to 72 hours and in our hair for up to 90 days. This doesn’t mean we aren’t sober during these times, it just means that traces of alcohol remain in our system much longer than we might expect.

What Can We Do To Feel More Alert and Awake? 

Although we can’t sober up from alcohol quickly, we can do some things to help feel more alert and to increase our awareness. It’s worth repeating, however, that none of these things will eliminate alcohol from our blood or lower our BAC: only time can do that.

Here are some things that can help us feel more alert and aware:

  • Taking a cold shower. Cold showers don’t lower our BAC levels, but they may help us briefly feel more alert. A cold shower can also give our metabolism a quick boost as our body expends energy trying to stay warm.
  • Eating food. Eating food before, during, and after drinking can help slow the absorption of alcohol in our bloodstream. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach means our body absorbs it faster, causing us to feel the effects of alcohol more rapidly. Any foods can help, but carbohydrates — such as bread, pasta, or potatoes — slow down how quickly our body absorbs the alcohol. Eating during or after drinking may make us feel less intoxicated, but it doesn’t mean we’ve sobered up or that the alcohol is no longer in our system. 
  • Drinking water. Staying hydrated by drinking water or even diluting drinks with ice can slow down how quickly we feel alcohol’s effects. Drinking water with alcohol can also help prevent dehydration. A general rule of thumb is that for every alcoholic drink we have, we should also have a full glass of water. Staying hydrated throughout a night of drinking can help us avoid a hangover the next day. But keep this in mind: drinking water does not help us sober up. 
  • Sleeping. Sleep allows time to pass, and time is the only thing that actually sobers us up and helps get alcohol out of our system. The more sleep we get, the more sober we’ll feel, as sleep gives our liver time to do its job by metabolizing the alcohol. 

Even if we can improve our alertness and awareness, it’s important not to drive or make important decisions until alcohol is fully out of our system. This can take at least several hours, depending on how much we’ve consumed.

Tips for Avoiding Intoxication 

We’ll never have to worry about sobering up if we avoid alcohol or consume it in moderation. Moderation management and mindful drinking can be particularly effective at helping us make more intentional choices. Here are some other tips for avoiding intoxication: 

  • Count your drinks. It’s easy to lose track of the amount of alcohol we consume. Try using a notepad app in your phone to document every drink you have in one sitting — whether at a party, dinner, or event. This can help you become more aware of how much you’re consuming. You can even take this one step further by limiting yourself to one drink every hour. 
  • Sip slowly. Savor each drink, taking slow sips and staying active, such as chatting with friends. It can help to stick to drinks that take time to finish, such as beer or wine (as opposed to shots or mixed drinks, which are intended to be gulped down).
  • Don’t mix high ABV drinks. Mixing different types of alcoholic drinks — particularly those that have a high concentration of alcohol — can rapidly bring up BAC levels and make us more intoxicated. Mixing drinks may also cause us to consume a larger amount of alcohol in a short period of time. 
  • Hydrate. For every alcoholic drink you have, try consuming a full glass of water. This helps us not only stay hydrated, but it limits the amount of alcohol we consume by keeping us fuller. It also gives our liver time to break down the alcohol. Even moderate levels of alcohol cause dehydration, and drinking water can slow this effect down.
  • Eat something. It’s best not to drink on an empty stomach, so make sure to eat before drinking or snack while you’re drinking. Having food in our stomach slows the processing of alcohol. Eating can also help us drink at a slower rate, since we’re doing something instead of solely drinking.

If you’re looking to cut back on your alcohol consumption but not sure where to start, Reframe can help. We’ve helped millions of people not only change their relationship with alcohol, but establish healthier lifestyle habits that lead to improved wellness.

Summary FAQs

1. Can you sober up from alcohol in 30 minutes? 

If you’re wondering how to sober up fast, you can’t. It’s impossible to sober up from alcohol quickly. The fastest way to sober up from alcohol is to stop drinking and allow time to pass. 

2. Why is it impossible to sober up from alcohol quickly?

It’s impossible to sober up from alcohol quickly because your body needs time to process the alcohol out of your system. It takes about 1 hour or longer for your liver to process just one serving of alcohol (one beer, one glass of wine, one shot).

3. Do some of us process alcohol faster than others? 

Your age, weight, sex, the amount of food you’ve eaten, and any medications you’re taking can all influence how long it takes for alcohol to process through your system. 

4. How can you feel more awake and alert after drinking? 

Drinking a cup of coffee, taking a cold shower, eating food, drinking water, and sleeping can help you feel more alert and awake. But again, none of these things can help you sober up quickly: only time does that.

5. How can you avoid getting intoxicated in the first place?

You can avoid intoxication by drinking slowly, limiting yourself to one drink per hour, not mixing your drinks, hydrating with water, and eating food while you drink. Practicing mindful drinking can be particularly effective. 

Cut Back on Alcohol With 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 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 through the App Store or Google Play today!

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