People who start drinking seldom do so with the express purpose of becoming an alcoholic. Often, what begins as occasional binge drinking turns into a dangerous habit over time.
When an individual drink heavily, intoxication occurs. The liver can only process around one standard drink per hour. Any consumption above this amount causes a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to rise significantly. Depending on how much someone drinks and other factors, it can take several hours for a person to get completely sober.
In the U.S., one standard drink is defined as the following:
12 oz. of beer at about 4-5% ABV
5 oz. of wine at approximately 12% ABV
One shot of spirits (rum, vodka, etc.) at about 40% ABV (80 proof)
While the duration in which a person remains “drunk” varies, the average, moderately-intoxicated person will probably sober up in about 6-8 hours. Charts such as the one noted here can help a person estimate what their BAC will be over the next few hours after ingesting a certain number of drinks.
Binge drinking or chronic, excessive alcohol consumption can result in highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. However, an individual doesn’t have to be an alcoholic to experience intense alcohol withdrawal. In fact, if you’ve never encountered it, this can be quite terrifying, especially for those who don’t realize how severe these symptoms can be.
The length of alcohol withdrawal is different for everyone. That said, according to the National Library of Medicine, this process usually starts within about eight hours after the last alcoholic drink has been consumed. Acute symptoms, which are the most problematic, tend to peak within 24-72 hours, then wane over the next few days. Emotional symptoms, however, may last for much longer.
Factors That Affect Alcohol Withdrawal and Duration of Effects
Many factors play a role in the number of hours an individual remains intoxicated, as well as how long and severe the withdrawal process will be. These factors may include the following:
Amount of alcohol drank
Duration of time a person has been consuming alcohol
How often the person has been drinking on a routine basis
Amount of food consumed before or during a drinking episode
Weight, age, and sex
Other substances used, such as prescription or illicit drugs
Presence of co-occurring mental or physical health conditions
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
How Long Does it Take to Get Sober?
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually onset within hours of an episode of heavy drinking. It is critical to realize that alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be life-threatening if not promptly addressed medically.
A person who has been consuming a large amount of alcohol or for a prolonged period will develop a chemical dependence. When this occurs, his or her brain has become accustomed to (and adapted to) the presence of alcohol.
Alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant, which means that it slows down activity in the brain and body. When alcohol is abruptly removed, a rebound effect occurs, not unlike a spring bouncing back. This can lead to many adverse consequences, including anxiety, rapid heart rate, and even seizures.
Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal also include the following:
In many ways, these symptoms are the opposite of those individual experiences when intoxicated. Many people enjoy the feelings that alcohol produces, and this can drive them to drink repeatedly and to excess. The discomfort of withdrawal often compels people to drink again to prevent it—leading back to the vicious cycle of addiction.
The Importance of Getting Professional Help
If you or a loved one are battling alcoholism or withdrawal symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical care. Detoxing under the supervision of medical providers ensures a person’s safety, reduces the likelihood of relapse, and increases comfort. But please note, alcohol detox is not the same thing as a long-term, comprehensive rehab program. Therefore, once detox is completed, those with substance abuse issues are encouraged to undergo further treatment.
Most individuals who suffer from alcoholism are unable to stay sober long-term without intensive support. For this reason, extended therapeutic care is often needed to help those suffering prevent relapse and find healthier ways of coping with unwanted emotions and stress.
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