Person drinking from a glass

There is a common belief among some people that you can ‘drink yourself sober’ by continuing to drink, consuming certain types of alcohol or drinking water between alcoholic drinks.

So is there any truth to this belief or is it just a myth? We’ll look at the facts behind intoxication and sobriety and answer the question, ‘Can you drink yourself sober?’

Can You Drink Yourself Sober?

So can you drink yourself sober? The short answer is no. Some people report reaching a point in a drinking session when they start to feel more sober but there is no evidence beyond anecdotal tales that this is ever the case. People who have been drinking alcohol often report feeling less drunk than they actually are and the effects of alcohol on the system – such as slowed reactions and impaired balance – will still apply.

There are, though, some limited circumstances where ‘drinking yourself sober’ might appear to be the case.

If you stay awake and slow your drinking to the point where you are actually metabolising it faster than you are consuming it, you will gradually start to sober up. There are lots of factors involved in metabolising or processing alcohol but on average you will process around one standard drink (half a pint of regular-strength beer, a small glass of wine or single short) in an hour.

This means that if you drink less than this you may very slowly start to sober up. Depending on how much you have already drunk, this will be a long drawn-out process and you will never completely sober up while you are still drinking.
Another factor could be that some people have a higher tolerance to alcohol than others. Regular drinking can also build up your tolerance, meaning you need to consume more and more alcohol to get the same perceived effect.

Tolerance to alcohol is believed to be linked to corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a regulator of stress systems in the brain. Long-term tolerance can be a factor in developing an alcohol dependency, but some people can also experience acute or short-term tolerance in a single drinking session.

This might lead to the perceived impacts of alcohol becoming lessened over subsequent drinks. Again though, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will remain the same and this is not a true case of drinking yourself sober.

Common Myths About Drinking Yourself Sober

Some common myths about drinking yourself sober include:

• You can continue drinking until you are sober. As outlined above this is not the case. You may feel less drunk than you are but will still be impaired and have a high BAC.
• Drinking water between alcoholic drinks can sober you up. This is not true, although it is certainly a good idea. It can help you to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink overall, as well as helping to prevent dehydration.
• Switching to a different type of alcohol can sober you up. This is a common myth but the truth is it is the amount of alcohol consumed that matters. It can be the case that switching to a less concentrated drink can lead to you slowing the rate of intoxication but only if the rate of alcohol consumption is also lowered. Downing two pints of beer in quick succession will tend to affect you more than a double short consumed over a longer period.
• Drinking coffee can sober you up. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and can give a temporary boost to your reactions and awareness. It will not sober you up though and the same goes for other ‘sobriety fixes’ like a cold shower.

The Science Behind Sobriety

Alcohol is not digested like food but passes into the bloodstream. A small amount passes into the bloodstream through your tongue and mouth but most will first hit the stomach and be absorbed via the tissue lining of the stomach and small intestine. It then passes into your brain and other organs, typically reaching its full effect within 15-45 minutes. In an adult male, alcohol can penetrate more than two thirds (around 68%) of all body tissues.

Alcohol is a toxin that must be metabolised. A number of factors can influence both the rate of absorption (getting drunk, essentially) and metabolising (sobering up) including whether you have eaten, your age, sex and build and whether you are a chronic drinker. The alcohol elimination rate can vary by up to 3 times in fact, depending on various factors.

Alcohol is metabolised through a number of areas including the brain and through breath, but the main route is via the liver. While the rate of metabolism can vary, alcohol is processed from the body at an average rate of 0.015 g/100mL/hour. This is equivalent to one regular alcoholic drink per hour. Even if you go to sleep, you can still be intoxicated or have a high blood alcohol concentration the next day.

Tips for Responsible Drinking

The best way to avoid excessive intoxication and to make sure you can sober up quickly and easily is to practise responsible drinking. There are a number of things you can do to help limit the amount you drink including:

• Make sure you eat before or while drinking
• Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water
• Set a limit or budget before you start drinking
• Keep track of your drinks
• Finish one drink before starting another – ‘topping up’ can make you lose track of your drinking
• Use mixers rather than neat drinks
• Pick a lower alcohol beverage
• Plan on drink-free days and stick to them

Find Help Today

The idea of ‘drinking yourself sober’ might be a myth but you can certainly take steps to reduce your drinking in the first place. If you are struggling to do so or are otherwise concerned about your alcohol consumption, you might find that you need professional help at an alcohol rehab.

If you are considering rehab or simply need information about where to turn next, contact Step One Recovery today for confidential advice.