There's one way – and only one way – to lower your blood alcohol level: stop drinking and wait. As you consume alcoholic beverages, you quickly absorb the alcohol into your bloodstream. It's your liver's job to break down that alcohol, but it can only do it just so fast – at a rate of 0.25 to 0.30 ounce of ethanol per hour, to be exact. You can't speed this up unless you have some way of installing in yourself additional functioning livers.
In more practical terms, you metabolize one-half to one standard drink per hour. Once you stop drinking, your blood alcohol content (BAC) drops 0.015 percent per hour. So, if you stumble out of the bar at 1 a.m. with a BAC of 0.20 that drops by 0.015 every hour, it would take 14 hours – until 3 p.m. – for your BAC to return to zero.
A Point That Needs Stressing
There are things you can do to feel less drunk. But this is not the same as being less drunk. None of these lower BAC fast, slowly or at all. None restore your impaired judgment, motor control or other faculties. None make it any safer for you to drive or operate machinery. And none help you score lower on a breathalyzer or urine test, or keep you out of legal trouble if you're stopped by a cop. So, if you're looking for tricks to drive sooner than you should or to beat a test if you get pulled over, you're out of luck.
How to Feel More Sober
Alcohol is a depressant that fatigues your body and mind. Most age-old tricks people use to sober up only help to wake you up and make you more alert. And remember: Which of the following strategies will help lower your BAC? None! That's right.
- Drink coffee or another caffeinated beverage to feel more awake and alert. Keep in mind that caffeine is a diuretic that contributes to dehydration, like alcohol does, and that becoming dehydrated is the main reason you get a hangover.
- Drink plenty of water to rehydrate. This won't flush alcohol out of your system faster, but it can alleviate headaches and stomachaches stemming from dehydration. And it helps minimize hangovers.
- Take a cold shower if the room isn't spinning too much, just to give yourself a jolt.
- Throw up to relieve nausea. You absorb alcohol in minutes, so unless you vomit immediately after drinking, this won't help you get less drunk. And it only purges stuff from your gut; it won't purge the alcohol in your bloodstream that's making you inebriated and elevating your BAC.
- Eat something to settle an upset stomach. But this doesn't "soak up the alcohol," which again is in your blood.
How to Get Less Drunk
Now that the bubble's been burst, and you know you can't do anything to lower BAC fast, focus next time on getting less intoxicated in the first place. There are certain practical, effective ways to accomplish this:
- Drink slowly. The key factor that influences BAC is how much faster you imbibe alcohol than your liver can break it down. The slower you go, the better your liver keeps up. Stick to one drink per hour, and you'll probably only feel tipsy at most.
- Opt for beverages you sip. Downing shots or delicious cocktails gets you loaded quickly – not only because you drink them fast, but also because you absorb alcohol in liquor faster than from other sources. Slowly enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.
- Choose drinks with lower alcohol content. Another reason to order beer or wine is that many beers have alcohol by volume (ABV) of 4 to 6 percent (though some go higher), and most wines are in the 12 to 15 percent ABV range. Most hard liquors fall between 35 and 45 percent ABV, and some go much higher.
- Eat a meal with carbs and fat before drinking. A belly full of these nutrients slows alcohol absorption. This helps your liver keep up better, so you get less intoxicated, and your BAC doesn't climb as fast. Also, if you're full, you'll probably drink more slowly.
- Snack while you drink. If you're still going a couple of hours after eating a meal, snacking later on means there will still be stuff in your stomach to slow the alcohol absorption.
- Alternate with some nonalcoholic beverages. During a marathon drinking session, make every other drink or two a glass of water, juice or soda without any liquor mixed in.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.