People in the United States like to drink. According to a 2015 national survey, more than 86 percent of people ages 18 and older say they’ve had alcohol at some point in their lifetime. More than 70 percent had an alcoholic drink in the past year, and 56 percent drank in the past month.
As you drink, alcohol goes into your bloodstream and affects your brain and body functions. When you drink a lot, your body and brain functions slow down considerably.
Drinking alcohol can make you drunk, which is associated with:
- slow and/or poor judgment
- lack of coordination
- slowed breathing and heart rate
- vision problems
- loss of balance
The more alcohol you drink, the stronger the effects of alcohol on the body.
Being very drunk can be dangerous. It can cause seizures, dehydration, injuries, vomiting, coma, and even death.
It can be helpful to know the signs of being drunk so you can avoid possible harm to yourself by continuing to drink.
Being tipsy is the first sign that the alcohol you’re drinking is having an effect on your body.
Usually a man will start to feel tipsy after consuming 2 to 3 alcoholic drinks in an hour. A woman will feel tipsy after consuming 1 to 2 alcoholic drinks in an hour.
This tipsiness begins when alcohol enters the body’s bloodstream and starts to affect the functions of the brain and body.
Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the unit used to measure the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream.
When a person becomes tipsy:
- They appear more talkative and more self-confident.
- They are more likely to take risks, and their motor responses are slowed.
- They have a shorter attention span and poor short-term memory.
A person is at greater risk of injury when they are tipsy.
Everyone is affected differently by alcohol. How much a person drinks, and how quickly they get drunk, depends on their:
- past drinking history
- body size
- amount of food eaten
- whether they’ve taken other drugs
Older people, people who have little experience drinking, females, and smaller people may have a lower tolerance to alcohol than others. Taking drugs before drinking and/or not eating can also increase the effects of alcohol on the body.
There are seven stages of alcohol intoxication.
1. Sobriety or low-level intoxication
A person is sober or low-level intoxicated if they have consumed one or fewer alcoholic drinks per hour. At this stage, a person should feel like their normal self.
BAC: 0.01–0.05 percent
A person will enter the euphoric stage of intoxication after consuming 2 to 3 drinks as a man or 1 to 2 drinks as a woman, in an hour. This is the tipsy stage. You might feel more confident and chatty. You might have a slower reaction time and lowered inhibitions.
BAC: 0.03–0.12 percent
A BAC of 0.08 is the legal limit of intoxication in the United States. A person can be arrested if they are found driving with a BAC above this limit.
At this stage, a man might have consumed 3 to 5 drinks, and a woman 2 to 4 drinks, in an hour:
- You might become emotionally unstable and get easily excited or saddened.
- You might lose your coordination and have trouble making judgment calls and remembering things.
- You might have blurry vision and lose your balance.
- You may also feel tired or drowsy.
At this stage, you are “drunk.”
BAC: 0.09–0.25 percent
Consuming more than 5 drinks per hour for a man or more than 4 drinks per hour for a woman can lead to the confusion stage of intoxication:
- You might have emotional outbursts and a major loss of coordination.
- It might be hard to stand and walk.
- You may be very confused about what’s going on.
- You might “black out” without losing consciousness, or fade in and out of consciousness.
- You may not be able to feel pain, which puts you at risk of injury.
BAC: 0.18–0.30 percent
At this stage, you will no longer respond to what’s happening around or to you. You won’t be able to stand or walk. You may also pass out or lose control of your bodily functions. You may have seizures and blue-tinged or pale skin.
You will not be able to breathe normally, and your gag reflex won’t work correctly. This can be dangerous — even fatal — if you choke on your vomit or become critically injured. These are signs that you need immediate medical attention.
BAC: 0.25–0.4 percent
Your body functions will slow so much that you will fall into a coma, putting you at risk of death. Emergency medical attention is critical at this stage.
BAC: 0.35–0.45 percent
At a BAC of 0.45 or above, you are likely to die from alcohol intoxication. Excessive alcohol use causes approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many Americans drink and get drunk. While some find it fun to get a buzz from drinking alcohol from time to time, consuming too much of it can be downright dangerous.
It helps to be familiar with the signs of being drunk so you know what to expect, when to stop it, and when to get help.