How long do you have to wait after drinking before driving?

drinking and driving

You are at a party and have had a few drinks. How long does it take to sober up?

When it comes to drinking and driving, there are several things to consider

• Your gender, your age, your metabolism, your weight, your health
• What you have been drinking
• How much you have had to drink
• Whether you have eaten during that time as well

Factors influencing the metabolism of alcohol

Generally speaking, the liver can metabolise (this refers to the organic and chemical processes that maintain life and burn calories) one unit of alcohol (two-thirds of a beer, one tot of spirits, 75 ml – 100 ml of wine) in an hour. The effects of drinking alcohol take 15 – 45 minutes to be felt.

Men can generally metabolise slightly more alcohol than women. In both genders weight plays an important role: the lower your body weight, the quicker you reach the blood alcohol limit. In South Africa, this limit is 0.05 g of alcohol per 100 ml of blood – and it doesn’t take long to reach it at all. In fact, a woman weighing 45 kg can reach it by drinking one unit of alcohol.

If you have been ill, your liver function may be somewhat reduced. Ongoing stress can also make you more susceptible to liver diseases, which in turn can affect this organ’s ability to metabolise alcohol. Much of it gets absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the stomach lining. A full stomach hinders this process.

If you drink coffee, take a shower, or drink lots of water, it will not make you sober. Water only helps if you are diluting your drinks and therefore are consuming less alcohol.

It can take hours to sober up

Alcohol can be detected in your blood until 6 hours after you have stopped drinking. The more you drink, the higher your blood alcohol limit will be and the longer it will take for you to sober up sufficiently to drive. A breathalyser can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours after you have been drinking.

Drinking and driving illegal

Drinking and driving are dangerous and illegal. If you want to be absolutely sure that you are not over the blood alcohol limit, an average-sized man will have to wait an hour for every unit of alcohol that has been consumed before driving. It is very possible that these levels will drop to below 0.05 within a few hours, depending on how much you have had to drink. But, if you had 10 units, you could actually still be drunk the next morning.

So, in short, it is best to either get a taxi, or have a designated driver if you know you are going to be drinking.



National Institutes of Health; American Addiction Centers

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