University Counseling Center

Metabolizing Alcohol

HOW do we sober up (metabolize alcohol)?

10% of alcohol is eliminated in sweat, breath, and urine.

The rest is metabolized by Alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme produced by liver cells. Women have 40% less of this enzyme in their livers. This means that women cannot and should not attempt to “keep up” with their male counterparts.          

How quickly do we metabolize alcohol?

One rule of thumb is that the liver can process 1 standard drink per hour; however, this may or may not apply to you depending upon how much 1 standard drink raises your BAC (which can be affected by gender, size, etc).

A more accurate guideline is that the liver metabolizes alcohol at a rate of 0.015% per hour, so this is the rate at which your BAC decreases after it reaches peak.  This rate is constant, regardless of gender, size, or body type.

Nothing can speed this up, but some things can slow it down:

  • Liver problems – the metabolism is slower because of limited function.
  • Tylenol (Acetaminophen) is also metabolized by the liver. What you take isn’t the active form, but is transformed in the liver into the active agent. Drinking alcohol while taking Tylenol creates a “bottleneck” in the liver. The drug is processed incorrectly, killing liver cells, and alcohol is metabolized slower.

We may think that a nap, coffee, showers, exercise, or other things help us to sober up, but they don’t actually help our BAC go down.  They just wake us up a little.

An example

If a person went to bed at 2am, with a BAC of .20, then the next 14 hours might look like this:

Time Activity BAC
2 am In bed, dizzy and disorented .200
3 am Nauseous, unable to sleep .185
4 am Very restless .170
5 am Sleeping, but not well .155
6 am Sleep .140
7 am Get up for class with a headache .125
8 am Drive to school, risking DUI or worse .110
9 am In class, having trouble focusing on lecture .095
10 am Judgment still impaired .080
11 am Mind still foggy, fatigued .065
12 pm Not hungry, cottonmouth .050
1 pm In afternoon class, still unfocused .035
2 pm Head clearing .020
3 pm Feeling a little better .005
4 pm Sober at last, but not fully recovered .000


*Disclaimer: This information is meant to provide education about substance use. The content of this workshop is not meant to replace therapy and is not considered mental health treatment. If you are in crisis or find yourself needing more support please call the UToledo Counseling Center at 419-530-2426 or dial 9-1-1 if it is an emergency.




Last Updated: 7/15/24