How Drunk Am I? Why You May Not Know, and How To Figure It Out

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Have you ever been out with an extremely drunk friend who insisted they were only tipsy or nearly sober? It can be frustrating, especially if the person starts acting belligerent, tries to get behind the wheel, or worse. Maybe you’ve even been this friend a couple of times. But why is it so hard to figure out how intoxicated you are?

If you’ve ever wondered how to tell if you are drunk, you’re not alone. Below, learn about why gauging your own intoxication level can be so challenging, as well as some tips and tools that can help.

Why You May Not Know How Drunk You Are

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Photo by Maurício Mascaro on Pexels

When someone insists they’re sober or “just tipsy” when they’re clearly inebriated, it can seem like they are stubborn or in denial. But this is often not the case. Because not only does alcohol impact your coordination and motor skills, it also seriously clouds your judgment.

In a 2016 study from BMC Public Health, researchers set out to see how participants answered the question: How drunk am I? The researchers followed it up by actually assessing each person’s intoxication level. Then, they explored why the participants answered the way they did.

The study found that people used their peers’ behavior as a benchmark for their own drunkenness. For instance, if someone was surrounded by intoxicated friends, they would tend to rank themselves as less drunk than they really were.1 

Claudia Christian breaks the facts down in the below video:

Recent findings have indicated that we’re all pretty bad judges of our own intoxication levels.

Claudia Christian
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How To Tell How Drunk You Are

If you’re wondering how to know if you are drunk, here are some tried and true methods that can help.

Look at the Signs

First, you’ll want to start looking for the basic signs of intoxication. It can be tricky to do this if you’re feeling the effects of alcohol, but do your best to pull yourself together for a momentary self-check-in. 

The general signs include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of balance
  • Feeling warm or hot
  • A shorter attention span
  • Having little-to-no inhibitions when it comes to behavior. (This might look like being extra loud, erratic, or reckless.)

Assess How Much You’ve Drank in the Past Few Hours

In general, the average person’s body can process one standard drink per hour—although this can vary with how much you’ve eaten, as well as your sex, size, and alcohol tolerance. 

With that in mind, try to think back on how many drinks you’ve had in the past couple of hours. This number, along with any signs of intoxication you’re showing, can help you gauge your current state.

It can also help to consider whether or not you’ve been binge drinking:

  • For men, this is five or more drinks within two hours.
  • For women, this is four or more drinks within two hours.

Learn more: Drinking Levels Defined

Try a Balance Test

If you’re wondering how to tell if you are drunk, a standard balance test can also be useful. It can help you assess your coordination, motor skills, and overall intoxication level.

To start, find a straight line on the ground to walk along. If you can’t find a straight line where you’re at, you could place a piece of tape or a shoelace on the floor.

Then, walk heel-to-toe along your line for nine straight steps. Afterward, turn on one foot and walk heel-to-toe in the other direction. 

If you find yourself:

  • Having to pause to prevent stumbling
  • Losing your balance
  • Using your arms to steady yourself
  • Unable to connect your heel and toe in each step

It may indicate that you are impaired.

Use a Breathalyzer 

While the tips above can help you get a general idea of how drunk you are, a high-quality breathalyzer is the best way to get an accurate (and objective) reading of your intoxication levels. You can purchase a breathalyzer online or have one delivered to your doorstep when you sign up for telemedicine-based programs like Ria Health.

Try a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Calculator

Online calculators like this one can help you get a rough estimate of your current blood alcohol content (BAC).2 

To use one, you’ll need to enter your sex, weight, the number of drinks you’ve had, and how quickly you’ve had them. Then, the calculator will show you your approximate BAC. For example:

  • If you’re a 180-pound male who drank two standard-sized beers over the course of an hour, your BAC would be 0.033%.
  • If you’re a 140-pound female who drank three standard glasses of wine in the past two hours, your BAC would be 0.072%. 

For a sense of what different BAC levels mean for your intoxication level, check out the below chart:

Infographic explaining blood alcohol concentration levels

How To Avoid Getting Too Drunk

To avoid ever wondering how drunk you are, sometimes it’s best to prevent yourself from getting to that point in the first place. If you’ve been finding yourself drinking more than you’d like to lately, here are some tips that can help you dial back:

  • Surround yourself with people who drink less. Your friend group—whether they’re sober or heavy drinkers—can influence your self-perception and drinking habits.
  • Avoid crossing into binge drinking territory. Keep in mind that having four to five drinks in two hours is enough to be considered a binge. 
  • Have a glass of water between drinks. This can prevent you from taking in too much alcohol too fast. Plus, it can help you stay hydrated and curb your chances of a hangover.
  • Grab a breathalyzer that can sync up with your phone. Having a tool like this on hand makes it easy and quick to check your BAC throughout the night.

The Bottom Line

The strategies and tools mentioned here are all helpful ways to gauge your current intoxication level. But if you find yourself frequently wondering how drunk you are, it may be a sign that you’re dealing with a pattern of heavy or problem drinking. This can be troubling to face on your own—but the good news is that online programs like Ria Health can help. 

Ria Health is a telemedicine-based program that can help you quit or control your drinking. When you sign up, we’ll send you a breathalyzer, so you can check your BAC whenever you need to. On top of that, you’ll get access to medical professionals, coaches, and even medications to reduce alcohol cravings. Get started or learn more about how it works today.

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Written By:
Alicia Schultz
Minnesota-based freelancer and health advocate who aims to empower others through her work.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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