How Many Drinks Is the Perfect Number?

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If you’ve ever puzzled over the perfect number of drinks for a night out, you’re not alone. After all, there’s a fine line between staying sober and embarrassing yourself after drinking too much. And sometimes, that line is hard to find.

Ideally, you’ll want to relax, blend in, and socialize, while still enjoying your friends’ company (and the taste of your meal).  But it can be far too easy to cross the line of “too many,” miss out on aspects of the night that you’d otherwise enjoy, and wake up with a killer hangover.

In a recent post for Bon Appétit, Ali Francis placed the ideal number of drinks at 1.5—along with a plea for bartenders to begin serving half-cocktails. And while Francis’ proposal may be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, she brings up an interesting point: For many of us, one and a half really might be the perfect number for a work night.1

But of course, once we start looking at individuals, everyone is different. Some might prefer to drink a bit more than that, while for others the perfect number could be zero. So, how can you know which is the right number of drinks for you?

Science’s Take on the Perfect Number of Drinks

friends raising glasses over lunch table
Photo by fauxels on Pexels

First of all, there are some standard guidelines to take into account. These vary by individual biology—but they are a good start when it comes to a responsible baseline buzz. For example, the CDC defines moderation as up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men.2 And for most people, this is enough to get you feeling loose while remaining self-aware (and avoiding the dreaded hangover).

Of course, these can’t fully account for how you’ll feel when you drink (and whether or not you had a sandwich or slice of pizza before you hit the bar). But in looking at the average female vs the average male, these guidelines do account for the differences in how our bodies process alcohol. They are also a good reference point for your overall health, and avoiding alcohol use disorder. 

What Exactly Is a Buzz?

To most people, a “buzz” means feeling relaxed, more social, and less inhibited—without going over the line to seriously intoxicated. 

So, how many drinks gets you buzzed? Let’s look at this from the perspective of blood alcohol content (BAC):

Your BAC is the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream at any given time. A BAC level of .08 is the legal definition of intoxication in most states, so anything less than this could be considered “buzzed.” For most people, the sweet spot probably lies around .03 to .06 percent.

Depending on your size, what you’ve eaten, and how fast you’re drinking, it usually takes anywhere from one to four drinks to get to this level. But be mindful—if you go beyond this in one sitting, or even drink too quickly, you could inadvertently find yourself in binge drinking territory.

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Finding Your Perfect Middle Ground

One drink can be all you need when you’re just out for dinner and conversation. But what about your best friend’s birthday party, or a music festival? Should you stick to one and call it a night, or is there a better way to find your middle ground?

Look at the Circumstances

people in cocktail gowns raising glasses
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels

When choosing “the perfect number of drinks,” the occasion plays a big role. One drink might be perfect for a business lunch where you need to bounce some ideas around with coworkers. But two drinks might be your sweet spot when you’re reuniting with one of your best friends from college. And three drinks might be the magic number when you want to socialize with your close friends at a weekend get-together. 

Overall, the event itself (i.e., the nature of the event and how long it will last) will impact your perfect number of drinks.

Consider Your Individual Preferences and Body

When finding your ideal number of drinks, you should also consider your preferences and how your body handles alcohol. Maybe you’re someone who, no matter what you do, will always wake up feeling like an anvil was dropped on your head after having two drinks. If that’s the case, you might find that 1.5 really is your sweet spot.

On the other hand, you might be one of the lucky ones who never seems to get a hangover. In this case, waking up in pain may be less of a consideration—but that doesn’t mean you should go downing shots. Your happy middle ground will allow you to loosen up, while enjoying the taste of your drinks and remembering the night. For you, this might mean two or three drinks with a glass of water between each.

The Bottom Line

So, how much should you drink to enjoy a night out—while still staying conscious, having fun, and dodging the pain of a hangover? Most people find that anywhere from one to three drinks is just right. But it all comes down to the circumstances, including your pace, biology, size, preferences, and what you’re drinking.

The bottom line is that you definitely don’t want to overdo it. And even three drinks per night, if it’s a regular thing, can take a real toll on your body. At the end of the day, it’s all about balance.

If you’re having trouble sticking to the right number of drinks, you’re far from alone. Ria offers new digital solutions for controlling your drinking—and you don’t have to identify as an alcoholic to join. Learn more about our program.

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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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