When you’re out on the town or having a fun night in with friends, it’s a good idea to know how much wine your body can tolerate before you get drunk. It’s always important to drink responsibly, but sometimes when you’re having fun, you can accidentally drink a little too much and end up regretting it later. If you go into the evening knowing exactly how many glasses you can handle before you’re drunk, you’re much more likely to stay in control and be able to have fun without worrying.
In this article, we’ll take you through the different factors that affect how our bodies process alcohol, tell you which wines will get you the drunkest, and arm you with all the knowledge you need to drink wine confidently and responsibly.
What causes people to get drunk?
Have you ever wondered why sometimes, when you drink, you feel totally fine, but in other instances, one glass of wine has your head spinning? Well, it all has to do with the way our bodies process the alcohol we drink.
Alcohol is broken down in the liver. The minute you start drinking, your liver begins to process what you’ve drunk. An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase is responsible for breaking down alcohol. You begin to feel drunk when you consume drinks faster than the enzyme can break the alcohol down.
However, the rate that your body breaks down liquor isn’t always consistent. Various factors dictate how intoxicated you get, and these things can change all the time.
What factors affect how drunk you get?
Many factors will affect how many glasses it takes to get you tipsy. These factors can be mental, physical, or even circumstantial.
Amount of alcohol and speed of consumption
Obviously, how much you drink and how quickly will have the largest effect on your intoxication level. If you pound three glasses of wine back to back, you’re going to feel a lot drunker than if you spaced them out over a couple of hours because your body doesn’t have time to break the alcohol down. This is why shots tend to make you feel drunker because you’re consuming more concentrated alcohol quickly.
Also, not all wines have the same ABV% or alcohol by volume. Some wines actually contain a lot more booze than others. We’ll break down which wines are the booziest later in the article.
Biology and ethnicity
Some of the factors that dictate how drunk you feel after a cocktail are inherited biologically. Some people’s bodies just process alcohol more quickly, while others don’t.
Scientists have also observed that certain ethnic groups tend to show reduced levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, meaning alcohol will remain in their blood longer. These groups can feel drunk more quickly than others.
Gender also plays a large role in how drunk a person feels. Women statistically have less alcohol dehydrogenase present in their bodies. Some studies have shown that men have up to 40% more alcohol dehydrogenase than women. This means that typically, men process alcohol more efficiently than women and can consume more without feeling drunk.
Body Size and composition
People who are smaller in stature or weigh less tend to feel the effects of liquor more quickly than larger people. Alcohol is distributed through the body via the circulatory system and enters most tissues except bone and fat. This is important because as a person’s percentage of body fat increases, the concentration of alcohol in the body’s lean tissues is proportionally higher.
Have you ever noticed that you get drunk a lot faster when you drink on an empty stomach? This is because having food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and delays impairment. The type of food doesn’t really matter, but it’s always important to have something in your stomach before starting a night of drinking.
Carbonation in beverages
Carbonation speeds up the absorption of liquor into the bloodstream. When you mix alcohol with carbonated drinks like soda or tonic water, your body will actually absorb it into the bloodstream faster. This is also true for champagne and sparkling wines, so these may cause you to feel drunker even faster, even if they don’t have a high ABV%.
Mixing your alcohol with an energy drink can cause you to get more drunk than you realize. Energy drinks are stimulants, and alcohol is a depressant. Energy drinks will mask the effects of liquor by giving you a sense of energy and can make you feel as though you’re not drunk—meaning that a vodka Redbull can seriously hit you.
Studies have shown that your emotional state can dictate how drunk you feel. Strong emotions such as anger, fear, or loneliness can actually hasten impairment. Lack of sleep, as well as illness, will also make you feel drunk much more quickly.
Which wines are the booziest?
While various factors dictate how quickly your body processes liquor, how much you drink and how quickly are the biggest factors. It’s important to realize that not all wines are created equal when it comes to ABV%. The average glass of wine contains about 11% to 13% ABV, but there is a huge range of wines on either side of the spectrum. Before drinking, it’s always important to check the ABV% of the wine you’re enjoying.
Usually, red wines tend to be more alcoholic than whites or rosés. This is because red wines have tannins and usually require a higher alcohol content to keep them in balance. Fortified wines, which have another spirit, like brandy, added, are also much higher in alcohol. Examples of fortified wines include sherry and port.
Low alcohol wines
Wines that are 12.5% or lower ABV are considered on the low end of the spectrum. These wines tend to be light in body and fairly sweet, caused by the leftover grape sugar in the wine after the desired alcohol level has been reached.
Examples of low alcohol wines are:
- Barefoot Pink Moscato (9% ABV)
- Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut Champagne (12% ABV)
- Yellow Tail Riesling (8.5% ABV)
Depending on your other risk factors, it may take three to four standard size five oz. glasses of these wines for you to feel drunk. However, it’s important to remember that carbonation can speed up liquor absorption into the bloodstream, so be careful with champagnes.
Medium alcohol wines
Medium alcohol wines are the most common and range from about 12.5% to about 14.5% ABV. Most of the wines you see on the market today will fall into this category. Many different reds, whites, sparkling wines, and rosés are in this range, from Pinot Grigios and Chardonnays to Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs.
Wines within this category include:
- Joel Gott Pinot Gris (12.8% ABV)
- Josh Cellars Pinot Noir (13% ABV)
- Justin Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5% ABV)
- Sutter Home Chardonnay (13% ABV)
The average person will begin to feel drunk after two or three glasses of wine from this category.
High alcohol wines
High alcohol wines are usually considered to be any wine with an ABV of 14.5% or more. These wines can either be made naturally or fortified with added liquor. Wines with naturally high alcohol content usually tend to be dry reds, like Shiraz and Zinfandel. Fortified wines with high alcohol content include sherries, ports, Marsalas, and Madeiras.
Examples of wine in this category include:
Depending on the other factors listed, you may start to feel drunk from just one to two glasses of wine from this category.
There are so many factors that affect how drunk you feel after a glass of wine. Things like physical traits, like your ethnicity, weight, and body composition, as well as mental traits, such as mood, can greatly affect the way your body processes alcohol. Your circumstances, like how much food you’ve eaten that day or what you mix your drink with, will greatly affect how drunk you feel.
Additionally, different types of wine have wildly different alcohol percentages. One glass of 16% ABV wine can have the same effect as two 8% ABV wine glasses. It’s important to always check the percentage on the bottle you’re sipping, so you have some idea of how much your body can handle.
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