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A happy hour with new co-workers (and your boss), Mother’s Day brunch, your nephew’s 3rd birthday party: These are just a few places where you might want to have a drink (or three) without slurring your words or telling the same story for the 20th time.
Luckily for you, it’s totally possible to imbibe without getting drunk.
Learn to stay within your BAC sweet spot
To drink and not get drunk, you need to aim to keep your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below .06 percent.
A BAC of 0.06 percent is the sweet spot — also referred to as the green zone — because you’re able to enjoy the effects that make social drinking a good time without the negative effects of drinking too much.
It’s also under the legal limit in the United States, which is 0.08 percent in case you’re worried about driving (more on that later).
Staying under .06 percent can make you feel relaxed and more sociable. Depending on your tolerance, you may also feel buzzed and your judgment may be slightly impaired, but you won’t be stumbling or slurring your words.
You’ll also be able to get better sleep and avoid a killer hangover the next morning so you can get on with your day.
A BAC calculator can help you figure out how much you can drink to stay in the zone so you can set a drink limit.
Eat something first
Seriously, you gotta eat. Drinking on an empty stomach is the last thing you want to do if you’re trying not to get drunk. Food in the stomach helps slow alcohol absorption, which can keep your BAC down.
Have a meal or at least a hearty snack before heading out to an event or night out, and continue to nosh while drinking.
Some foods are better than others before drinking because, along with slowing alcohol absorption, they can also reduce your risk of booze-induced tummy issues, like heartburn and nausea, and help prevent a hangover.
Sip, don’t chug
The body typically takes an hour to process one standard drink. If you drink fast or chug your bevs, your body doesn’t have the time it needs to do this, resulting in a buildup of alcohol in your bloodstream and a higher BAC.
Sipping your drinks slowly so that you’re not exceeding more than one drink per hour is the best way not to get drunk.
To help pace yourself, don’t order another drink or let someone refill your glass until it’s empty. Having ice in your glass will also slow you down (and water down the booze a tad).
Alternate between alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks
If you’re going to drink, alternating between alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks is a great way to limit your intake and keep you from getting sloshed.
Water is always a good way to go, but if you prefer something more festive, you’ve got options in the way of booze alternatives that’ll make alternating a pleasure.
Mocktails are great if you’re more a tiny-umbrella-in-your-drink sort of person, but there’s more to booze alternatives than virgin coladas.
Nonalcoholic beer has come a long way. There are even nonalcoholic spirits and bitters worth subbing in if you like the taste of the harder stuff.
If wine is more your jam, wine alcohol-removed options will let you enjoy your night through rosé-colored glasses instead of beer goggles.
Change your glass shape
It sounds like hooey, but there’s some evidence that the shape of your glass may influence how much you drink.
In one study, participants were 60 percent slower at drinking alcoholic drinks out of a straight glass than a curved one. Granted, the study was small, not performed IRL, and beer was the only alcoholic beverage included. Still, it may be worth a try if you tend to knock back cold ones fast and would rather not.
That said, glass shape may make a difference when it comes to mixed drinks, too, according to an older study from 2005.
According to that study, people (professional bartenders included) unknowingly pour 20 to 30 percent more alcohol into short, wide glasses than tall, slender ones.
If you’re out for drinks and trying not to get drunk, it may be worth asking for your drink in a tall, narrow glass if possible.
When mixing your own drinks, using a tall, slender glass or one with the alcohol level pre-marked may help keep you from accidentally underestimating your pour.
Say no to shots
We get the allure of doing shots, but they’re hands down the fastest way to end up capital-D drunk.
That’s because shots are up there in alcohol concentration, with most distilled spirits containing 40 percent alcohol. Plus, you knock ’em back super quick, which can raise your BAC real fast.
Seriously, if you’re trying not to get drunk, say no to shots.
Remember, you don’t need to ~feel~ drunk to be too drunk to drive
Even if you keep your alcohol limit below the legal limit, that doesn’t mean you’re fit to drive. You can still be impaired even without feeling drunk. Yes, even if you keep your BAC below the .06 percent sweet spot we covered earlier.
Judgment impairment actually begins well below that, at a BAC of around .02 percent — which is also well below the legal limit for driving.
The impact alcohol has on a person, from how fast it kicks in and wears off to how severe the effects are, can vary significantly due to factors including:
- sex assigned at birth
- body size and composition
- overall health
- whether you’ve eaten
- how hydrated you are
- whether you’re taking certain medications or mixing alcohol with other substances
Even if you have no intention of getting drunk, making arrangements for a ride home is a good idea if you’re going to be drinking. Another option is to arrange a place to stay until you’re sober and it’s safe to drive again.
The bottom line
You can get your drink on and not get drunk by keeping tabs on how much alcohol is in your drinks and pacing yourself accordingly.
If you have trouble controlling your alcohol intake and find that drinking often leads to getting drunk and want help, you have a few options:
- Talk with your primary care doctor.
- Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for treatment referral and info.
- Use the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator to find support.
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