When a person drinks alcohol, the full effects can take some time to become evident. The onset and intensity of effects depend on several factors, including the following:
- Amount of alcohol consumed
- Rate of consumption
- Sex (male or female)
- Metabolic rate
- Amount of food in stomach
- Fat content of food
Despite the variability between individuals, there are some predictable stages of drunkenness through which a person may progress, depending on their blood alcohol content (BAC), as their drinking episode continues.
The Stages of Drunkenness
Stage 1: Sobriety
At a BAC of 0.05 or less, the individual is unlikely to appear intoxicated. Depending on the person, judgment and reaction time may be mildly impaired. One drink will typically result in a BAC beneath this threshold for both men and women.
Stage 2: Euphoria
The second stage of drunkenness, euphoria, occurs between 0.03-0.12 BAC (or around 1-4 drinks for a female or 2-5 for a male). In this stage, the person may feel more confident, talkative, social, and mildly euphoric. Inhibitions also begin to be reduced. While many of the effects of alcohol at this time may be desirable for the drinker, the adverse effects of alcohol, such as impaired judgment, memory, and coordination, will also begin to appear. At this stage, a person’s motor skill responses may also be substantially more delayed than when sober. Likewise, alertness is impaired, the person may begin having difficulty processing information, and they will not identify danger as rapidly. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that a drunk driver is up to four times more likely to be involved in an auto accident than a person with a BAC of zero. Operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 or above is illegal and can result in arrest.
Stage 3: Excitement
Having a BAC of 0.09-0.25 places a person into the third stage of drunkenness, also known as excitement. They may begin to exhibit emotional instability, a loss in judgment, and a notable delay in reaction time. They may also experience the following:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired perception
- Memory loss
- Vision problems
- Impaired coordination
At this stage, those around the individual will likely notice that they are visibly intoxicated.
Stage 4: Confusion
Someone with a BAC of 0.18-0.30 is in the confusion stage of drunkenness, which is hallmarked by emotional instability and disorientation. Coordination is noticeably impaired, to the extent that the person may stagger when walking, may not be able to stand upright, and may experience dizziness. Those in this stage of intoxication are likely to have a complete memory lapse, otherwise known as “blacking out.” When this occurs, the person is essentially a walking, talking zombie operating on autopilot, but they are not quite to the point of passing out. Also, a person in this stage may have a significantly increased pain threshold, meaning they could cause harm to themselves and not feel the effects until much later.
Stage 5: Stupor
Stupor can occur at a BAC of0.25-0.40. Someone in this stage of drunkenness is profoundly intoxicated and in dangerous territory, as they are at a high risk of alcohol poisoning and death. They will have lost most or all of their motor control, and they cannot respond appropriately to stimuli. Also, they may be:
- Unable to stand or walk
- Unresponsive or completely passed out
- Unable to voluntarily control certain bodily functions
Someone in this stage usually needs immediate medical help to survive. People who are left to “sleep it off” may end up experiencing hazardously slowed breathing or complete respiratory arrest, or they may aspirate on their own vomit. Other risks include hypothermia, heart arrhythmia, and seizures.
Stage 6: Coma
A person who has a 0.35-0.45 BAC is at high risk of slipping into a coma. Respiration and circulation are perilously depressed, motor response and reflexes are barely present or absent, and the person’s body temperature is low. A person who has reached this stage will most likely die without medical treatment.
Stage 7: Death
At 0.45 BAC or above, many people are unable to sustain essential life functions, and the risk of respiratory arrest and death occurring is almost certain.
Understand the Risks and Get Help
It’s important to understand that because the amount of alcohol needed to reach various states of drunkenness can vary depending on the person, what might be a lethal amount for one individual may not be for another. Heavy alcohol use comes with a vast array of risks. If you find yourself drinking excessively and frequently reaching the later stages of intoxication associated with severe risks, you may need professional help. Harmony Recovery Center offers research-based treatment that provides the necessary skills and tools that people need to manage alcoholism and maintain long-term sobriety. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, contact us today!