What Does It Mean To Be Drunk?

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A person described as drunk is intoxicated to the extent of experiencing impaired cognition and mobility and limited or no control over their behavior. Being drunk might sound enjoyable, but a reduction in physical and mental abilities combined with disinhibition and impulsivity can lead to severe, highly undesirable outcomes. Many dangers are associated with extreme intoxication, including risky behavior and injury to oneself and others.

At Guardian Recovery, we understand the potentially grave consequences and wide-ranging effects excessive drinking can cause. We also recognize recovering from alcoholism can be challenging and requires professional treatment. For these reasons, we offer individualized treatment programs featuring multiple levels of care and a wide variety of evidence-based therapies promoting long-lasting sobriety. 

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you break the cycle of alcohol misuse for good.

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Understanding What Being Drunk Entails

The term “drunk” describes the incapacitating effects alcohol can have on the brain and body. Overt signs include lack of balance or coordination, poor decision-making and judgment, slurred speech, and vision changes. Understanding how blood alcohol concentration, standard drinks, and heavy drinking are defined can help you understand the different stages of drunkenness and how to avoid them.

What Is BAC?

A person’s level of intoxication is measured by blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which refers to the percent of alcohol (ethanol) in an individual’s bloodstream. The legal limit in most areas is .08%, and operating any vehicle or piece of machinery over this level is against the law. For some, even two drinks within one hour has the potential to exceed the legal limit.

It’s important to note that some people will experience an increase in BAC faster and more intensely than others.

Factors That Can Influence BAC Level Include:

  • The number of drinks consumed.
  • Alcohol content of drinks consumed.
  • Consumption rate.
  • Sex.
  • Bodyweight.
  • Age.
  • Health status.
  • Metabolic rate.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Stomach contents.
  • Fat content of food.
  • Tolerance levels.

What Is a Standard Drink?

In the U.S., one standard drink is 12 oz. of a 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) beer, 5 oz. of 12% ABV wine, and 1 oz. of 40% ABV spirits, which include whiskey, vodka, rum, etc. Remember that if you are served an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant, or if you are served by a friend, the amount of alcohol contained in that drink might not align with what is recognized as standard.

Defining Heavy Drinking

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is described as consuming at least four drinks on one occasion for females and five or more for males. “Heavy drinking” is defined as binge drinking on five or more days during the past month. 

Binge Drinking Can Progress Into Heavy Drinking

Individuals who occasionally binge drink may or may not experience severe consequences. However, repeated bouts of binge drinking can lead to the development of alcohol dependence and the many adverse health, social, financial, and legal issues associated with it. The more times a person gets drunk, the odds of something unexpected and unwanted happening increase accordingly.

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Stages of Being Drunk

Not everyone is affected by alcohol use in the same way or to the same extent. However, seven stages of being drunk have been established, ranging from sobriety to death. 

Stage 1: Sobriety

If you consume a single standard drink, you will probably not surpass a BAC of 0.05%. or exhibit overt signs of being intoxicated through observation alone. Judgment and reaction time might be impaired, and alcohol’s presence might be detected on a breathalyzer.

Stage 2: Euphoria

Euphoria is the next state, occurring between a BAC of 0.03%-0.12%. This level can be achieved within 1-4 drinks for a female or 2-5 for a male. Positive effects can include increased confidence, sociality, talkativeness, disinhibition, and feelings of well-being.

Although the drinker may welcome many of the effects of alcohol at this time, the undesirable effects of alcohol will also begin manifesting. 

Adverse Effects of the Euphoric Stage Include:

  • Impaired judgment and memory.
  • Reduced alertness and ability to detect danger.
  • Loss of motor skills and coordination.
  • Difficulties processing information.

Stage 3: Excitement

A BAC of 0.09%-0.25% is called the excitement stage, which can result in emotional instability, increased loss of judgment, and a significant delay in reaction time.

Adverse Effects of the Excitement Stage Include:

  • Mood swings.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired perception.
  • Memory loss.
  • Vision problems.
  • Poor response time.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Clumsiness.
  • Drowsiness and fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

A person in this stage will likely exhibit signs and symptoms that make their level of intoxication glaringly evident to others.

Stage 4: Confusion

An individual with a BAC of 0.18%-0.30% has entered the confusion stage, marked by confusion, disorientation, and profound moodiness, in addition to all the impairments noted in previous stages. The person may be unable to stand on their own or will stagger and stumble when moving.

Individuals who reach this stage will almost certainly experience some loss of memory or even a complete “blackout.” At this point, they are essentially operating on autopilot. They may also have an increased pain threshold, and they could suffer injuries and be unable to feel the full extent of their effects until much later.

Stage 5: Stupor

Stupor can occur at a BAC of 0.25%-0.40%. A person in this zombie-like stage is dangerously intoxicated and is very close to experiencing life-threatening alcohol poisoning, coma, and death. Unless the individual has an exceptionally high tolerance, they will have lost most or all of their motor control and will not react to stimuli. 

Adverse Effects of the Stupor Stage Include:

  1. Inability to stand or walk.
  2. Eerie unresponsiveness.
  3. Vomiting, leading to choking and asphyxiation.
  4. Inability to control bodily functions.
  5. Respiratory depression.
  6. Choking.
  7. Hypothermia.
  8. Irregular heart rate.
  9. Seizures.

Someone who is experiencing a stupor may require emergency help to ensure survival. If a person in this state does not receive medical intervention, they can succumb to life-threatening effects such as asphyxiation, respiratory arrest, and seizures.

Stage 6: Coma

Coma and complete unconsciousness can occur between 0.35%-0.45% BAC. Respiration and circulation depression are life-threatening, motor responses and reflexes are minimally present or absent, and the person’s body temperature is dangerously low. Individuals experiencing this stage are very likely to experience lethal complications without medical intervention.

Stage 7: Death

At 0.45% BAC or above, many people cannot sustain vital life functions, and respiratory arrest and death are almost inevitable. There have been reports of people with an extremely high alcohol tolerance who have survived a BAC surpassing this level, but they are rare.

Knowing Your Limit

Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink daily for women or two for men. If you drink more than this, be aware of how you’re affected, and remember the BAC limit for driving in the U.S. is 0.08%. If you don’t often drink, be mindful that alcohol will affect you more than another person who drinks regularly. 

You are encouraged to stop drinking if you start feeling intoxicated or seem to be in the euphoric stage. Although there’s no guarantee you will remain below a 0.08% BAC at this stage, using this as a guide may prevent alcohol’s harmful effects versus continuing to drink.

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Excessive alcohol use comes with a wide array of short- and long-term risks that can result in severe health conditions, emotional issues, and adverse effects in nearly every aspect of your life. If you’ve been drinking heavily and repeatedly reached the later stages of intoxication, you are urged to seek help as soon as possible.

Guardian Recovery offers individualized treatment plans that include evidence-based therapies and holistic activities. We pledge to provide those we treat with the necessary tools, education, and support they need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-term sobriety. 

If you are struggling to control your alcohol use, contact us today for a free, no obligation insurance benefit check and to learn more about our effective recovery programs.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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