Stages of Intoxication: What Are the Stages of Being Drunk?
Last Updated: November 2, 2023
It is important for anyone drinking alcohol to understand the different effects it can create depending on how much you use. While it can bring about relaxation and euphoria, it can also harm the body. Recognizing the stages of intoxication can be crucial in ensuring your and others’ safety.
What Is Alcohol Intoxication?
Alcohol intoxication is the physiological response that occurs when you drink alcohol. As it builds up in your blood, alcohol changes your brain. These changes can alter behavior, mood and physical coordination. In severe cases, they can affect your body’s essential functions, leading to dangerous symptoms.
The rate and effects of intoxication can vary based on several factors. These can include:
- Amount of alcohol used
- Rate of consumption
- Use of medications or drugs
The Progressive Stages of Alcohol Intoxication
The stage or degree of intoxication a person experiences depends on their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Your BAC is the percentage of your blood that consists of alcohol. Your BAC increases with each drink and slowly decreases as your body processes the alcohol.
It is important to note that the effects of different BAC levels vary for everyone. A specific BAC may have different effects depending on the individual, leading to overlapping BAC ranges for each stage of intoxication.
Stage 1: Sobriety or Subclinical Intoxication
BAC Range: 0.00%–0.05%
Minimal visible signs of intoxication exist at this stage. Most individuals will appear sober and function normally even though there is some alcohol in their blood.
Stage 2: Euphoria
BAC Range: 0.03%–0.12%
At this stage, the person drinking may feel more confident, experience reduced inhibitions and begin to have impaired judgment. These effects will become more pronounced the more alcohol is used. A BAC of 0.08% is the legal limit to drive because, after that point, people are impaired enough that it can affect their ability to drive safely.
Stage 3: Excitement
BAC Range: 0.09%–0.25%
Emotional instability becomes evident. The person drinking may be overly excited and unable to control themselves. They may be more prone to mood extremes and engage in rowdy behaviors. Perception is impaired, and some might experience nausea.
Stage 4: Confusion
BAC Range: 0.18%– 0.30%
In this stage, alcohol affects the brain in ways that impact more than just behaviors. Disorientation is likely, coordination becomes impaired and there’s a potential for blackouts or memory gaps. The person drinking may have more difficulty concentrating and remembering things. The ability to feel pain can be blunted and speech becomes slurred.
Stage 5: Stupor
BAC Range: 0.25%–0.40%
At this stage, there’s an increased risk of alcohol poisoning and death. Vomiting may occur, and standing and walking will be almost impossible. The person drinking may go in and out of consciousness, making it difficult to keep them awake. Seeking medical help in this stage is recommended.
Stage 6: Coma
BAC Range: 0.35%–0.50%
The risk of alcohol poisoning and death increases in this stage as the person drinking enters a coma. When someone is in a coma, it will be impossible to wake them. Their breathing and heart rate will slow, potentially to a dangerous extent. They may become cool and clammy. Seeking medical help is essential and may save their life.
Stage 7: Death
BAC Range: Above 0.50%
While the risk of death begins in stage five with a BAC as low as 0.25%, death is pretty much inevitable when your BAC is 0.50% or higher. At this stage, alcohol inhibits your brain so much that it cannot maintain the functions needed to keep you alive. While death may be avoided with a BAC this high if you are on life support equipment, this level of medical care will need to be in place well before you reach this level.
The Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Misusing alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, resulting in death. Even with treatment, alcohol poisoning can lead to brain damage or other long-term complications. The impairments caused by alcohol can also increase the risk of injuries due to impaired judgment and risky behaviors.
However, the dangers of alcohol abuse are not limited to drinking too much in a single sitting. Drinking more than one drink of alcohol daily for women or more than two a day for men increases your risk of several long-term health conditions. These can include:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Kidney damage
- Digestive problems
- Mental health problems
It’s also important to understand that regular heavy drinking can lead to tolerance. As you consume alcohol regularly, you might need more to achieve the same effects, leading to increased consumption and associated risks.
Recognizing and Responding to Alcohol Overdose
An alcohol overdose, often called alcohol poisoning, is a serious condition that can result in death if not treated correctly. Signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Slow breathing
- Blue-tinged fingernails, lips or skin
Because the person overdosing on alcohol cannot help themselves, bystanders will play a crucial role in recognizing these signs and ensuring the affected individual receives help. If you are with someone who might be overdosing on alcohol, you should immediately:
- Call 911.
- Ensure the person is in a safe location.
- Place the person on their side.
- Stay with them until help arrives.
- Give any first aid that you deem necessary.
It is important to remember that symptoms will often worsen the longer you wait. Don’t delay seeking help, or serious consequences can occur.
Seeking Help for Alcohol Misuse
Alcohol use can sometimes unintentionally get out of hand. If you find yourself in a place where you find it difficult to control your alcohol consumption, consider seeking help. Addiction used to carry a negative stigma; however, it is now recognized as a legitimate disease that needs treatment, just like other conditions. However, seeking help is essential to overcoming addiction and getting past the influence alcohol has on your life.
At The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper, we have years of experience helping people get the treatment they need for addiction and achieving a life free from alcohol addiction. Contact us today to learn how we can help you start your journey to lasting recovery.
Understanding and recognizing the stages of alcohol intoxication isn’t just about knowledge; it’s about ensuring safety. It’s imperative to drink responsibly and seek help when patterns of misuse emerge. Everyone has a role in promoting safe alcohol consumption and supporting those in need.
MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed September 13, 2023.
Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. “Understanding Alcohol’s Effects.” 2023. Accessed September 13, 2023.
California Courts. “Stages of Intoxication.” 2023. Accessed September 13, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on Health.” 2021. Accessed September 13, 2023.
NHS. “Alcohol poisoning.” January 11, 2023. Accessed September 13, 2023.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.