It can be hard to avoid occasionally overindulging on wine, especially if you’re having a good time; however, it’s important to know about your unique tolerance for alcohol. It’ll keep bad hangovers at bay, for starters, and keep you safe.
As far as how much you can drink before you get drunk, the answer is: it depends. The kind of wine you’re drinking, how much you’ve had, even whether it’s bubbly or not all matter.
Wine ABV: How it’s Measured
Alcohol in wine is measured by alcohol by volume, or ABV. ABV represents the amount of ethanol in an alcoholic beverage, and the way it’s measured is the same from wine to beer to spirits.
If you’re thinking about becoming a winemaker, ABV in wine is measured using a hydrometer. Winemakers typically take 2 readings, one before any yeast is added and another post-fermentation. Even then, the total ABV is an estimate.
How many glasses of wine does it take to get drunk? It can take only 2 glasses of wine to get you drunk, depending on various tolerance factors and the kind of wine you’re drinking.
The higher the ABV, the less wine you’ll need to drink to start feeling alcohol’s effects and the greater effect it’ll have on your blood alcohol content (BAC).
Wines by ABV
The ABV in wines varies quite a bit based on the type of wine and fermentation process.
Does red wine get you drunk faster than white? Red wine can get you drunk faster than white if you’re drinking red wine with a higher ABV than its white counterpart.
Generally, sparkling wines and Champagne have a lower ABV than both white wines and red wines.
Can you get drunk on a bottle of wine? A bottle of wine will get the average person drunk. Most wine bottles contain about 5 standard glasses of wine. The limit before most people start feeling alcohol impairment is 2 glasses of wine for women and 3 glasses of wine for men.
Keep in mind that it’s about the size of those servings, too. A standard drink when it comes to wine is only 5 oz. A standard pour of a fortified wine with a higher alcohol content may only be 3-4 oz.
If you’re sipping on generous pours, that “one” glass may get you tipsier than you expected.
Low Alcohol Wines (Under 12.5% ABV)
Wines with a lower ABV are often sparkling or white wines. ABVs described below are averages, with some variation among brands.
- Moscato d’Asti (5.5%)
- California sparkling wine (11-12%)
- Italian prosecco (12%)
- Rosé (12%)
- Riesling (12%)
Moderately Low Alcohol Wines (12.5% to 13.5% ABV)
Many white wines fall into the moderately low alcohol wine category, although a few light red wines have a medium ABV.
- Chianti (12%)
- Barbera (12.5%)
- Pinot grigio (12.5%)
- Pinot gris (12.5%)
- Sauvignon blanc (12.5%)
High Alcohol Wines (13.5% to 14.5% ABV)
High alcohol wines include most popular red wines and some full-bodied white wines. Many warm-climate wine regions in California and Italy produce wines within this range.
- California chardonnay (13.5%)
- Malbec (13.5%)
- Merlot (13.5%)
- Petite sirah (14.5%)
- Pinot noir (14.5%)
Very High Alcohol Wines (Over 14.5% ABV)
Very high alcohol wines are often fortified wines, like port, with a few red wines that are naturally higher in alcohol.
- Shiraz (15%)
- Red zinfandel (15.5%)
- Sherry (16-18%)
- Madeira (18-20%)
- Port (20%)
Alcohol tolerance, or the amount of alcohol you can handle before getting drunk or feeling the effects of alcohol, can vary not only from person to person, but also from situation to situation.
How much wine do you need to get drunk? How much wine you can drink before you get drunk will depend on several factors. This includes how much wine you’ve had, what you ate before drinking, even your gender and size.
Rate of Consumption
Your BAC will rise more quickly the faster you drink. To slow down the effects of alcohol, increase the amount of time between each glass of wine. Maybe sip a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage to give your body a break.
Size and BMI
People with a higher body weight or body fat percentage have a slower rate of alcohol absorption. It’s a big reason why women become intoxicated faster. On average, men have more body mass than women.
Women, on average, become intoxicated faster than men not only because of their size but also differences in body water content. On average, a man’s body water content is about 10 percentage points higher than a woman’s. This helps their bodies dilute the alcohol and keep blood alcohol concentration lower.
Men also have higher levels of gastric alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that improves the body’s metabolism rate by breaking down more of the alcohol before it hits the bloodstream. Finally, some studies show that women get drunk faster the week before their menstrual cycles.
If you’re drinking wine for the first time, you’ll likely need less wine to get drunk than someone who has been drinking wine for years. Seasoned drinkers developed more of a tolerance for wine. The same is true for different alcohol types. The more you drink, the higher your tolerance.
Champagne and sparkling wines typically have a lower ABV than other wine types. For many, though, carbonation is absorbed by the body more quickly, whether those bubbles are coming from mixed drinks at the bar or sparkling wine.
While it may seem like sparkling varietals lead to a worse hangover, it’s more likely that your body just absorbed the alcohol faster, leading to those unpleasant effects.
Medications & Health Conditions
Some pre-existing conditions and medications may affect how your body responds to alcohol consumption. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about it, especially if you’re on blood pressure medications.
What’s in Your Tummy
If you’re drinking wine on an empty stomach, that alcohol you’re sipping will hit your bloodstream much faster. Plan to eat a full meal before pulling out the wine glasses to help your body metabolize the wine, or keep plenty of snacks handy.
Kinds of Tolerance
If you’re with someone bragging about their high tolerance for alcohol, it may be due to the tolerance factors we’ve already described, their genetics, or their relationship with alcohol. They may just be used to drinking more than you.
There are 2 main types of tolerance: metabolic and functional tolerance.
Metabolic tolerance means that your body metabolizes alcohol more efficiently than others. This is typically a result of chronic drinking. Unfortunately, it can also affect how your body absorbs everything else, including medications.
Functional tolerance is less about how your body metabolizes alcohol and more about how your body is reacting to increasing levels of alcohol. There are 4 main types of functional tolerance:
- Learned tolerance: If you’re often drunk when completing specific tasks, it may become less challenging to complete those tasks under the influence than it used to be.
- Environment-dependent tolerance: This is related to a higher tolerance when you’re always drinking in a familiar environment or when surrounded by familiar cues.
- Environment-independent tolerance: This type of tolerance is unrelated to where you’re drinking. Exposure to alcohol over time has increased your tolerance regardless of where you are.
- Acute tolerance: Acute tolerance happens after one single drinking session. The drinker appears more drunk at the start of drinking rather than as the night wears on.
Levels of Intoxication
There is always a risk involved with drinking alcohol. If you’re not used to drinking, you may go from sober to a high level of drunkenness faster than you intended. There are 7 levels of intoxication.
Low Intoxication (0.01-0.05 BAC)
At this level, you’ve likely only had one drink or less. You’re still within the legal limit to drive, and you should seem like your usual self.
Euphoria (0.03-0.12 BAC)
This is the tipsy stage, and often why many drink wine in the first place. You’ve had a drink or 2 over the last hour, and you’re feeling warm and a little fuzzy—reaction times slow at this point and inhibitions lower. If you’re at the upper level of this stage, you should not be driving.
Excitement (0.09-0.25 BAC)
Emotions are heightened, blurry vision affects your balance, and you’re feeling drowsy. This is typically considered the drunk stage. Decisions making may not be the best because your critical thinking is affected. Some may experience nausea and vomiting by this point.
Confusion (0.18-0.30 BAC)
At this stage, most experience significant challenges with motor coordination. That includes walking and standing. This is the “blackout drunk” stage. You may slip in and out of consciousness or have trouble remembering what happened when you wake up the next day.
Some also experience a higher pain threshold, putting them in even more danger.
Stupor, Coma, & Death
Anything beyond a 0.25 BAC is dangerous territory. The last 3 levels of intoxication can quickly go from bad to worse if you don’t get medical help.
At the stupor stage (0.25–0.4 BAC), you may have trouble understanding what’s happening around you and experience a loss of bodily functions. Beyond that, your body may slow to the point that slipping into a coma, seizures, and death from alcohol poisoning are all real possibilities.
Knowing your Tolerance
There’s no one answer for how much wine it takes to get drunk or to avoid getting drunk. Your tolerance can look a lot different than your wine-drinking buddy’s, even if you’re similar in age and size.
The best way to enjoy wine more healthily is to be more mindful about your drinking. Keep moderate drinking guidelines in mind when you’re indulging in any alcohol. That means 2 standard drinks for men and only one for women, even if you really like that wine.
Be even more careful if you’re drinking wine with a higher ABV. Avoid drinking too much in a short period. Read labels and pay attention to serving sizes.
If you’re not interested in testing your limits, there is another way. Non-alcoholic wine brands are becoming a popular alcohol alternative for those who still want to enjoy wine without the adverse effects.
- Response to alcohol in women: role of the menstrual cycle and a family history of alcoholism
- Alcohol concentration and carbonation of drinks: the effect on blood alcohol levels
- Mechanism of alcohol tolerance
- Chronic free-choice drinking in crossed high alcohol preferring mice leads to sustained blood ethanol levels and metabolic tolerance without evidence of liver damage