How Much Wine is Too Much Wine? [Guidelines & Tolerances]
The truth is there's no "one fits all" answer but certain things can play a big part in alcohol tolerance. Let's find out what's involved.
Wine is one of the most popular drinks in the world. It’s become a staple of modern society, enjoyed by millions worldwide.
While alcohol should always be enjoyed in moderation and should never be consumed solely for the purpose of getting drunk, a popular question is always "how many glasses of wine will make you drunk?".
This is undoubtedly a complex matter that has no empirical answer. It depends on various factors, so let’s dig deeper into the facts.
How Much Alcohol is in Wine?
Before wondering how many glasses of wine will make you drunk, perhaps you should wonder how much alcohol is in the wine you want to drink.
The answers here vary widely. Wine can be as light as beer or nearly as strong as a spirit or hard liquor.
The Italian Moscato d’Asti, for instance, has an alcohol concentration of only 5.5%. Beer is often stronger than this, so it can be considered one of the lower ABV wines.
At the other end of the line, a fortified wine - think Port or Vermouth - can have an alcohol concentration of over 20%.
On average, wines have an alcohol concentration between 11 and 13%; how much wine you have to ingest to get 'drunk' largely depends on the actual level of alcohol in wine, but it's not the sole factor at play.
What is Considered Excessive Drinking?
As we saw in the last section, the alcohol content of wine can vary wildly.
So too can the sizes of wine glasses.
However, the government uses an average size for its health recommendations.
The 'Dietary Guidelines for Americans' is a 122 page government document that advises how we can maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well.
It covers alcohol consumption in appendix 9 where it states that alcohol should be consumed "in moderation". It continues by clarifying that this means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
It regards excessive drinking as 4 or more drinks per day for women and 5 or more drinks per day for men. Over the course of a week, high-risk drinking is 8 or more drinks for women and 15 or more drinks for men.
So how much wine is one drink?
Well, one alcoholic drink is determined as containing 14g (or 0.6 fl oz) of pure alcohol.
This is how the calculation is made:
1. Multiply the volume in ounces by the alcohol content (as a percentage)
2. Divide the answer by 0.6 ounces of alcohol per drink-equivalent
I have a 5 ounce pour of 12% wine.
5 x 0.12 = 0.6
0.6/0.6 = 1 drink
Therefore, a 5 ounce glass of 12% wine is our upper limit of what's considered drinking 'in moderation'.
You can see some more examples for different measures and alcohol contents in the table below.
Measure (Fluid Ounces)
Alcohol Content (ABV)
# of Drinks
Important Note: Drinking large amounts of alcohol is incredibly dangerous to your health. Alcohol is also incredibly addictive and has ruined many lives. Always follow government recommendations. Drink sensibly and in moderation.
Alcohol Tolerance Explained
Alcohol tolerance refers to how much alcohol you can intake before you observe the adverse effects it has on your body.
Each individual has a different alcohol tolerance, which varies based on the biochemistry of your body, your age, weight, metabolism rate, and even race and gender.
That’s quite a lot to account for, but unless knowing all these factors, it is hard to tell how many glasses of wine will make you drunk.
Alcohol tolerance also increases due to constant exposure to alcohol. In other words, if this is the first time you’re drinking, your alcohol tolerance is probably low.
Factors Affecting Alcohol Tolerance
According to this study, tolerance to alcohol is thought to depend on four key factors.
It's important to note that in many cases having a high alcohol tolerance means that a person drinks too much or too often.
Let's take a look at what's involved.
1. Functional Tolerance
As you drink more alcohol it leads to certain impairments on your ability to function normally.
Increased alcohol levels in your bloodstream lead to less inhibitions, poor judgement, and slower reaction times.
Should you continue drinking alcohol you can expect your vision to become impaired (blurry or even double vision), your speech to become slow and slurred, and your balance to become poor at best.
Those that drink alcohol on regular occasions can get used to these effects and manage them better than those that are less frequent or heavy drinkers.
Should these heavier drinkers then reduce their alcohol consumption over a period of time then their tolerance will be lost.
The changes in alcohol tolerance are caused by the desensitisation and resensitisation (increased and reduced tolerance) of the brain to alcohol.
Always drinking alcohol within the same environment can produce what's called environment-dependent tolerance.
This is due to your brain pairing familiar memories or cues with the effects of alcohol.
This response from your brain can counter some impairments caused by alcohol.
However, this tolerance would only be effective in the environment that your brain links to the feeling of being drunk. Should you consume alcohol elsewhere, the tolerance is lost.
3. Learned Tolerance
Tolerance to alcohol can be formed if the same activity is repeatedly performed while intoxicated.
This is best displayed in bar games like pool and darts where some players don't appear to experience impairment caused by alcohol.
A study using rats showed that they navigated a maze that they had been trained in perfectly well while intoxicated.
This learned tolerance is similar in a way to the environment-dependent tolerance. But, instead of your brain linking a place to the effects of alcohol it links an action or activity.
4. Metabolic Tolerance
As well as being dangerous, regular alcohol consumption leads to the liver being more efficient at processing and removing alcohol from the body.
Reduced alcohol levels in the bloodstream mean you will feel less impaired. However, it's really important to note that "A large proportion of heavy drinkers develop serious alcoholic liver disease" (source).
The One the Study Doesn't Mention
There's one factor that affects alcohol tolerance that I know you're dying to get me to mention.
It's drinking when on a full or empty stomach.
Yes, this has a big impact on the effect alcohol has on your body.
"If you drink alcohol with an empty stomach, the alcohol passes directly into your bloodstream. If you’ve eaten before drinking, the rate of alcohol absorption slows down but doesn’t stop." (Source).
So, yes it's true. Eating before drinking will help slow down the rate at which you might get drunk. But, it won't stop you getting drunk!
Why it's Important to Know Your Limits
Knowing how many glasses of wine will make you drunk goes beyond just curiosity.
Alcohol is dangerous and it affects people in different ways. Always be mindful of how much you've had and how you feel in the moment.
At the first signs of intoxication you should stop drinking.
You should also always be wary of the long-term effects of alcohol consumption above recommended guidelines
You can see the recommended limits for alcohol consumption in the USA here.
Perhaps you’re concerned about the effects of alcohol on the human body and want to prevent damage or maybe you just want to know how tolerant you are out of curiosity.
It's important to know your limits and most of us find out through trial and error.
If possible, try and take a note of your alcohol consumption each time you drink. A little note on your phone of what you're drinking and how long it took to finish is a good start. Then add the effects you're feeling when they begin.
The truth is, there's no simple answer and alcohol effects everyone differently. There are just so many different factors at play.
Important Note: Drinking large amounts of alcohol is incredibly dangerous to your health. Alcohol is also incredibly addictive and has ruined many a life. Always drink sensibly and in moderation.