Why do you feel drunk when sober? (+3 reasons)

In this article, we will discuss the reasons for feeling drunk when you have not consumed any alcohol. We will also discuss the symptoms of such an effect and how you may fix it.

Why do you feel drunk when sober?

You get a drunken feeling while being sober mainly because of dehydration, lack of sleep or fatigue. It may also occur as a placebo effect while taking alcohol-free cocktails or as a withdrawal effect of alcohol.

In rare cases, auto-brewery syndrome may cause gut fermentation of carbohydrates into alcohol, even if the patient does not take alcohol. Other diseases like diabetes, and brain disorders may also cause such symptoms.

Some patients who take more than the prescribed doses of benzodiazepines, and antidepressants may have drunken feelings. Always consult your doctor in case of drug overdose or abuse.

What factors make you feel drunk when sober?

There are several factors that may cause the feeling of drunkenness while being sober. Extreme dehydration may cause dizziness, trouble speaking, feeling overheated, confusion, and dry mouth.

Sleep drunkenness is a phenomena in which you have difficulty waking up. Sleep drunkenness can cause confusion, weakness, and tiredness. Sometimes people drinking alcohol-free cocktails demonstrate similar intoxication symptoms as that of alcohol.

This is known as the placebo effect. In one of the research studies, people believing that they were taking alcohol showed signs of dullness, confusion, and irritability. They also had upset stomachs and irrational feelings (1).

After quitting alcohol, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like sobriety fatigue. You may feel lethargic, waking up tired, nauseous, and dehydrated. It may also cause sweating, tremors, headache, and vomiting.

Underlying disease

In some cases, the state of being drunk when sober can be due to an underlying disease. A rare case of drunkenness while being sober is the auto-brewery syndrome. It is the gut fermentation of carbohydrates into alcohol by different kinds of yeast. It may also occur due to yeast infection.

The yeasts which may cause auto-brewery syndrome include Candida albicans, Candida glabrata, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It may cause staggering gait, a state of confusion, slurred speech, nausea, and vomiting (2).

In addition, severe hypoglycemia may reduce the glucose supply to the brain and cause ketoacidosis. Hypoglycemia may cause dizziness, confusion, slurred speech, difficulty in concentrating, and inappropriate behaviour which otherwise manifests the signs of being intoxicated. 

During an epileptic attack, the patient becomes detached (staring spells), has difficulty speaking with slurred speech, and falls. In addition, a patient with brain injury may have difficulty in coordination, thinking, speaking, communicating, or memory.


Drug overdose and abuse may cause drunken feelings while being sober. Some of the known drugs to cause such an effect include benzodiazepines and NMDA antagonists.

Benzodiazepine-receptor agonists such as diazepam, lorazepam, and triazolam have similar effects to alcohol. Drugs that are antagonists for N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors cause drunken effects when sober.

Examples include ketamine (anaesthesia), and dextromethorphan (cough suppressant). The symptoms include lightheadedness, prolonged sedation, and a state of confusion.

In one of the case reports, Venlafaxine caused drunken feelings in a 58-year-old patient suffering from depression. The patient could not walk straight and had social anxiety, and visual blurring (3). The concomitant administration of venlafaxine with dextromethorphan may also induce such symptoms.

What does research suggest?

In one of the research studies, 52 people with ‘dry drunk’ symptoms were observed and questioned about their feelings. Dry drunk syndrome is used to describe people who no longer drink alcohol but have the same behaviour and habits as they did before.

The authors concluded that dry drunk feelings are more intense in the first year of sobriety. They often get the feelings of restlessness, irritability, and impatience. However, they do get a feeling of relief and thankfulness for quitting alcohol (4).

What are the symptoms of feeling drunk when sober?

The person may feel one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Brain fogs,
  • Staggering gait,
  • Loss of mental sharpness,
  • Confusion,
  • Heart jolts,
  • Physical aggressiveness,
  • Difficulty in speaking,
  • Slow speech, and 
  • Nausea.

How to manage the symptoms of feeling drunk when sober?

In case of sleep deprivation, and dehydration the symptoms go away on their own. However, if the symptoms are due to a disease or drug then clinical intervention might be required.

  • Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Improving sleep time and patterns can help reduce mood swings and irritation.
  • Reducing the carbohydrate intake in auto-brewery syndrome can also control the symptoms.
  • Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist that is given in case of benzodiazepine overdose and intoxication symptoms. 

Although I do not take alcohol, sometimes I get a drunken feeling when I don’t get enough sleep. However, properly sleeping and taking a day off from work, socializing and resting can improve the mood and subside the drunken feeling.

Always consult your doctor when taking cough suppressants with antidepressants as they may cause drunken feelings. Never overdose on the medicines and follow the prescribed dosing regimen.

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Din AT, Alam F, Chaudhary FM. Auto-brewery syndrome: a clinical dilemma. Cureus. 2020 Oct 16;12(10). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7667719


Jackson A, Stephens DN, Duka T. Lorazepam substitutes for the alcohol stimulus in social drinkers. Psychopharmacology. 2003 Mar;166:181-7. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-002-1294-9


Koenig MA, McArthur J. Case 8: Absentminded and “Walking Like a Drunk”. Medscape General Medicine. 2005;7(1):64. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1681424/


Flaherty JA, McGuire HT, Gatski RL. THE PSYCHODYNAMICS OF THE” DRY DRUNK”. American Journal of Psychiatry. 1955 Dec;112(6):460-4. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.112.6.460?journalCode=ajp