As people drink alcohol, it is absorbed into their bloodstream, largely. However, 75% to 80% of it is actually absorbed from the small intestine, while the rest is absorbed from the stomach. Due to how the alcohol is absorbed, how much it will influence a person and in what time frame is based largely on when that person last ate a meal.
Anyone who is fasting, or hasn’t eaten in a long time, is going to be influenced by alcohol much quicker and much more than those who have full stomachs. In fact, the rate is an average of .75 to 1.35 hours for fasting people, as opposed to an average of 1.06 to 2.12 hours for people who have eaten. Although, it should be noted that, in extreme instances, it can take up to 6 hours for a person who has a full stomach to be influenced by the alcohol.
One important thing to note is that alcohol tends to go after water. Since the body is mostly made of water, the alcohol, once absorbed, tends to spread out evenly. So, although it may be absorbed in different areas and at different speeds, it all evens out.
Many different bran functions are affected by alcohol. However, they are affected in different ways and in a certain order. So, a person’s BAC (blood alcohol content) must be at various levels to affect various systems.
The cerebral cortex is the highest order center in the brain and, since high order centers are affected by alcohol faster than lower order centers, the cerebral cortex takes the brunt of initial alcohol contamination. It does so in the following ways:
The limbic system is generally the next area of the brain to be affected by alcohol consumption. It controls emotional states, which is why people who are drunk are often aggressive, angry or overly emotional, in general. Also, when alcohol affects the limbic system, it can cause some memory loss to occur.
The cerebellum is the area of the brain that controls motor function. It’s also the reason that one key test for sobriety level is to touch one’s finger to one’s nose. If the cerebellum has been impaired by alcohol, such movements are nearly impossible.
People who are intoxicated enough to have cerebellum problems are often called “falling down drunk”. That’s because they, quite literally, fall down a lot. The cerebellum controls both motor control and balance. So, such people are “tipsy” and unstable on their feet.
The Pituitary Gland and hypothalamus are affected by alcohol in two main ways:
The medulla is also called the brain stem. The brain stem is the center for automatic body functions. When alcohol begins to affect the medulla, a person is likely to go unconscious. If that person is lucky, they will wake up later on.
However, if the major functions of the medulla are affected, a person could actually die. The alcohol could drop their body temperature dangerously, for example. It could also cause them to stop breathing or cause their heart to stop pumping blood properly or stop pumping blood altogether.
Alcohol doesn’t just affect the brain, either. It can also affect other parts of the body, as well. For example, it can irritate the stomach and cause vomiting. It can also cause an overly acidic stomach.
Muscle aches are common during alcohol recovery (hangovers). Also, people may experience skin flushing, extreme temperature changes and sweating, either right after drinking or during hangovers.
Alcohol leaves the body through metabolism and the release of bodily fluids. Those fluids include saliva, breast milk, sweat and urine. It can also leave the body via breath and feces. However, 95% of it is simply converted by the liver into acetaldehyde, acetic acid and then water and carbon dioxide.
Unfortunately, many factors can influence how slowly or quickly that process occurs. It all depends on how healthy the person in question is and what the circumstances are. For instance:
There are, of course, some environmental factors and choices that also influence alcohol processing. For instance:
The important thing to remember here is that tolerance doesn’t mean that chronic drinkers are any better off than non-chronic drinkers. They are still measurably impaired and are probably doing even more heavy duty damage to their bodies. Also, they may not feel as affected, so they are more likely to be lulled into a false sense of security and drink far too much at a time.
Finally, there are two other things that can influence the metabolization and elimination of alcohol from the body. The first is food. Eating food will delay the point where a person experiences the highest level of intoxication.
Part of the reason that occurs is because of the pyloric valve. It is a valve in the stomach which closes to allow food to digest before it moves into the rest of the body. Since the valve is closed when a person eats, any alcohol that they are drinking will also stay in the stomach longer, delaying travel to the small intestines.
What the person eats doesn’t matter much. However, when they eat in relation to when they drink the alcohol does. So does how much they eat. Eating a large meal and drinking the alcohol close to the time of eating has been shown in studies to delay the process by up to 23%.
The second factor is the concentration of the alcohol. For example, a person drinking 3 beers probably hasn’t consumed the same amount of alcohol as someone drinking three glasses of wine. So, it’s not so much the number of drinks, but how much actual alcohol is in each one, that you need to focus on. The fastest alcohol absorption and metabolism occurs at concentrations of 10% to 30%.
If the concentration is higher than 30% gastric membranes become irritated. That causes a buildup of mucus. The result is that the stomach will take longer to empty out.
On the other hand, a concentration of less than 10% is also going to slow the process down. That’s because absorption is slowed down by the added amount of liquid and the concentration gradient being too low.
As you can see, there are some factors, which a person can control, that can influence how drunk they become, or at least how drunk they feel. However, excessive drinking is never a good thing. No matter how in control you feel, it can impair your judgment, be hazardous to your general health and keep you from performing even the most basic of tasks. So, remember, alcohol is fine, in moderation. Excessive drinking is simply not worth the risks to yourself or to those around you.