Drinking alcohol is ubiquitous in society but how does alcohol work in the body? Many people don’t know what it does or how it causes intoxication. Read these 15 interesting facts about alcohol to learn how it is absorbed and processed, how strong is a drink, how much is too much alcohol and when it becomes dangerous, how long is alcohol in your system, and how it can affect the liver.
1. Where is alcohol absorbed?
25% of alcohol is absorbed in the stomach in the first 5-10 minutes after consuming a drink. The rest of the 75% is absorbed in the small intestine. Even after you stop drinking, alcohol continues to be absorbed in the stomach and intestine and gets released into the bloodstream.
2. What affects the absorption of alcohol?
Unlike food, which can take hours to digest, alcohol is absorbed quickly by the body. Absorption is affected by food, speed of consumption, type of beverage (the concentration of alcohol in that drink), and variations in a persons gut absorption.
3. How fast until the alcohol reaches its max level?
The peak level of alcohol in the blood is reached in 30-90 minutes after ingestion
4. What is considered “one drink” with different types of alcohol?
Many times people are not aware of what actually constitutes ONE drink. They may report they have only one drink each night but the amount of alcohol consumed is much greater than that. It is important to be able to judge this and a useful experiment is to actually measure out what you like to drink so you know what it really equals. Without awareness, it becomes difficult to judge how much is too much alcohol for your body.
These drinks all have an equivalent amount of alcohol and are considered one drink:
- 1.5 oz Whiskey shot or 80-proof hard liquor = ~40% alcohol
- 5oz Wine (148mL) = ~12% alcohol
- 8-9oz (237-266mL) = ~7% alcohol
- 3oz Sherry = ~20% alcohol
- 12oz or 1 can of beer = ~5% alcohol
5. Why do women respond differently to alcohol?
Women don’t have as much of the enzyme that breaks alcohol down in the stomach which is one reason they feel the effects of alcohol at lower amounts.
6. How much is too much alcohol? When can you die from alcohol intoxication?
A lethal dose of alcohol is generally over 500mg/dL but alcohol can be fatal at 300mg/dL if it is ingested rapidly and the person isn’t tolerant of the effects.
7. What is considered binge drinking?
Binge drinking is determined by the amount and speed of drinking and differs between men and women.
For men, a binge is when 5 or more alcoholic drinks are consumed within 2 hours.
For women, binge drinking is when 4 or more drinks are consumed within 2 hours.
8. How does alcohol get out of our body?
90% of alcohol is broken down by the liver. This is the way it gets cleared from your body.
9. How long is alcohol in your system?
Normal alcohol metabolism occurs at a rate of 15-20dL per hour. In people dependent on alcohol, the metabolism can be faster and go up to 30dL per hour. A normal sized person will metabolize approximately 1 drink per hour.
10. How does alcohol work? When does a person get impaired by alcohol?
At .05% blood alcohol level (BAL) reflexes are impaired (for example stepping on the brakes will be slowed while driving).
Here is a link to a fantastic chart that details impairment at different levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) that is used by law enforcement to define intoxication and estimates impairment.
11. How hard is it to get impaired by alcohol?
To get 0.1% BAL it takes an average sized person (~170 lb male) 4.5 drinks per hour.
12. How much is too much alcohol? Alcohol poisoning is dangerous!
This is a very dangerous situation that can happen when someone drinks large amounts in a short amount of time. This often occurs accidentally and a major cause of it is from binge drinking.
Alcohol poisoning can affect:
- Breathing: Breathing can become slow (less than 8 breaths per minute), irregular (gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths). With reduced breathing, a person can look pale or blue-tinged.
- Heart rate
- Lower body temperature
- Reduced gag reflex: A gag reflex protects us from choking and if it is reduced it makes vomiting very dangerous.
- Level of consciousness: A person may be confused, passed out, and/or unable to be awakened.
Alcohol poisoning can cause seizures and lead to coma and death. It is an emergency!
If a person is unconscious or can’t be woken up after consuming alcohol they are at risk of dying! Get help immediately.
13. How is alcohol related to liver damage?
Because alcohol relies on the liver to be processed, with regular drinking the liver has to work harder and can be damaged by the demands placed on it.
14. How do we know if the liver is being damaged?
The liver produces substances called enzymes. When it is working too hard these enzymes can become elevated. We know this by checking blood labs. There is one enzyme that generally goes up higher than the other when people are causing damage to their liver with alcohol.
15. Is liver damage permanent?
These changes in liver enzyme levels are often reversible if a person stops drinking, but it depends on the damage that has already been done. Cirrhosis, permanent scarring of the liver, can happen with continued damage to the liver from alcohol.
Are there any other interesting facts you would like to know about alcohol? Put your questions in the comments and I will try to get you an answer.
To learn more about alcohol read my other posts:
Don't miss another post!
Subscribe to get our latest content by email.