Unlike food, alcohol doesn’t need to be digested so when it travels to the stomach and can pass quickly into the blood stream- 20% of alcohol is absorbed immediately. On average, it takes the liver an hour to break down one unit (about half a pint of lager) of alcohol. If we drink more than our body can process, we become drunk, which is pretty obvious, but what determines how quickly our body processes or metabolises alcohol?

  • Chugging vs Sipping. If you drink loads of alcohol within a short time, the body’s metabolic system can’t cope and so the body responds by shutting down: first the cognitive system and motor functioning are impaired, you might vomit which shows the first stages of alcohol poisoning or faint which shows that other brain functions are shutting down. Spreading out your drinking controls how intoxicated you become.
  • Being smaller/ weighing less will make you feel the effects of alcohol more quickly because there is less tissue to absorb the alcohol and they would have a higher blood alcohol concentration
  • Age. Similar to size, younger people are smaller, weigh less and are typically less used to the effects of alcohol and so would be more affected than an older person. Also, in teenage brains, alcohol is more damaging because they’re still developing but as we grow older, our body fat content increases and water content decreases which also make us absorb alcohol quicker. Some people describe this as a ‘resistance’ to alcohol; when you’re more used to the effects of alcohol, but nothing in our body chemistry actually changes, it’s just the effects of alcohol like the emotional and physical changes that individuals are more used.
  • Gender. Because women are generally smaller than men, they have less tissue to absorb alcohol as well as the fact that women have more fat content and less water content than men, also increasing the rate of absorption so even if the a man and a woman are the same size, the woman would absorb the alcohol quicker ad feel the effects for longer as the alcohol would remain in the blood stream for longer. Women also have lower levels alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol so it stays in their system longer. Just before a period or ovulation, the effects of alcohol are felt more quickly than normal and the contraceptive pill makes alcohol takes longer to leave the body.
  • Eating.How much food you eat. Alcohol is absorbed slower when we eat food, especially if they have a high fat content. Drinking on an empty stomach irritates the digestive system leading to a more rapid absorption of alcohol.
  • Type of drink. Alcohol mixed with water or fruit juice slows down the absorption process but fizzy drinks and mixers increase the rate of absorption and so you get drunk quicker.

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.

-P. J. O’Rourke

Do you agree? If so, are events like Alcohol Awareness Week dare unnecessary? Tell me in the comments below!

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