Understanding how your body processes alcohol will help you make informed decisions about how you drink.
When you drink, the alcohol flows directly through your body’s membranes into your bloodstream, which carries it to nearly every organ in your body. The average person needs an hour to process each standard drink.
Once you start consuming more than one standard drink an hour, you may start to experience the stimulatory effects of alcohol — you might feel more relaxed, less inhibited, and you may be more excitable.
Step 1. From mouth to stomach
Un-metabolised alcohol flows through your stomach walls into your bloodstream and on to your small intestine.
Step 2. Next stop, the liver
Most of the alcohol you drink is absorbed through the small intestine. From there it flows through a large blood vessel into your liver. In the liver, an enzyme metabolizes the alcohol. The normal, healthy liver can process about 10grams of alcohol (that’s one standard drink) in an hour. The rest flows on to your heart.
Once you start consuming more than one standard drink an hour, you may start to experience the stimulatory effects of alcohol—you might feel more relaxed, less inhibited, and you may be more excitable.
Step 3. Heart, blood, breath
Entering your heart, alcohol reduces the force with which your heart muscle contracts. You pump out slightly less blood, blood vessels all over your body relax, and your blood pressure goes down temporarily (for as long as half an hour).
The alcohol also makes your blood less likely to clot, temporarily reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Meanwhile, alcohol in the blood from your heart flows through your pulmonary vein to your lungs. Now you breathe out a tiny bit of alcohol every time you exhale, and your breath smells of alcohol.
Your thinking may be fuzzy, your judgment impaired, your tongue twisted, your vision blurred, and your muscles rubbery
Step 4. Rising to the surface
With larger volumes of alcohol, your blood vessels expand, so more warm blood flows up from the center of your body to the surface of the skin. You feel warmer and, if your skin is fair, you may flush and turn pink.
At the same time, tiny amounts of alcohol ooze out through your pores, and your perspiration smells of alcohol.
If you are prone to ‘alcohol flushing’ you will experience these effects earlier than someone who is not.
Step 5. Brain drain
As you drink more your blood alcohol concentration rises, and the stimulation alcohol gave you earlier will shift to sedation.
When the alcohol reaches your brain, it will slow the transmission of impulses between nerve cells that control your ability to think and move. That’s why your thinking may be fuzzy, your judgment impaired, your tongue twisted, your vision blurred, and your muscles rubbery.
Alcohol also reduces your brain’s production of antidiuretic hormones, so you need to urinate more often. As a result you may lose lots of vitamins, and minerals, get very thirsty, and your urine may smell faintly of alcohol.
This cycle continues as long as you have alcohol circulating in your blood, or in other words, until your liver can produce enough Alcohol Dehydrogenase to metabolize all the drinks you’ve consumed.
Drinking can be part of a balanced lifestyle that includes good eating and exercise. You just want to make sure you keep everything in moderation, and drink in a way that keeps you thinking and acting like yourself.