How Alcohol Travels Through the Body

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Alcohol requires no digestion and is metabolized before many other nutrients. About 20% of the alcohol you drink passes through the stomach wall and can reach the brain within one minute.The remaining 80% passes through the small intestine before entering the bloodstream.

As Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) continues to rise, you begin to lose control of your cognitive functions and motor skills. Before you go drinking on an empty stomach, consider how alcohol travels through your body.

alcohol and how it travels through the body

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Mouth

  • Heavy drinkers increase their risk of developing mouth, esophagus, or throat cancer.

Stomach

  • On an empty stomach, alcohol passes directly to the blood stream.
  • Drinking too much alcohol stimulates gastric juice flow. Higher alcohol content can cause stomach lining irritation and lead to ulcers.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can decrease appetite as a result of increased gastric juice flow, causing malnutrition.

Circulatory System

  • Once in the bloodstream, alcohol is quickly distributed throughout the entire body.
  • Alcohol causes blood vessels to widen, resulting in temporary feelings of warmth, decrease in pulse rate and decrease in blood pressure.

Brain

Once alcohol hits the brain, it immediately starts affecting the brain's ability to control behavior and bodily functions.

  • BAC .03: Few obvious effects at this point. Slight intensification of mood.
  • BAC .06: Emotions are exaggerated; judgement is impaired.
  • BAC .10: Self control, perception, vision, balance, and speech are affected.
  • BAC .14-.15: Vision, balance, speech and motor control are affected; medical evaluation is advised.
  • BAC .30: Loss of motor control; requires assistance standing/walking; medical attention is necessary.
  • BAC .30 and higher: Potential loss of consciousness; hospitalization is requried.

Alcohol may also cause:

  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Decreased attention span.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.

Kidneys

  • Alcohol acts as a diuretic in the body and increases urination.
  • Alcohol can increase urine production as soon as 20 minutes after consumption.
  • Excessive urination may lead to thirst and dehydration.

Lungs

  • Alcohol increases the risk of aspiration - the entrance of foreign material into the lungs.

Liver

The liver can only oxidize one drink per hour. This is why time is the only thing that can sober up a person.

Regular alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage. A fatty liver may develop as alcohol disrupts the liver's ability to break down fats. The damage can be reversed by ceasing alcohol consumption.

  • Cirrhosis of the liver occurs as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Healthy liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue, which decreases blood flow to the liver and liver function.

Alcohol Facts

A drink is:

  • 4-5 ounces of wine.
  • 12 ounces of beer.
  • 1-1/4 ounces of 80 proof distilled liquor.
  • Proof refers to the amount of alcohol in a liquor. 80 proof is 40% alcohol; 100 proof is 50% alcohol.

Moderate drinking is:

  • One drink per day for women and people over 60.
  • Two drinks per day for men (no more than one per hour).

Drinking is not recommended at all for:

  • Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
  • Anyone under the age of 21.
  • Anyone taking medication, including over-the-counter medicines.
  • Anyone who plans to drive or participate in activities requiring their full attention and/or skill.
  • Recovering alcoholics.

Health Benefits of Moderate Drinking:

  • Reduces stress.
  • Reduces heart disease risk.
  • Increases appetite.
  • Strengthens bones in post-menopausal women.
Disclaimer: Even moderate alcohol consumption carries health risks. Always drink responsibly.

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