Alcohol: Ingestion methods

Last modified: Wednesday, 24. December 2008 - 3:57 am

When a person drinks alcohol, it immediately travels from the stomach to the small intestine and then into the bloodstream. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, a person begins to feel its effects. Because alcohol is absorbed faster than it is metabolized, the alcohol level in a person’s blood rises quickly. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach also causes blood alcohol levels (BAL) to rise quickly. High-protein foods in the body can slow down the absorption of alcohol, whereas carbonated alcoholic beverages such as champagne, rum and coke, and whiskey and ginger ale speed up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. A smaller person will begin to feel the effects of alcohol sooner than a larger person because the larger person has more blood and body fluids.

Alcohol leaves the body through a process of elimination and oxidation. The liver removes alcohol from the blood and causes the alcohol to break down into water and carbon dioxide gas. The carbon dioxide gas leaves the body through the lungs, and the water is eliminated in urine. It takes the liver about one hour to process a glass of wine, one to two hours to process hard liquor, and about two hours to process a glass of beer. If large quantities of alcohol are present in the body, the liver has to work overtime to break it down and eliminate it from the body.

Alcohol is carried to the brain through the bloodstream. Because alcohol is a depressant, it has immediate effects on the brain’s ability to function effectively. Alcohol can impair judgement, affect behavior and coordination, and cause nausea, slurred speech, and dehydration. Gail Gleason Milgram, Professor and Director of Education and Training at the Center of Alcohol Studies, offers a profile of behavior that can follow a rise in blood alcohol levels (BAL) due to drinking. She explains that when a person has a BAL of 0.03%, which is approximately one drink, “the drinker will feel relaxed and experience a slight feeling of exhilaration.” After two drinks and a BAL of 0.06%, “the drinker will experience a feeling of warmth and relaxation” as well as a decline in coordination. After three drinks, speech can be slurred and muscle control can be affected. When a drinker has had five or six drinks, he or she can have difficulty walking and staying awake. At this point a person’s BAL could reach 0.30%. Milgram further explains that when the BAL reaches 0.50%, “the drinker is in a deep coma or in danger of death.” Many states use a BAL of 0.1% as a measure for drunk driving.

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