Alcohol – how does it work in the body?

It is commonly known that alcohol enters the blood stream directly. But how does that happen? And how is alcohol broken down in the body? In the following, we have a few answers to questions like these.

Early effects on the body
When drinking alcoholic drinks, the uptake of alcohol into the blood starts immediately, because a small part reaches the bloodstream via the oral mucosa and the esophageal mucosa. Up to a quarter is absorbed through the gastric mucosa, and the rest enters the blood through the intestine. There are several factors that increase speed absorption:
• An empty stomach
• Sweetened, warm and carbonated alcoholic drinks
• Fast drinking
• Individual factors (e.g., diseases)

Distribution via the blood vessels
The faster alcohol gets into the blood, the faster the blood alcohol concentration increases, and the faster you get drunk. Once in the blood, alcohol distributes quickly and evenly in the body and thus reaches all organs. In general, after about 1 hour the maximum blood alcohol concentration is reached. When measuring the blood alcohol concentration, only the alcohol amount is detectable that has not already been broken down in the gastrointestinal tract and in the liver.

Digestion takes its time
If the alcohol is spread over a prolonged period or drunk with a meal, the blood alcohol concentration does not rise so quickly. During this time, the body can already digest some of the alcohol, an average of 0.1 to 0.15 ‰ per hour. Up to 10 % of the alcohol is excreted via the lungs, the kidneys and the skin. The larger part, however, is broken down in the liver.

Women are more sensitive to alcohol
Women generally tolerate alcohol less well than men. This means that the same amount of alcohol is more harmful to women than to men, since women have more body fat than body water compared to their body weight. Alcohol dissolves in water better than in fat, so the alcohol concentration in the blood in women is generally higher than in men with equal body weight.

Finding out the blood alcohol content
Everybody who is interested in knowing their blood alcohol content, for example before driving a car, can find out in the shortest of time with a simple self-test.
Young and old are affected stronger

Age also plays a role. Adolescents tolerate alcohol less than adults, as they usually have less weight. Physical development, which also includes brain development, is adversely affected by alcohol consumption. In studies, negative effects of alcohol on the brain were demonstrated in the area of learning ability and decision making. Older adults also tolerate alcohol less, as the body water per kilogram of body weight decreases with age. The body also needs longer for the breakdown of alcohol.

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