Healthy Lifestyle

Toasting to Your Good Health

Published: Dec. 31, 2017

The effects of alcohol

As the clock strikes down to another New Year, many of us will be raising a glass to 2018. Some of us will have more than one. But what effect does alcohol have on your body and ongoing good health?

Everyone reacts to alcohol in their own way; however the process is pretty much the same for everyone. When you drink, your body goes to work metabolizing the alcohol – breaking it down chemically so it can be removed. Because it is broken down more slowly than it can be absorbed, the more you drink, the more your body absorbs the alcohol and the drunker you will become. Your blood alcohol level will peak 30 to 45 minutes after your last drink.

Alcohol influencers

There are many things that influence how quickly or slowly your body metabolizes and absorbs alcohol:

  • Genetics – You have three enzymes in your body that break down alcohol, and everyone has different variations of the gene that makes up these enzymes. Therefore, every individual breaks down alcohol in a different way. Genetics may also help explain why some ethnic groups have higher or lower rates of problems linked to alcohol.
  • Body Weight – Smaller people simply can’t drink as much as a heavier person, and it’s a simple matter of volume. Alcohol spreads throughout your body thanks to the water in your bloodstream. The more water in your blood, the more diluted the alcohol will be. In general, the lower your body weight, the less blood and water you have. The alcohol content in your blood will be much more concentrated.
  • Sex – Women naturally have lower levels of one of the enzymes that breaks down alcohol. Therefore, the alcohol they drink stays in their bodies longer. They also tend to have less body water than men of the same size. That’s why men can normally drink more alcohol than women before they show its effects.
  • Age – In general, older people have less body water and a higher fat-to-muscle ratio than those who are younger. If they drink as much as someone who is younger and the same size, they may have a higher amount of alcohol in their system. 
  • Type of Beverage You Drink – The alcohol content can vary greatly among the different types of beer, wine and distilled spirits, and so can the way your body reacts to it. People tend to feel the effects of beer or wine a little less than hard alcohol. That’s because there is generally a higher water content in those beverages compared to liquor. The carbonation in champagne and soda in mixed drinks can also cause your body to absorb the alcohol more quickly.
  • Amount of Food in your Stomach – Eating a meal before you drink can slow the absorption of alcohol in your system. That’s because the rate at which alcohol is absorbed depends on how quickly the stomach empties its contents into your intestines. Foods that are high in fat take longer to leave your stomach. 
  • Medicine in Your System – Alcohol and medications are drugs, and the way they interact can change the way both affect you. For instance, any drug that can cause drowsiness, such as a sleeping pill, can make you feel more drunk. Be sure to ask your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider before drinking while on medication.
  • Your Emotional Health – If you are fatigued or highly stressed, your body may have a stronger reaction to alcohol. 

If you plan to drink to usher in 2018, keep these things in mind. Don’t drink to excess, and never drink and drive. Here’s to a safe and Happy New Year!

About the Author

Dr. Lindsay Northam is very passionate about patient care. In order to deliver exceptional care for people, she believes it is important to form strong patient relationships.

Dr. Northam believes that all patients should leave her clinic at Methodist Physicians Clinic feeling they were truly heard and respected.

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