The body has a process for breaking down alcohol. The amount of time alcohol stays in a person’s body depends on how much they drink and their overall health. After prolonged alcohol use, liver, brain, and other organs may suffer great damage.
Understanding The Effects Of Alcohol
Alcohol (ethanol) is a Central nervous system depressant that spends relatively little time in the body but causes its functions to slow. The amount of time alcohol spends in a person’s body depends greatly on the size of their liver and their body mass. On average, the body metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate of 20 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) per hour.
“Alcohol slows your breathing rate, heart rate, and how well your brain functions. These effects may appear within 10 minutes and peak at around 40 to 60 minutes. Alcohol stays in your bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver,” (National Library of Medicine).
Alcohol affects each person differently. A person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is determined by environmental factors such as amount consumed, presence of food in the system, type of alcoholic beverage, and genetic factors. Two people can drink the same amount of alcohol, and it will have a different effect on each of them, and different effects on their BAC.
Factors that can affect how a person’s body reacts to alcohol include:
- physical health
- how much and how often a person drinks
- mixing alcohol with medications or other drugs
- drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time (binge drinking)
Many people drink alcohol as a way to unwind or socialize. Yet too much alcohol can damage the liver, heart, stomach, pancreas, and immune system. Abusing alcohol, binge drinking, or using alcohol to try to cope with grief, anxiety, depression, or mental illness, may contribute to an alcohol use disorder.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition that occurs when the use of alcohol causes significant impairment, health problems, or distress. Many people suffering from AUD become unable to meet requirements with their career, school, or home life.
Alcohol use disorder is a progressive and primary illness. If left untreated, AUD will continue to get worse over time as drinking progresses. AUD is defined as mild, moderate, or severe.
How Is Alcohol Metabolized?
After alcohol is consumed, it quickly travels to the digestive system. The stomach tissues absorb about 20 percent of the alcohol into the bloodstream, which is known as gastric emptying. The other 80 percent of alcohol is absorbed into the tissues of the small intestine.
First-pass metabolism (FPM) is greatly influenced by the speed of gastric emptying, which can also vary based on the amount of food in a person’s system, how much they drank, their age, and their overall physical health.
Once the alcohol has been absorbed into the bloodstream, it travels through the veins to the liver, where it’s exposed to enzymes and metabolized. The principle alcohol-metabolizing enzymes within the liver include alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).
ADH metabolizes alcohol to acetaldehyde, which is a highly toxic substance that may contribute to organ tissue damage and alcohol addiction. After that, acetaldehyde is broken down into acetate, which is then oxidized into carbon dioxide in the heart, skeletal muscles, and brain cells.
Liver Metabolism Rates:
The liver is responsible for the final step of removing alcohol from the body, but any issues with the liver can slow this process. On average, it takes the liver one hour to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. The liver is the primary organ responsible for metabolizing ingested ethanol, but non-liver tissues, like the brain, can metabolize alcohol as well.
For many people, an ounce of alcohol produces a .015 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The more alcohol a person drinks, the higher their BAC becomes. In other words, the amount of time it takes the liver to process alcohol is greatly affected by the amount a person drinks.
A person who suffers from an alcohol use disorder may not be able to control the amount they drink, which not only increases their chance of acute alcohol intoxication but also increases the chance of doing serious damage to the liver and other organs.
Researchers have found that a person’s genetics can be a factor in the amount of ADH and ALDH enzymes they have in their bodies. People have different variations of ADH and ALDH enzymes in their body, and some people are able to process alcohol faster than others.