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Why does alcohol make you drunk?

When we drink alcohol, some of it gets into the blood through the mucous membrane in the mouth. Then it goes on to the stomach, where another part is absorbed. The main intake of alcohol takes place in the small intestine. It is conducted into the blood via the mucous membranes there.

The blood carries alcohol throughout the body. The concentration in the blood peaks 30 to 60 minutes after drinking. 

This means that if we drink a glass of wine, for example, the alcohol concentration in the blood through this one glass is highest after half an hour to an hour. 

After that, the alcohol will slowly break down again. Provided we stop drinking after the glass. Those who continue to drink keep the level or increase it.

Man drunk on table with alcohol bottle
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When the body can no longer handle large amounts of alcohol, it is called alcohol intoxication. Vomiting, breathing problems, and a possible coma are dangerous consequences.

Alcohol changes perception and behavior

The intoxication ultimately arises in the brain. Here, too, the alcohol arrives in the blood just a few minutes after the first sip - and influences various processes there:

On the one hand, it upsets the balance of certain messenger substances that are used to transmit stimuli between nerve cells. As the dose increases, alcohol ensures that the stimuli are inhibited and our nerve cells are less active. 

In short: alcohol has a depressant effect on our brain. 

On the other hand, it favors the secretion of certain hormones in the brain, which make us more relaxed, more exuberant, more talkative, and increase our thirst for action.

Under the influence of alcohol, it is then more difficult to correctly estimate distances. The concentration decreases, as does the ability to react. Since alcohol removes water from the body, it often leads to fatigue and higher amounts cause confusion and disorientation.

Long-term effects of alcohol on the brain

Brain matter does not die immediately. First of all, there is a communication problem in the brain, but not immediately to a death of brain mass. That can change in the long run. Because alcohol is a cell poison that does not stop at nerve cells. 

People, who regularly drink a lot, suffer from brain damage - but there is no specific limit above which this happens. These are expressed, for example, in changes in character, concentration, and memory loss.

The Effects of Alcohol On Your Body 

From a biochemical point of view, ethanol is a cell poison. Because of this, the body tries to defuse it as quickly as possible afterward. The liver, which detoxifies the body with special enzymes, breaks down the ethanol into its components. But while carbon dioxide and acetic acid are obtained from alcohol, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase forms an extremely toxic intermediate product on the way there: acetaldehyde. This molecule damages the mucous membrane cells and is even carcinogenic according to the World Health Organization.

The breakdown of alcohol in the liver also encourages the production of fatty acids, which over time build up in the liver. The liver is fatty. Often this liver change, albeit reversible, later leads to chronic liver damage such as cirrhosis of the liver. In the process, nodules form in the liver tissue, the liver hardens and the cells lose their function. This state can only be stopped, but not reversed.

Although the human liver is very resilient, it is not sensitive to pain. What is happening to the liver cells in the meantime is not noticed by humans - or only when severe symptoms appear. Once there is liver damage, other organs are also affected. In the long term, a destroyed liver can lead to inflammation of the pancreas.

In the brain, long-term alcohol consumption causes both brain mass and volume to decrease. Each alcohol consumption destroys brain cells. This is often only noticeable in alcohol addicts who subsequently suffer from memory problems and who find it more difficult to move and coordinate. They are also more likely to suffer from mental disorders such as depression.

Many experts assume that quantities of around 24 grams of alcohol per day can cause greater health damage in adults in the long term - that's the equivalent of just two glasses of beer.

What does it depend on how quickly we get drunk?

How quickly and massively alcohol develops its effect depends primarily on the following factors:

Amount of alcohol consumed

Drinking speed: It is not the same if you drink two glasses of wine in 10 minutes or in 3 hours. A higher concentration of alcohol in less time makes you get drunk faster.

Stomach contents: Drinking on an empty stomach can increase the intoxicating effects of alcohol. On the other hand, a high-fat meal in advance can delay the absorption of alcohol into the body.

Individual physical and mental condition: Bodyweight, for example, has a major influence. A man who weighs 90 kilograms can tolerate more alcohol than a slender sexual companion because he has more blood in his body and the alcohol is more widely distributed throughout the body.

Drinking habits: Those who regularly consume alcohol can tolerate more and do not get drunk as quickly.

Gender: alcohol affects females more than males

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Why does alcohol affect females more than males?

Women tolerate less alcohol. This is not only reflected in a faster intoxication, the physical damage is also significantly greater than with men with the same consumption. One reason for this is obvious: women are on average smaller and weigh less. 

Even in slim women, the body fat percentage is higher than in slim men. With healthy body weight, it is around ten percent higher for women. This means that the proportion of body fluid that alcohol can distribute to is lower in women. With the same weight and alcohol consumption, their blood alcohol concentration is higher than that of men. In addition, the liver works differently in men and women.

The liver needs the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase to break down alcohol. Women produce less of it than men. The result: blood alcohol is broken down more slowly in them than in men. 

Alcohol is a cell poison that can damage all organs. In addition to the liver, the heart and blood vessels, digestive tract, pancreas, nerves and even the brain also suffer. For example, the risk of dementia is greater if you consume more alcohol. Since the alcohol levels of women are higher than men with the same consumption, the risk of damage is correspondingly higher for them.

The risk of cancer also increases with alcohol consumption: It has been proven for tumors of the oral cavity, throat, esophagus, intestine and liver. In women there is also breast cancer: alcohol promotes the production of estrogen, which promotes breast cancer.

How much is too much

There is no risk-free alcohol consumption for either women or men. The limit for low-risk alcohol consumption for healthy adult women is a small glass of beer or wine a day - for men, it can be twice that amount.

Men and women should refrain from alcohol altogether for at least two days a week. This reduces the risk of addiction.

For most people, alcohol initially has a positive effect. If this were not the case, no one would consume it voluntarily. In small doses it acts:

  • Mood-lifting
  • Relaxing
  • Stimulating
  • Anxiety-relieving
  • Disinhibiting


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