Factors That Affect How Alcohol is Absorbed

Did you realize, given the same exact amount of alcohol, the level of intoxication varies according to some physiological and biological factors?

Here are some examples:

1. Women vs. men

Alcohol affects women more quickly and intensely due to a typically smaller body size and weight than men. Also, women have about half as much of the enzymes used to metabolize alcohol than men do (alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase).

2. Smaller people vs. larger people

Smaller people have less body mass through which alcohol can diffuse, meaning there is more alcohol in their bloodstream. Therefore, they become more intoxicated quicker.

3. Higher proportion of body fat to muscle tissue mass

Alcohol is not drawn into body fat as well as it draws into lean muscle mass. Therefore, blood alcohol concentration is intensified in those with more body fat. Think oil and water.

4. High stress mood states vs. relaxed mood states

When students are stressed, as opposed to when they are more relaxed, alcohol absorbs more rapidly. Stress also causes the stomach to empty directly into the small intestine, where alcohol is absorbed even faster.

5. Medications

Other drugs and medications often have adverse effects and unpredictable interactions with alcohol. Even Tylenol can cause significant liver troubles if paired with alcohol. Make a point to know what the potential interactions are with medications/drugs you have taken before you drink. In some cases, these interactions can be fatal. When in doubt, don’t drink alcohol when taking meds.

6. Drinking on an empty stomach vs. eating while you drink

Drinking on an empty stomach irritates your digestive system, and results in more rapid absorption of alcohol. Instead, eat high-protein foods (tofu, cheese, etc.) along with alcohol before and when drinking, and you’ll be in much more control.

7. Health Concerns

Genetic enzyme deficiencies (alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase), diabetes, hypertension, thiamine deficiency, depression, seizure disorder and a myriad of other health conditions may decrease the body’s ability to process alcohol and therefore present increased health risks. Alcohol and other drug dependencies may increase the risk of developing chronic disease and long-term dependence. Consult with your health care clinician.

8. "Chugging" vs. "Skillful sipping"

Why does chugging significantly lead to unwanted risks? Going overboard with drinking is like overdosing. The more alcohol you drink within a short period of time, the more you overtax your physiological system. It responds by shutting down. First, your cognitive system shuts down, you lose inhibitions and feel loose. Pour in more alcohol, and your body might force you to vomit (first sign of alcohol poisoning), or pass out (other brain functions shut down). Finally, your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems will shut down due to systemic alcohol poisoning. Enjoy your drink more slowly and spread your drinking out over time and you can control how intoxicated you become.

Check it out:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol-Medication Interactions

RxList: The Internet Drug Index for prescription drugs

Stanford University "Factors That Effect How Alcohol Is Absorbed." Office of Alcohol Policy and Education