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    How the Human Body Processes Alcohol

    Image How does your body absorb alcohol? Get answers to questions about why different alcohols get absorbed differently and how your body gets rid of alcohol. Alcohol Absorbtion Why does alcohol get into the bloodstream so quickly? Alcohol is absorbed very quickly by the blood and spreads easily to all organs because alcohol molecules are very tiny. They don’t have to be broken down by digestive enzymes to get into the blood and they dissolve easily in water and fat – both main components of the human body. Why is alcohol absorbed more quickly when the stomach is empty? Alcohol moves quickly from the mouth to the stomach and on to the intestines. Some of it is absorbed directly through the lining of the mouth and esophagus, some through the walls of the stomach and the rest is absorbed by the intestines, mainly the small intestine. If there is no solid food in the stomach or intestines, the alcohol will come into contact with the intestinal walls more easily and pass quickly into the blood. All the alcohol of one drink may be absorbed within 30 minutes. If your stomach is relatively full, the alcohol will stay there longer. The absorption process will be slower and may take up to 90 minutes. Why is stronger alcohol absorbed more slowly? Beverages that are more than 20 per cent alcohol irritate the lining of the stomach. This slows the opening of the valve that allows the contents of the stomach pass into the small intestine. Drinking several shots of spirits one after the other in the hope of getting drunk quickly may actually produce a delayed reaction. Why does alcohol go to your head so quickly? Once it’s in the bloodstream, alcohol spreads to all parts of the body and goes into all tissues containing water. Because alcohol is carried by blood, it is delivered particularly quickly to organs with many blood vessels, such as the brain, lungs and liver. Alcohol Elimination Why is there alcohol in the breath you exhale and in breast milk? About 10 per cent of alcohol is eliminated as is, through urine or perspiration. It can also be eliminated through the breath, since the bloodstream carries it to the lungs. This is why a breathalyzer can measure your blood alcohol level. Did you know?The concentration of alcohol in breast milk is about 10 per cent higher than in the blood because of the high water content of the milk. How is alcohol metabolized by the liver? About 90 per cent of alcohol is eliminated by the body’s metabolism. While the kidneys and gastro-intestinal tract play a role in this process, the liver is the main organ responsible for transforming alcohol absorbed by the blood into substances that your body can process and eliminate. Why do different people eliminate alcohol differently? No matter how much or how little you drink, your liver can only metabolize about one standard drink per hour. Other factors include age, gender, weight and how much food you’ve had to eat. © Adapted from Éduc’alcool’s “Alcohol and Health” series, 2014. Used under license.

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    How the Human Body Processes Alcohol

    Image

    How does your body absorb alcohol? Get answers to questions about why different alcohols get absorbed differently and how your body gets rid of alcohol.

    Alcohol Absorbtion

    Why does alcohol get into the bloodstream so quickly?

    Alcohol is absorbed very quickly by the blood and spreads easily to all organs because alcohol molecules are very tiny. They don’t have to be broken down by digestive enzymes to get into the blood and they dissolve easily in water and fat – both main components of the human body.

    Why is alcohol absorbed more quickly when the stomach is empty?

    Alcohol moves quickly from the mouth to the stomach and on to the intestines. Some of it is absorbed directly through the lining of the mouth and esophagus, some through the walls of the stomach and the rest is absorbed by the intestines, mainly the small intestine.

    If there is no solid food in the stomach or intestines, the alcohol will come into contact with the intestinal walls more easily and pass quickly into the blood. All the alcohol of one drink may be absorbed within 30 minutes.

    If your stomach is relatively full, the alcohol will stay there longer. The absorption process will be slower and may take up to 90 minutes.

    Why is stronger alcohol absorbed more slowly?

    Beverages that are more than 20 per cent alcohol irritate the lining of the stomach. This slows the opening of the valve that allows the contents of the stomach pass into the small intestine. Drinking several shots of spirits one after the other in the hope of getting drunk quickly may actually produce a delayed reaction.

    Why does alcohol go to your head so quickly?

    Once it’s in the bloodstream, alcohol spreads to all parts of the body and goes into all tissues containing water. Because alcohol is carried by blood, it is delivered particularly quickly to organs with many blood vessels, such as the brain, lungs and liver.

    Alcohol Elimination

    Why is there alcohol in the breath you exhale and in breast milk?

    About 10 per cent of alcohol is eliminated as is, through urine or perspiration. It can also be eliminated through the breath, since the bloodstream carries it to the lungs. This is why a breathalyzer can measure your blood alcohol level.

    Did you know?

    The concentration of alcohol in breast milk is about 10 per cent higher than in the blood because of the high water content of the milk.

    How is alcohol metabolized by the liver?

    About 90 per cent of alcohol is eliminated by the body’s metabolism. While the kidneys and gastro-intestinal tract play a role in this process, the liver is the main organ responsible for transforming alcohol absorbed by the blood into substances that your body can process and eliminate.

    Why do different people eliminate alcohol differently?

    No matter how much or how little you drink, your liver can only metabolize about one standard drink per hour. Other factors include age, gender, weight and how much food you’ve had to eat.

    © Adapted from Éduc’alcool’s “Alcohol and Health” series, 2014. Used under license.

    Last Updated: August 26, 2019

    Important Phone Numbers

    If you or someone you know needs help, call one of the numbers below:

    9-1-1 if you are in an emergency.

    8-1-1 for non-emergency information on how to access alternatives to toxic drug supply and substance use services

    1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) if you are considering suicide or are concerned about someone who may be.310Mental Health Support at 310-6789 (no area code needed) for emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health.Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a professional counsellor, 24 hours a day.Alcohol & Drug Information and Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441 (toll-free in B.C.) or 604-660-9382 (in the Lower Mainland) to find resources and support.

    Source : www.healthlinkbc.ca

    How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body? – The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership

    The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership

    Home » Module 1: Gender Matters » Content » How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body?

    Module 1: Gender Matters

    Content What is Alcohol?

    How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body?

    Where Does Alcohol Go in the Body?

    How is Alcohol Eliminated from the Body?

    Gender Differences in Alcohol Metabolism

    Module 2: The ABCs of Intoxication

    Module 3: Alcohol, Cell Suicide, and the Adolescent Brain

    Module 4: Alcohol and the Breathalyzer Test

    Module 5: Alcohol and Babies?!?

    How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body?

    Note: The term “alcohol” will be used to mean ethanol unless otherwise noted.

    Ethanol is absorbed through the GI tract

    When alcohol is consumed, it enters the stomach, where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. However, if no food is present, most of the alcohol moves down into the small intestine where there is a much larger surface area for absorption compared to the stomach. The cells that line the stomach and small intestine (part of the gastrointestinal or GI tract) are called epithelial cells. These cells are perfect for absorption because they have finger-like projections protruding into the GI lumen, which tremendously increases the surface area for absorption of nutrients and other molecules through the membranes.

    If one drinks alcohol with food in the stomach, the pyloric sphincter separating the stomach from the small intestine closes to allow the food to be digested by stomach acid. Since the alcohol can’t move into the small intestine immediately, this slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream considerably. In fact, a fatty meal can reduce the peak blood alcohol concentration (BAC) up to 50% relative to that produced when alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach.

    Most alcohol absorption into the body happens in the small intestine. The presence of fatty food can significantly slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

    Alcohol moves from the gut to the capillaries

    To be absorbed, alcohol moves across the epithelial cells, through the interstitial space, and into the capillaries. The capillaries are made of endothelial cells. As alcohol moves through each of these cells, it moves in the direction of the concentration gradient.

    Figure 1.3 Absorption of ethanol from the gut into the bloodstream. Ethanol molecules in the gut diffuse across epithelial cells, through the interstitial space, and then into nearby capillaries.

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    Figure 1.4 Watch ethanol move across membranes in the direction of the concentration gradient.

    Let’s look at how alcohol moves into the bloodstream in a little more detail.

    The Biological Membrane

    The movement of alcohol across cell membranes is possible because of its chemical character and the biophysical properties of the membrane. The cell membrane is a lipid bilayer—it contains phospholipids, small molecules that have a polar phosphate head (hydrophilic or water loving) and a nonpolar lipid tail (hydrophobic or water fearing) (Figure 1.5). Two layers or sheets of phospholipids are stacked together with their lipid tails touching to form a hydrophobic core. The polar phosphate heads face the water-filled exterior or interior of the cell.

    The membranes also have large proteins that are embedded within the lipid bilayer. The proteins often form pores through which water and small, dissolved molecules or solutes can move (Figure 1.5). Ethanol is small (its molecular weight is 46 g/mole or 46 Daltons) and polar, so it has no trouble crossing these cell membranes.

    Figure 1.5 – The biological membrane is a lipid bilayer. The lipid bilayer contains proteins that span the membrane, creating spaces and pores through which water and small solutes can pass.

    Learn more about the structure of biomembranes.

    Ethanol diffuses through cell membranes

    The biological membrane structure allows small, uncharged molecules like ethanol, CO2 and H2O to pass directly through the membrane by the process of diffusion. Ethanol can move through the water channels or pores that are created by proteins embedded in the cell membrane (Figure 1.5a). This form of diffusion is called filtration because ethanol is small enough to “filter” through the pores.

    Ethanol can also diffuse through the core of the lipid bilayer, this is because it is also slightly lipophilic (lipid loving) and relatively small. Other kinds of polar compounds are charged, which prevents them from diffusing through the hydrophobic core of the membrane (they can only dissolve in water).

    The filtration and the diffusion of ethanol across the membrane are forms of passive transport because no cellular energy is required. The concentration gradient is the driving force that moves the ethanol molecules through the membrane.

    Source : sites.duke.edu

    Alcohol Metabolism

    Absorbing Once alcohol is swallowed, it is not digested like food. First, a small amount is absorbed directly by the tongue and mucosal lining of the mouth. Once

    Alcohol Metabolism

    Absorbing

    Once alcohol is swallowed, it is not digested like food. First, a small amount is absorbed directly by the tongue and mucosal lining of the mouth. Once in the stomach, alcohol is absorbed directly into your blood stream through the tissue lining of the stomach and small intestine.

    Food in the stomach can inhibit the absorption of alcohol in two ways:

    First, it physically obstructs the alcohol from coming in contact with the stomach lining. Food can either absorb alcohol, or simply “take up space” so the alcohol does not enter the bloodstream through contact with the wall of the stomach.

    Second, food in the stomach will prevent alcohol from passing into the duodenum, which is the upper portion of the small intestine. The surface area of the small intestine is very large (about the size of a tennis court), so alcohol has more access to enter the bloodstream once it leaves the stomach. If alcohol is sequestered in the stomach it will be absorbed slower.

    Transporting

    Once alcohol is in your bloodstream, it is carried to all organs of your body. In the majority of healthy people, blood circulates through the body in 90 seconds, thereby allowing alcohol to affect your brain and all other organs in a short amount of time. The full effects of a drink are felt within 15 to 45 minutes depending on the speed of absorption.

    Alcohol enters all tissues of the body except bone and fat. In an adult male, alcohol can penetrate approximately 68% of body tissues. Body composition is important, because if the percentage of adipose tissue is high, the alcohol can only be distributed throughout the remaining lean tissue – resulting in a higher concentration for those areas.

    The effects of alcohol on the body will vary according to the individual: their sex, body composition, the amount of alcohol consumed, the presence of food, and the ability of the liver to produce the alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes.

    Alcohol Metabolism

    Alcohol is a toxin that must be neutralized or eliminated from the body. Ten percent of alcohol is eliminated through sweat, breath, and urine.

    Alcohol is volatile (will evaporate in air), so when alcohol in the blood comes in contact with air in the alveoli of the lungs, it can be transferred out of the body through breath.

    The liver is the primary organ responsible for the detoxification of alcohol. Liver cells produce the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase which breaks alcohol into ketones at a rate of about 0.015 g/100mL/hour (reduces BAC by 0.015 per hour).

    Nothing will speed up the rate of detoxification, but the effective metabolism of alcohol can be limited by medications and liver damage.

    When the rate of consumption exceeds the rate of detoxification, BAC will continue to rise.

    How Fast Can You Sober Up?

    Alcohol leaves the body at an average rate of 0.015 g/100mL/hour, which is the same as reducing your BAC level by 0.015 per hour. For men, this is usually a rate of about one standard drink per hour. However, there are other factors that affect intoxication level (gender, some medications, illness) that will cause BAC to rise more quickly, and fall more slowly.

    Example: At an average rate of -0.015/hr, how long would it take someone with a BAC of 0.20 to sober up?Time Activity BAC Level

    2:00 a.m. In bed. dizzy and disoriented

    .200

    3:00 a.m. Nauseous, unable to sleep

    .185

    4:00 a.m. Very restless .170

    5:00 a.m. Sleeping, but not well

    .155

    6:00 a.m. Sleep .140

    7:00 a.m. Get up for class with a headache

    .125

    8:00 a.m. Drive to school, risk DUI or worse

    .110

    9:00 a.m. In class, trouble focusing on lecture

    .095

    10:00 a.m. Judgment still impaired .080

    11:00 a.m. Mind still foggy, fatigued

    .065

    12:00 p.m. Not hungry, cottonmouth .050

    1:00 p.m. In afternoon class, still unfocused .035

    2:00 p.m. Head cleaning .020

    3:00 p.m. Feeling a little better

    .005

    4:00 p.m. Sober at last, but not fully recovered

    .000

    Can You Speed Up This Process?

    Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it can only be eliminated by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, sweat, urine, and breath. Drinking water and sleeping will not speed up the process. Coffee, energy drinks, and a cold shower will not sober you up faster. These might make you feel more awake, but caffeine and cold showers will not pull alcohol out of the blood - and thus will not lower your BAC level.

    Source : www.bgsu.edu

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