Alcohol Education

How Alcohol Affects Us

Almost all of us have heard that alcohol is a drug, but many of us don't think of the act of drinking alcohol as putting a drug into our bodies. It is important for people to understand that alcohol abuse impairs their judgment and their peripheral and central nervous system.

Alcohol also affects different people in different ways. Some of the characteristics that determine the way alcohol affects you include:

But for most people, the effects of alcohol are determined by simple volume.

How does impairment happen? Let's take a look.

When a person drinks alcohol, it can enter the bloodstream as soon as you begin to drink. The molecular structure of alcohol (or ethanol) is small, so the alcohol can be absorbed or transferred into the blood through the mouth, the walls of the stomach, and the small intestine.

The stomach actually has a relatively slow absorption rate; it is the small intestine that absorbs most of the alcohol. That's why we want to keep the alcohol in the stomach as long as possible by eating food, which dilutes the alcohol and keeps it from entering the small intestine so quickly. Once alcohol gets into the bloodstream it moves through the body and comes into contact with virtually every organ. However, some of the highest concentrations, and certainly the highest impact, are caused by the alcohol that reaches the brain.

We need to know that the body is quite efficient when it comes to dealing with alcohol. The liver is designed to metabolize the alcohol as we drink it. Enzymes break down the alcohol into harmless products and then it is excreted. However, the liver can only handle so much alcohol at a time. For a person of average weight and body type, the liver and small intestine can handle alcohol at a rate of about one drink per hour.

If a person drinks at a faster rate than one drink per hour, the alcohol simply stays in the body, waiting its turn to be metabolized. Since there is more alcohol in the body than can be metabolized, the result is increasing levels of intoxication.