How Long Does It Take Alcohol To Kick In
You might be surprised at just how fast alcohol begins to take effect. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism , alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take that first sip. The effects kick in within about 10 minutes.
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it reduces activity in the brain’s reward center by increasing levels of dopamine. This happens rapidly during intoxication — if you drink enough, you’ll see the results almost immediately. But what exactly does this mean? How long will it take for the fun-increasing effects of booze to show up once you’ve had a few drinks? And why do some people get hung over more than others after drinking the same amount?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take that first sip. If you’re not used to drinking much, your blood alcohol content can go from 0 percent before you start drinking to 30 or 35 percent within 10 minutes. Once alcohol starts circulating through your body, its metabolism breaks down into acetaldehyde, which travels around the body looking for something to attach itself to. When it finds an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, it becomes toxic. As the NIAAA explains, “When attached to this enzyme, acetaldehyde is converted back to acetic acid, an innocuous end product of normal cellular respiration.” This process takes place mostly in the liver, though small amounts are also produced elsewhere throughout the body.
The problem with acetaldehyde is that it attaches to other molecules pretty easily, including hemoglobin in your red blood cells. When this happens, all kinds of bad things begin to happen in your body. Your breathing gets shallow, which causes hypoxia. You may feel lightheaded and have trouble concentrating. You might even pass out.
If you don’t breathe properly, oxygen doesn’t reach your brain, causing the dreaded blackout. Hypoxia also lowers inhibitions, making sex less enjoyable, and impairs motor skills and reaction times. Not only that, but when your blood sugar drops low while you’re drunk, it triggers a fight-or-flight response that sends your heart rate skyrocketing. This can make you dizzy, nauseous, and prone to getting a panic attack. Alcohol also relaxes smooth muscles, so drinking makes digestion harder.
In addition, when alcohol reaches your stomach, it stimulates secretion of gastric juices, which leads to vomiting. On top of all these negative side effects, alcohol has a nasty habit of lowering inhibitions. So even if you’re careful, there’s a good chance you’ll say or do something stupid when drunk.
Now that we know how quickly alcohol affects us, let’s look at why some people seem to hang over longer than others who drank the same amount. First off, everyone metabolizes alcohol differently. Some people have higher numbers of enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol than others. A person whose body produces fewer of those break-down enzymes could experience slower absorption of alcohol, which means they won’t feel quite as affected.
Also, alcohol is digested faster depending on how much food is eaten at the time. Eating protein increases the speed at which alcohol is broken down. In fact, eating protein right beforehand can help you sober up faster if you drink because it gives your body time to convert alcohol into glucose for energy instead of storing it as fat.
Finally, some people simply aren’t able to absorb alcohol very well. If you suffer from celiac disease, severe lactose intolerance or any type of intestinal blockage, then alcohol consumption could cause serious problems. Also, if you eat too much fatty food before drinking — especially foods high in cholesterol like eggs and bacon — then you could wind up experiencing unpleasant upset symptoms.
So next time you decide to hit the bar, remember that alcohol isn’t a miracle cure-all. While it certainly helps relieve stress and anxiety, it can also lead to dependency and potentially dangerous behaviors. For this reason, experts recommend drinking in moderation and never alone. Drinking and driving is one of the biggest causes of car accidents and deaths each year.
To learn more about the science behind alcohol and health, check out the links on the following page.
It’s estimated that approximately 90 percent of all adults have consumed alcohol at least once, and roughly 70 percent admit that their consumption was a little heavy at least one occasion.
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