The Science of Alcohol

10pm: You’re out on the town with some friends and you’re already on your second drink. The music’s playing, the booze is flowing and after a few more trips to the bar you’re already starting to feel the effects of the alcohol in your system. You slowly get louder and giddier as you lose your inhibitions and debate which of your friends will be the first to get hammered. Thankfully you ate before you came but Jenny, she didn’t and she’s already up on the dance floor spilling her drink as she busts out some moves that should never be seen in public. My money’s on Jenny.

You see when you drink alcohol, it passes from your stomach in to your small intestine where it’s rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. Food consumption, particularly fatty foods, slows the rate of metabolism and alcohol absorption. This why ‘light weight’ Jenny over there with an empty stomach is two drinks away from dancing on the table whilst you still have your dignity… for now at least anyway.

11pm: You and Dave are at the bar. You’re on your 5th vodka and coke and Dave’s on his 7th vodka cranberry yet you’re the one who nearly knocked over your drink whilst trying to pay. That’s because there are many things that affect the rate of alcohol absorption. For one, you’re much smaller than Dave meaning you have less tissue to absorb the alcohol from your bloodstream. Dave also works out a lot and as muscle absorbs alcohol at a quicker rate than fat, his blood alcohol concentration is a lot lower than yours despite his increased number of drinks.

The other problem is that you’re mixing your drinks with a fizzy mixer as opposed to water or juice like Dave. Carbonated drinks actually increase the rate of alcohol absorption meaning those 5 drinks you had are starting to feel more like 10. So although Cranberry may not be the manliest of mixers, it’s certainly a sensible one if you don’t want to be on the floor by 11.30pm.

12pm: You’re all finally on the dance floor without a care in the world, singing your hearts out and trying to stay up right. You’re staggering, the rooms spinning but you’re having a good time. So why exactly do you feel like bambi on ice? Well alcohol interferes with the chemical messengers, more accurately know as neurotransmitters, in your brain. Your brain communicates by sending both chemical and electrical messages to different parts of the body via neurones. Alcohol interferes with those messages  and slows them down leading to delayed reactions, a lack of co-ordination and lapses in judgment which is why that hottie from the bar last night might not be such a great catch in the light of day.

1am: After lots of drinking you’re on your way to bathroom for what must be the 15th time this evening. Why you ask? Is it because you broke the mythical seal? No. The reason you’ve made so many trips to the bathroom is because alcohol is a diuretic. This means that it prevents your body’s natural mechanism of retaining water and so that water is expelled in the urine. The 5 vodkas, 3 Jager Bombs and 2 pints probably didn’t help either but hey when one of the lads offers you a free Jager Bomb, you take it right?

2am: Jenny, after a long night of drinking on an empty stomach, is now in the bathroom throwing up whilst some unlucky gal holds back her hair. As a woman, Jenny’s alcohol tolerance isn’t the same as a man’s and trying to keep up with the lads has left her in a state to say the least. As we mentioned earlier, being smaller than the guys means that Jenny’s blood alcohol levels are likely to be higher off less alcohol. Women also tend to have a higher percentage of fat and less muscle than men so this too contributes to Jenny’s infamy as the group ‘light weight’.

What’s more, as cruel and unfair as this may seem, women physically can’t break alcohol down as quickly as men. In the body, alcohol is metabolised by an enzyme know as alcohol dehydrogenase. Women generally have less alcohol dehydrogenase in their stomachs and so more of the alcohol they drink reaches their intestine and enters into the blood stream. Now Jenny has more alcohol in her system than her body can deal with and so her body is trying to expel it any way it can. Mainly back the way it came in. I told you Jenny would be the first to go.

3am: It’s been a great night and after some cheesy chips and a taxi home you’re finally asleep in bed, blissfully unaware of the hell of a hangover that’s headed your way in approximately 8 hours time. Is there any way to cure said hangover I hear you ask? Despite the many old wives tales, the answer, unfortunately, is no. Most of the symptoms of a hangover from your spinning head to your serve aversion to bright light stem from dehydration. All of those bathroom trips last night robbed your body of its much need water supplies and now you’re starting to feel the consequences. But what about your fragile stomach? Well that’s down to the increased acid production. Alcohol irritates your digestive tract and leads to an increase in stomach acid which is why you can barely hold down that dry piece of toast. Even the NHS say you can’t cure a hangover but they do have some handy tips on how to prevent one if you’re willing to slow down on the drinking and gulp down some water in between those bevvies!

So next time you go out, remember all those effects that the alcohol will have on your body and maybe think twice about accepting that third Jager Bomb. I’m not saying don’t have fun, but no one wants to be Jenny.

If you want a more in depth run down of how alcohol affects the body, check out this publication by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or if you’re more of a visual person, you can watch this fact-filled video by SciShow.

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