From tipsy to smashed: How alcohol affects your body (Excerpt)
Source: Las Vegas Sun
By Jackie Valley
Monday, Aug. 17, 2015
You sip a martini, and it tastes great. So you sip it again. And again.
You keep drinking and, soon enough, you’ve got a buzz.
Beer before liquor?
There’s no clear evidence indicating the type of alcohol you drink affects your state of drunkenness.
So it’s likely a myth that wine is relaxing, Champagne makes you silly and whisky makes you mean.
All alcohol contains ethanal, which makes you equally drunk if you drink too much too quickly.
What’s one drink?
. 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol)
. 8 ounces of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol)
. 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol)
. 1.5 ounces of a distilled spirit (40 percent alcohol/80 proof)
What’s happening inside your body?
“It has to do with the changes that go on in your brain,” said Dr. Dale Carrison, chief of staff at University Medical Center.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It typically gives people a burst of confidence that makes them lose their inhibitions but also can slow their reaction time, decrease their coordination and impair their judgment.
But no two drinkers are identical. A person’s gender, age, weight and drinking history, as well as the type of alcohol being consumed, all play a role in how alcohol impacts someone.
“Some people drink alcohol, and they get happy,” Carrison said. “Other people drink alcohol and get mean.”
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS YOUR BODY
You raise a pint glass to your lips and take a drink. The alcohol travels from your mouth, down your throat, to your stomach and small intestine, where blood vessels in the lining of your organs transport the alcohol to your bloodstream. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed through your stomach, 80 percent through your small intestine. Drinks with a higher alcohol concentration are absorbed faster.
Within minutes of hitting your bloodstream, the alcohol travels to your brain and begins to alter your neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that transmit signals throughout your brain and body. You start to feel tipsy or drunk.
The alcohol increases the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which causes sluggish movements and slurred speech. At the same time, the alcohol also inhibits an excitatory neurotransmitter, causing your body to further slow down.
The alcohol increases the amount of dopamine in your brain, creating a feeling of pleasure.
As more alcohol is consumed and your blood-alcohol concentration rises, different parts of your brain are affected.
Cerebral cortex: The cerebral cortex processes information from your senses, helps you process thoughts and initiates voluntary muscle movements. When alcohol hits the cerebral cortex, it can affect your thought process, temper your inhibition, bolster your confidence, blunt your senses and lead to poor decision-making.
Cerebellum: The cerebellum coordinates muscle movement, balance, equilibrium and muscle tone. Alcohol can affect the cerebellum by throwing off your balance, causing you to stagger and fall.
Medulla: The medulla controls involuntary functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. When alcohol hits the medulla, it can cause sleepiness, slower breathing, lower body temperature and decreased heart rate. Excessive drinking can shut down this part of the brain, resulting in unconsciousness or death.
As the alcohol moves through your body, your body works hard to rid itself of the alcohol, which it considers a poison.
Your kidneys and lungs eliminate about 10 percent of the alcohol through your urine and breath. Your liver metabolizes most of the rest. Enzymes break apart the alcohol molecules to make it possible to eliminate them from your body.
First, alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance. Then other enzymes quickly convert the acetaldehyde to acetate, which can be metabolized into carbon dioxide and water for easy elimination.
Why does drinking make people vomit?
Throwing up is the body’s defense when a person has consumed too much alcohol. When alcohol enters a person’s system faster than his or her liver can metabolize it, the body looks for a way to rid itself of the toxin.
Vomiting can be dangerous or deadly if a person is unconscious and the vomit obstructs his or her airway.
How common is alcohol poisoning?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that six people per day die from alcohol poisoning in the United States. About three-fourths of those deaths are men.
Signs of alcohol poisoning
. Inability to wake up
. Slow or irregular breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute or 10 seconds or more between breaths)
. Low body temperature and bluish skin