What ever you call it, getting drunk, plastered, wasted, or hammered, we all do it in the same biological fashion. Alcohol, or ethyl alcohol (CH3CH2OH), is a water soluble molecule — a wonderful, fantastic molecule at that.
After you drink, the alcohol is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream (most of it enters through the wall of the small intestine and the remaining enters through the stomach wall), traveling throughout your body and running it’s course. The liver detoxifies the blood and breaks down alcohol with the help of enzymes. Kidneys also serve to filter the blood and manage fluid levels in the body. With increased alcohol concentration, the kidneys direct more fluids to the bladder, causing you to urinate more frequently. Increased urination causes dehydration, eventually contributing to that dreadful hangover you’ll feel in the morning.
An ounce of liquor (or a standard drink) can be metabolized every 60-90 minutes, depending on particular body factors and whether or not you have a full or empty stomach. It has also been suggested that women are more susceptible to alcohol’s negative effects than men due to a specific metabolic enzyme deficiency. When you ingest alcohol faster then your liver can process, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to rise and your body begins to show signs of inebriation. This excess alcohol continues to course through your body until it can all be metabolized — like the continuous loop at the airport that brings you “back to terminal.” This excess alcohol is what causes all the fun.
Interestingly enough, in terms of pure ethyl alcohol, a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine, and a shot of whiskey all contain about the same amount of ethyl alcohol (approximately 0.06 ounces). There is a misconception a single drink of choice may get you “drunker” than the other, but in reality they contain the same amount of ethyl alcohol, just in different concentrations. A shot of whiskey will deliver just as much ethyl alcohol to your body as a can of beer. Obviously the delivery of that 0.06 ounce is much faster with the shot and some of the ancillary ingredients of the whiskey may have different effects than the beer (have you ever claimed to be different types of drunk depending on the poison?), but in 60-90 minutes your body will have metabolized it and long forgotten whether you chose Jim Beam or PBR. Plus, its much easier and more efficient to toss back a shot of whiskey than shotgun a can of beer.
In your brain, alcohol works its wonders by depressing the behavioral inhibitory centers, creating that sense of liquid courage. Alcohol also causes the slowing of information processing from your senses and inhibits thought processes, making it more difficult for you to order that next drink even though you’ve been drinking the same vodka cranberries all night. Alcohol also affects the cerebellum, making it more difficult to maintain balance and your upright position as well as the hypothalamus and pituitary, wreaking havoc on your hormone release and sexual arousal.
Get educated and impress your friends and family at your next boozy occasion. Get informed too so the next time you take that drink, you’ll know what your mind and body will be doing.