Have you ever wondered why some folks seem more affected by alcohol than others while out at social gatherings? Some may look sober even after having a few drinks, whereas others may become tipsy after just one. So, just how quickly can alcohol kick in? Let us discover!
How Does Alcohol Affect Us?
Many people think that the drinks they consume only affect them after they reach the intestine. But this is not the case! According to NHTSA, alcohol starts to enter your bloodstream as soon as it passes through your mouth. This is because the molecular structure of alcohol is small enough to pass through the inner lining of your mouth and throat.
However, most of the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine, where most of the alcohol molecules bind to water molecules and become part of the bloodstream. The bloodstream then transports it to various parts of the body, where it continues to have its effects. Unfortunately, the bloodstream doesn’t discriminate and will willingly transport the alcohol to your brain too! However, this will only happen if you drink too much alcohol in a short period of time.
Since alcohol is a toxic substance, your body tries to get rid of it as soon as possible by metabolizing it in the liver. This process is called alcohol metabolism, and once the body finishes metabolizing the alcohol, it is then excreted in urine and sweat, as explained in this research. The effects of alcohol, which makes you drunk, disappear as soon as your body metabolizes it.
But beware, that’s not all alcohol does to our bodies. (Check What Happens When You Overdrink and Long-Term Consequences of Alcohol Misuse For More Info).
How Long Does It Take For Alcohol To Take Effect?
Now that you know how alcohol is metabolized, let’s talk about how long it takes for alcohol to take effect.
Well, the answer is not straightforward as it depends on a few factors like your gender, body weight, how much and what type of alcohol you drank, etc. According to MedlinePlus, it takes 10 to 60 minutes for alcohol to take effect, and its effects can last up to 24 hours or more.
Factors That Alter The Speed Of Alcohol Effects
As stated above, certain factors can speed up or slow down the alcohol absorption and metabolism process.
According to NIH, food can have a significant effect on the speed of alcohol absorption and its effects on the body. Eating before consuming alcohol can slow down the rate at which it is absorbed, with high-fat content meals taking longer than those that are low in fat. This can cause different levels of intoxication for those who eat before drinking compared to those who drink on an empty stomach. In addition, when people consume carbohydrates, proteins, and fats along with their alcohol, their bodies take longer to absorb the alcohol due to slower gastric emptying. These types of foods also increase the risk of disorientation and more severe intoxication from drinking.
Gender has been found to be a factor that affects the speed of alcohol effects. According to ResearchGate, women tend to absorb alcohol more rapidly than men due to body composition and hormonal differences. This study revealed that not only can gender modify the body’s absorption and metabolism of alcohol, but it also alters its response to ethanol, potentially intensifying toxicity levels.
Alcohol Consumption Speed and Size of Drinks
The speed of drinking, as well as the size of the drinks consumed, are significant contributors to alcohol’s effects, as explained in research. In general, quickly consuming alcohol leads to a higher degree of intoxication than sipping drinks slowly. In addition, the larger the drinks you consume, the more alcohol your body must process at once, leading to a greater intensity of intoxication.
Body weight can also influence the effects of alcohol. A person with a smaller body weight will experience greater intoxication than someone with a larger body weight, even if they consume the same amount of alcohol. That’s because their body has less mass to absorb the alcohol, allowing it to reach their bloodstream faster.
According to NIH, age also plays an important role in determining how alcohol affects the body. Younger people, especially those under 21, tend to feel its effects more quickly and for a longer period of time. This is because their bodies haven’t had as much time to develop the enzymes needed to break down alcohol. As a result, they may experience “spinning” and other symptoms of heavy drinking to a greater extent.
Your Health Status
The source mentioned above also points out that the health status of your body plays an important part in how alcohol affects you. People with certain medical issues, such as diabetes or liver disease, may experience more severe effects when consuming alcohol. On the other hand, those with healthy livers and immune systems can handle larger amounts of alcohol better.
The family history of drinking also affects your response to alcohol, as stated by NIH. If one or both of your parents have a history of heavy drinking, you’re more likely to be affected more severely by alcohol than those who come from families without a history of heavy drinking.
According to NIH, medications can also affect your response to alcohol. Many medications interact with alcohol, so it’s important to read the labels and follow any warnings about drinking while taking medication.
Finally, the type of alcohol that you drink will also affect how it affects your body. Hard liquor, such as whiskey and vodka, are more likely to cause severe hangovers than beer or wine. This is because different liquor types contain different amounts of alcohol.
Various Alcohol Types And Their Alcohol Concentration Levels
There are several different types of alcohol, each with its own concentration level. Usually, distilled alcohols, such as whiskey and vodka, have a higher alcohol content than non-distilled alcohol types. However, carbonated alcoholic drinks, such as beer and cider, tend to kick in faster because carbon dioxide increases the rate of alcohol absorption, as stated by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Here are some of the common alcohol types, along with their respective concentration levels:
- Beer (4-6% ABV)
- Wine (10-14% ABV)
- Sake (15-20% ABV)
- Mead (5-18% ABV)
- Brandy (36-60% ABV)
- Whiskey (40-60% ABV)
- Vodka (35-50% ABV)
- Tequila (35-55% ABV)
- Gin (35-45% ABV)
- Rum (35-60% ABV)
How long does it take for the body to break down alcohol?
Although the body is quite efficient in handling alcohol, the liver can detoxify only a limited amount of alcohol at a time. Research has shown that the optimal rate of alcohol elimination is 8.5 g/h/70 kg, which can be estimated to have a blood alcohol disappearance rate of 230 mg/L/h should metabolism occur at its maximum rate.
That being said, it can take anywhere from 1-4 hours for the body to break down one standard drink of alcohol. However, this metabolic rate will vary from person to person and is heavily influenced by factors such as age, gender, health, body mass index, and food intake.
What is a Standard Drink?
A standard drink refers to a unit of measurement typically used in countries such as the United States and Canada. One standard drink is equal to 14g or 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. Due to different alcohol levels in different beverages, a single standard drink varies in volume.
To give you an idea of how much is considered one standard drink, here are the amounts:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 8-9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
What Happens When You Overdrink?
According to NIH, when you overdrink, an alcohol overdose occurs. This is when the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream is so high that it begins to shut down areas of the brain controlling basic life-sustaining functions, like breathing, heart rate, and temperature regulation. Symptoms of alcohol overdose include;
- difficulty staying conscious
- troubles breathing
- slow heart rate
- clammy skin
- no gag reflex (which prevents choking)
- low body temperature
If left untreated or ignored for too long, an alcohol overdose can cause permanent brain damage or death. Immediate medical attention is necessary in such cases.
Long-Term Consequences of Alcohol Misuse
As stated by the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, long-term use of alcohol can harm your health and reduce life expectancy. Long-term effects of alcohol misuse include:
Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Prolonged, excessive alcohol use can cause the development of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, and digestive problems. Alcohol use can also be linked to breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum cancers.
Weakened Immune System: Regular and heavy consumption of alcohol weakens the immune system leaving people more susceptible to illnesses.
Learning and Memory Impairment: Prolonged heavy alcohol use leads to learning and memory impairment, including difficulty concentrating and remembering things which can affect school performance.
Mental Health Problems: Prolonged alcohol consumption has been linked to a heightened risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health problems.
Social Problems: Chronic alcohol misuse often causes strained relationships with family members as well as job-related issues leading to unemployment or other social problems.
Alcohol Use Disorder: The most serious consequence of long-term excessive drinking is the development of an alcohol use disorder or addiction which is characterized by a strong craving for alcohol despite the negative consequences associated with its consumption.
Tips To Avoid Getting Too Drunk
If you’re looking for ways to enjoy alcoholic beverages without losing control, here are some helpful tips.
- To keep your drinks in check, sip slowly and alternate with non-alcoholic beverages like water or soda throughout the night.
- Eat a meal before and during drinking to slow down the absorption of alcohol.
- Limit your drinks to one standard drink per hour, with a limit of no more than four drinks a night.
- Avoid shots as they contain higher levels of alcohol and will get into your system faster than a mixed drink or beer.
- Limit or avoid carbonated beverages, as they make you feel the effects of alcohol faster.
- Avoid standing up or sitting next to people who encourage you to drink more than you should.
- Last but not least: listen to yourself when needed – if something doesn’t feel right, don’t overdo it!
What Can Make You Sober Up Fast?
Learning all that info wouldn’t be necessary if you could sober up fast, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that easy – there’s no magical pill or secret trick that will make you sober up instantly. Only your body can do that (through metabolism), so the best thing you can do is to give it all the help it needs.
- Stay hydrated and drink lots of water or non-alcoholic drinks (but not caffeinated drinks).
- Eating food is also a great way to absorb alcohol, and it’s also beneficial for your overall health.
- Keep an empty bucket nearby, just in case.
- Avoid physical activity – it won’t make you sober up faster, but it might end up with an injury that would defeat the purpose.
- Take a cold shower or bath – it’s not scientifically proven, but it might help you feel better and more alert.
Here is what not to do.
- Drinking coffee- It won’t help you sober up faster; in fact, it might make your hangover worse.
- Taking prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication – Alcohol and medications can be a bad combination.
- Throwing up forcefully – getting rid of the alcohol in this way isn’t a good idea. It can lead to dehydration and even more complications from the hangover. Further, throwing up doesn’t reduce blood alcohol concentrations, therefore, doesn’t help you sober up.
Finally, don’t think having another drink is the answer – it might make you feel better temporarily, but it won’t reduce the hangover symptoms and will likely make you feel worse in the long run.
Alcohol starts to absorb into your bloodstream as soon as you sip your first drink. It will take around 10 – 60 minutes for alcohol to kick in and start to affect you. For your safety and others, it’s important to stay aware of your drinking behavior and ensure you always drink responsibly. So, remember to pace yourself and sip slowly. Cheers!
I am a passionate beer connoisseur with a deep appreciation for the art and science of brewing. With years of experience tasting and evaluating various beers, I love to share my opinions and insights with others and I am always eager to engage in lively discussions about my favorite beverage.