Alcohol- is a sedative for some and a pleasure for others. It can be just a kick we need during a night out or a motivation before asking a girl out. For better or worse, people drink alcohol for several reasons, while some enjoy it simply for pleasure other may use it as stress relief. But why do our bodies and brains react in the way they do when we drink alcohol? We all know that alcohol makes us drunk if we drink enough of it, but why does it happen? But most importantly, why does it have different effects on different people?
The blame goes to a single element of the periodic table- Ethanol.
Ethanol, also known as alcohol, ethyl alcohol, or grain alcohol is the primary component of all alcoholic beverages. Colorless, clean, and shapeless, ethanol is the by-product of plant fermentation. And it is this carbon atom that is responsible for drunkenness. Technically, ethanol is formed as a sugar by-product, like beer is formed with malted barley and wine from the sugars. Each beverage may taste differently or even have a diverse concentration level, but their consumption mostly results same in each case.
For instance, if you drink in a moderate range, the impact might not be so profound, and the drinkers may only experience mild ease inside. However, if alcohol is consumed in high dosages, the impact might create a strong sensation of motivation. Ethanol works as a depressant, but it initially has only a stimulating effect, it starts working as soon as it enters your mouth, and the effects might become more noticeable once it reaches down your stomach.
Thus, in order to understand how ethanol makes you drunk the way it does, we need to trace its journey inside our bodies. Alcohol first enters our stomach and gets absorbed in our blood traveling through the small intestine. But if you have eaten before, it slows down alcohol abilities because of the pyloric sphincter, which gets closed after eating. But if you haven’t eaten before drinking then, it eases alcohol’s abilities to travel through your digestive tract and release more drunken effects. So, it means that the same amount of drink might impact people differently depending on how much they ate. That is why it is always advised to drink with a full stomach.
As ethanol is absorbed into the blood, it reaches our organs, especially that received the most blood flow like our liver and brain. As the liver is closer to the brain, ethanol hits the liver first. The enzymes in the liver called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) break down or metabolize, ethanol in two steps. ADH turns ethanol into acetaldehyde and then ALDH breaks it into nontoxic acetate. As the blood flows and more and more ethanol enters, the liver eliminates it first-hand. But when we drink heavily, these ethanol elements start reaching our brain, as the liver fails to stop the impending number of ethanol entries and it happens quickly.
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Alcohol can hit you hard and quickly. Typically, it takes only 5 minutes to reach your brain. When this alcohol concentration begins to grow, you’ll start feeling better, happy, social, and confident. This is due to the dopamine and serotonin stimulated by alcohol which is otherwise known as “feel good” hormones. Alcohol also stimulated endorphins that help us calm down in certain situations. As brain’s ability delivers our cognitive, behavioral, and emotional effects of alcohol also known as drunkenness. Ethanol turns up GABA, the primary neurotransmitter of the brain, and turns off glutamate. This interrupts neuron communication and makes us doze off quickly.
The brain produces an antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which asks the kidneys how much water to conserve, but alcohol limits ADH production. This means, that our kidney releases more water, which is why we need to pee more while we are drunk. Some of the ethanol also reaches our lungs and makes you breathe out around 8% of the alcohol you drink. The ethanol evaporates from your blood and moves to your lungs. It is, therefore, due to this reason, that you smell bad after drinking.
Now how much drunk you become after drinking the same amount of alcohol depends on the blood alcohol content (BAC) in your blood. Weight, age, sex, type of alcohol, you much you ate, and your drinking speed all play a major in determining how the same level of alcohol may react in your body. Now consider, that a man and a woman of the same weight, who ate the same food, and even drank the same amount of alcohol will react differently. As women tend to have less blood, as they have a higher percentage of fat and require less blood the muscles and smaller volume of blood carrying the same amount of alcohol may have a strong impact on women compared to men. This way alcohol reacts differently consumed by different people.