Breaking Down the Buzz: Why Does Alcohol Make You Drunk?
Alcohol. You know what it does, and how it feels, but do you know why it makes you drunk? What exactly does alcohol do in your body to impair your mental clarity, affect your balance and coordination, influence your emotions, and create that altered state of consciousness known as "drunkenness."
The main reason alcohol makes you drunk is because it directly affects your brain. We'll dive into what happens once alcohol reaches your brain but, first, let's cover how it gets there in the first place.
How Alcohol Enters the Bloodstream
As soon as you take that first sip, alcohol combines with the saliva in your mouth and starts getting absorbed into your bloodstream through the little blood vessels in your mouth and on your tongue.
Then you swallow, and the alcohol makes its way into your stomach where about 20 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream. If you drink on an empty stomach, alcohol moves into your bloodstream at a significantly quicker rate, and has potential to damage the mucosal lining of your stomach. The remaining approximately 80 percent progresses into the small intestine, where absorption into the bloodstream is even faster.
When alcohol enters your bloodstream it affects many parts of your body including mental clarity, coordination, balance and emotions. In small doses, the suppressive effects of alcohol may feel enjoyable, but excessive drinking can lead to serious health risks both in the short-term and long-term.
Once alcohol is pulsing through your bloodstream, it acts as a vasodilator and increases the size of your blood vessels. This is where you might start to notice some of the common physical sensations associated with intoxication, like:
- Feeling flushed and possibly even a reddening of your face
- A change in body temperature
- A drop in blood pressure
Within just a few minutes, the alcohol in your bloodstream will make its way up to your brain.
Alcohol Crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier
The blood-brain barrier is a web of cells that creates a protective barrier around your brain. It keeps potentially harmful substances out, like pathogens and toxins, while allowing water, oxygen, certain proteins, and other substances to pass through.
Because alcohol dissolves in water, it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Let's examine what happens once alcohol enters your brain...
How Alcohol Affects Your Brain
From mental clarity, to coordination and balance, to mood and emotions, alcohol affects your brain in a variety of ways.
Initially, you might notice the feel-good effects of alcohol. This is because alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin – your "happy hormones."
Alcohol can also act as a depressant on your central nervous system by slowing down certain functions and interfering with its communication pathways. At first, this can cause pleasant feelings of relaxation but, as you increase the amount of alcohol in your system, these effects become more pronounced and can lead to unwanted effects on your cognitive function and physical coordination, such as:
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty walking or standing up straight
- Depressed mood or aggression
If you've ever woken up after a night of drinking to that "oh no, what did I do last night?" feeling, you know that alcohol can also impair your judgment, causing you to make poor or risky decisions that you wouldn't normally make when sober.
And what's a night of drinking without multiple trips to the bathroom, right? Increased urination is a common side effect of being drunk, but why does alcohol make you pee? Interestingly, the diuretic effect of booze also starts in the brain…
Your brain produces antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which regulates the amount of water the kidneys retain. When you drink alcohol, it interferes with the production of ADH, reducing its effectiveness and leading to an increased release of water in the form of urine. As a result, people often find themselves needing to use the restroom more frequently while intoxicated.
This effect on renal function is just one way that alcohol can affect the body – let's examine some of the others associated with different organs and systems.
How Alcohol Affects Your Body
Drinking alcohol has a number of short-term effects on the body, particularly on the kidneys, lungs, and liver.
When alcohol suppresses the production of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) in your brain, it instructs your kidneys to release more water. This is why you may experience an increased urge to urinate, or "break the seal," while drinking.
This is why it's so important to stay hydrated when consuming alcohol. If too much urine is produced and not enough fluids are replenished, dehydration can occur and intoxication levels will be increased as a result. You'll also likely feel a lot worse the next day.
As alcohol travels through your bloodstream to various parts of your body, 8% of it actually evaporates through your lungs. This is why you can usually detect an alcoholic odor on someone's breath after they've been drinking.
This is also how law enforcement officials are able to measure a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) using a breathalyzer test: as ethanol molecules escape the body via respiration, its concentration in the breath provides an accurate measure of one's intoxication level.
Lastly – but certainly not least! – your liver is highly affected by alcohol. Research suggests your liver may eliminate 90 percent or more of the alcohol in your blood! When you drink, your liver is responsible for oxidizing the alcohol, or transforming it into water and carbon monoxide.
As your liver releases enzymes to break down alcohol, the process creates a toxin called acetaldehyde which can actually cause many of the negative effects associated with drinking too much, such as headaches, nausea and vomiting, dehydration and tissue damage to various organs. It can also react with other substances to produce free radicals, which are known to cause oxidative stress and damage cells in the body.
While acetaldehyde is an unavoidable byproduct of alcohol metabolism, you can party smarter by taking certain supplements before or while you drink to help combat acetaldehyde buildup and its unwanted effects. These include Vitamin C, NAC, L-Cysteine, and MSM – all of which are included in our Pre-Game supplement. Packed with 17 science-backed vitamins, antioxidants, and herbal extracts, this game-changing superblend proactively supports liver function and detoxification so you can have a good time and wake up feeling fresh.
To enjoy alcohol responsibly, it's important to understand how alcohol affects your body and mind. Understanding the neuroscience behind how alcohol affects behavior can help us all make better decisions about when, where and how much to drink in order to enjoy it responsibly.
Alcohol can be a fun and enjoyable part of socializing, but it is important to always remember that excessive drinking can have serious health risks. By understanding the effects of alcohol on your body, setting limits on consumption, staying hydrated, and supporting your liver and detox pathways, you can enjoy alcohol responsibly without putting your health at risk.
And, of course, moderation is key when drinking and it is always important to set limits on how much alcohol you drink in one sitting or over an extended period of time.