12 Fascinating Facts about Alcohol and the Human Body
Humanity’s relationship with alcohol has always been a complicated one. Even before we had vehicles to operate—even before DUI became a significant risk—human beings have enjoyed the immediate effects of alcohol consumption only to “sober up” to extended risks like addiction, health issues and death. One key ingredient to avoiding DUI for the long term is understanding how alcohol interacts with your body. Most of us know that alcohol can damage the liver, but that’s not the only danger. Let’s look at 12 other facts about how the body responds to alcohol that you might not have realized.
1. Alcohol in Moderation Can Actually Be Good for You.
Are you surprised that we started with something positive? As Time reports, multiple studies have indicated that moderate amounts of alcohol may actually provide a few health benefits, decreasing our risk for heart disease and possibly even helping us live longer. This information comes with some caveats, though, because every human has a different tolerance level for alcohol—meaning the amount considered “moderate” may be different for each of us. It also doesn’t negate some of the other health risks associated with alcohol. And of course, even “moderate” drinking can raise your blood alcohol content above the legal limit, so you should still avoid driving after indulging.
2. Alcohol Dumps Directly into Your Bloodstream.
Yes, when you consume alcohol (especially large quantities), you literally have alcohol running through your veins. Approximately 20 percent of what we drink doesn’t get metabolized by the body; instead, the small ethanol molecules pass through the stomach lining and directly enter the bloodstream, which is why alcohol makes you intoxicated.
3. “Chugging” Is More Dangerous than You Realize.
Based on the previous point, when you consume huge quantities of alcohol all at once, it overloads your bloodstream with alcohol, not entirely unlike putting water in a gas tank. Your reasoning abilities get disrupted, making you more prone to making dangerous decisions. In addition, that high blood-alcohol content can affect how your heart beats, possibly even causing it to stop. Drinking moderately also means drinking slowly to give the body time to process the alcohol.
4. Alcohol Really Is on Your Breath.
When alcohol enters your bloodstream (see point 1), it then passes by the lungs, where some of the molecules evaporate into the air you exhale. In other words, the smell of alcohol isn’t coming from your mouth or throat, which is why eating a breath mint won’t fool the breathalyzer.
5. Vomiting Doesn’t Sober You Up. In Fact, It’s a Bad Sign.
Vomiting eliminates alcohol from your stomach, not your bloodstream. Vomiting also releases certain chemicals into your body that may make you feel better temporarily, but the intoxicating blood-alcohol content is still affecting you. In fact, according to Mayo Clinic, vomiting is one of the early symptoms of alcohol poisoning, a possibly life-threatening condition caused when your liver releases toxic chemicals while trying to metabolize excessive amounts of alcohol. No one who is vomiting should be left unattended; if the person passes out and can’t be wakened, get immediate medical attention.
6. Size Does Matter.
When it comes to how much you can consume before becoming intoxicated, your weight (not your height) is a key factor. The smaller you are size-wise, the less alcohol your body can process at once.
7. Ethnicity Matters, Too.
Your genetic structure—especially the genes that describe your ethnicity—may also affect how your body responds to alcohol. As ABCNews points out in this article, some ethnicities possess fewer amounts of the enzyme that processes alcohol (e.g., Native Americans), and in many among the Asian population, the enzyme is mutated causing them to have an adverse reaction to alcohol even before consuming enough to get drunk.
8. So Does Gender.
Sorry, ladies—it’s nothing personal or sexist. Exceptions exist, of course, but generally speaking, the differences in the female’s body composition make them more susceptible to intoxication than their male counterparts, according to the University of California at Santa Cruz. It also makes them more prone to getting sick from too much alcohol.
9. Chronic Drinking Can Disrupt Your Hormonal Balance.
Your endocrine (hormone) system is a complex and delicately balanced network of glands, tissues and chemicals, and according to Verywell, excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt this balance over time. The effects can be wide reaching, varying between genders and among individuals. Men may experience everything from lower testosterone to enlarged breasts. Women may encounter a whole range of complications, from serious menstrual problems to increased risk of miscarriage.
10. Alcohol May Permanently Disrupt Brain Function.
Most of us understand the immediate effects of intoxication on our brain’s coordination and reasoning abilities—but the NIH reports that excessive or prolonged drinking may also produce long-term and permanent brain damage—even after the person achieves sobriety. In extreme cases, heavy drinkers may eventually be reduced to assisted living due to lasting effects on the brain.
11. Alcohol Can Make You Suicidal.
One area of the brain affected by alcohol is the center that controls our sense of self-esteem, as well as our ability to rationalize. If you’re already prone to depression, this effect can be enhanced when you’re intoxicated, making you more prone to self-harm while drunk. Montgomery County Emergency Services says adult alcoholics are 120 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
12. Alcohol Mixed with Drugs May Be Lethal (Even with Over-the-Counter Drugs)
If you take prescription drugs, you may notice a warning on the bottle not to consume alcohol while taking it. The reason is that alcohol reacts with many different drugs in unpredictable ways—not just with prescription medications, but potentially with any drug, legal or illegal. According to Stanford University, even mixing Tylenol with alcohol can have adverse affects on the liver.
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