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Factors That Affect How Alcohol is Absorbed & Metabolized

Did you realize, given the same exact amount of alcohol, the level of intoxication varies according to some physiological and biological factors?

Here are some examples:

1. Biological Sex

In general, alcohol is metabolized at a different rate in women than it is in men. This is due to general differences in body composition. Studies have also shown that women have fewer of the enzymes used to metabolize alcohol than men do (alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase). See our alcohol metabolism page and the citations below for more information. 

2. Weight

Body weight deterines the amount of space through which alcohol can diffuse in the body. In general, a person who weighs 180lbs will have a lower blood alcohol concentration than a 140lb person who drank the same amount. 

3. Medications

Other drugs and medications can have adverse effects and unpredictable interactions with alcohol. Even Tylenol can cause significant liver troubles if paired with alcohol. Make a point to know what the potential interactions are with medications/drugs you have taken before you drink. In some cases, these interactions can be fatal. When in doubt, don’t drink alcohol when taking meds.

4. Drinking on an empty stomach vs. eating while you drink

Drinking on an empty stomach irritates your digestive system, and results in more rapid absorption of alcohol. Instead, eat high-protein foods (tofu, cheese, etc.) along with alcohol before and when drinking, and you’ll avoid getting too drunk.

5. Health Concerns

Genetic enzyme deficiencies (alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase) and a myriad of other health conditions may decrease the body’s ability to process alcohol and therefore present increased health risks. Alcohol and other drug dependencies may increase the risk of developing chronic disease and long-term dependence. Consult with your health care clinician.

6. "Chugging" vs. "Skillful sipping"

Why does chugging significantly increase the chances of unwanted risks? Going overboard with drinking is like overdosing. The more alcohol you drink within a short period of time, the more you overtax your body's ability to metabolize the alcohol. It responds by shutting down. First, your cognitive system shuts down, your inhibitions are lowered and your motor functioning is significantly impaired. Pour in more alcohol, and your body might force you to vomit (first sign of alcohol poisoning), or pass out (other brain functions shut down). Finally, your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems will shut down due to systemic alcohol poisoning. Enjoy your drink more slowly and spread your drinking out over time and you can control how intoxicated you become.

Check it out:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol-Medication Interactions

RxList: The Internet Drug Index for prescription drugs

Vaden Pharmacy

Drugs Self-administration and Discrimination Database

 

Citations

1.     Graham, K., Wilsnack, R., Dawson, D., & Vogeltanz, N. (1998). Should alcohol consumption measures be adjusted for gender differences?.Addiction93(8), 1137-1147.

2.     Baraona, E., Abittan, C. S., Dohmen, K., Moretti, M., Pozzato, G., Chayes, Z. W., ... & Lieber, C. S. (2001). Gender differences in pharmacokinetics of alcohol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research25(4), 502-507.