Alcohol and your body - the science

How your body deals with alcohol

Once you've swallowed alcohol, a small amount is absorbed by the mucous membranes at the back of the throat and goes directly to the brain – which means you can feel the alcohol's effects within 15 minutes, especially if you’re not used to drinking regularly.

The majority of the alcohol enters your stomach and small intestine where it’s absorbed. Approximately 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and most of the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine, due to its large surface area.

After the alcohol has been absorbed, it enters your bloodstream which carries it around your body. The alcohol then enters your body tissues. Once inside the tissues, you start to feel the alcohol’s main effects on your body. The effects you feel depend on your blood alcohol concentration, which is related to the amount of alcohol you drink.

How alcohol deals with the body

How alcohol leaves your body

  • Your kidneys eliminate 4 - 5% of alcohol in urine
  • 4- 5% of alcohol is exhaled through your lungs, which can be detected by breathalysers
  • 2% of alcohol leaves your body through the sweat glands

The majority of the alcohol (around 90%) is broken down by your liver into acetic acid, which can be used to form fatty acids or can be further broken down into carbon dioxide and water.

Alcohol stays in your body for a long time after you’ve had a drink. This means even if you feel okay, you may still be over the drink-drive limit the next morning or afternoon after you’ve been drinking.

Your reaction times will be slower and your judgement impaired so driving or operating machinery is very risky and you may break the law.

On average, a healthy liver can process one unit of alcohol per hour. However everyone is different and there are a lot of factors that can impact on the amount of time it takes your body to break down one unit of alcohol e.g. your weight, age, gender, metabolism, whether your liver is healthy or if you’ve eaten recently  or are on prescribed medication etc.

How alcohol leaves the body

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