By Nico Strydom
The impact of alcohol on your body starts the moment you take the first sip.
Alcohol is absorbed by the blood very quickly and spreads to all parts of the body. It is mainly the liver that breaks down the alcohol into water and carbon dioxide, while the rest is eliminated by the lungs, kidneys and sweat. The liver can only break down a certain amount of alcohol per hour.
The blood alcohol concentration increases and the sensation of intoxication starts when alcohol is taken in faster than the liver can break it down. Every individual’s reaction to alcohol is different and is determined by, inter alia, the liver’s ability to metabolise alcohol, whether you’ve eaten or not, how fast you drink, age, gender, race, your physique and how often you take alcohol.
Alcohol moves through the body from the mouth to the stomach, to the blood circulation system, the brain, kidneys, lungs and liver. Alcohol does not have to be digested because it is a very small molecule that can move easily through the stomach lining. When the stomach is empty, the alcohol moves directly into the blood stream. If there is food in the stomach the alcohol absorption rate is slowed down but does not stop.
As soon as the alcohol gets into the bloodstream it is quickly evenly distributed throughout the body. Alcohol dilates the blood vessels as it enters the bloodstream, which causes more blood to flow to the surface of the skin and this is why people look as if they are blushing or become red in the face when they drink. This results in a temporary feeling of warmth, increased heat loss and a fast decrease in body temperature, and a drop in blood pressure.
When alcohol reaches the brain it immediately affects the brain’s ability to control behaviour and bodily functions. As the concentration of alcohol in the blood increases, the body’s functions and behaviour change.
Alcohol acts like a diuretic, which means that urine secretion increases and one will therefore want to urinate more often, which causes dehydration and thirst. Only about five percent of the alcohol ingested is eliminated by the lungs, kidneys and skin; the rest is removed by the liver.
When one drinks too much alcohol the consequences can still be felt the next day ─ generally known as a hangover. This is because alcohol is toxic to the body and the body is still working to get rid of the toxins. Many of the symptoms are caused by dehydration. Symptoms include headache, diarrhoea, nausea, tiredness, a rapid heartbeat, dry mouth and eyes, concentration problems and restlessness.
Long-term alcohol abuse can be associated with many health problems: liver diseases, pancreatitis, heart-muscle damage, other cardiovascular problems, ulcers, cancer, immune-system dysfunctionality, osteoporosis, brain and nerve damage, vitamin deficiency and mental-health problems such as anxiety and depression.