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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the alcohol in your blood reaches its maximum within 30 to 45 minutes.8
However, alcohol’s effects will vary depending on your BAC or blood alcohol level/concentration. This figure represents the quantity of alcohol in your bloodstream. The more your BAC rises, the more alcohol will impact your cognitive and physical capacities.8
Because drinking alcohol could harm your health, healthcare professionals recommend abstaining from consuming or having alcoholic beverages in moderation.
According to guidelines established in the United States, a standard drink will not have more than 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol.3
To better understand how much alcohol that is in general, you can use the following drink measurements to compare:
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If you decide to drink on an empty stomach, alcohol can enter the bloodstream more quickly and raise your BAC level.
You’re recommended to drink on a full stomach because food helps slow the alcohol absorption rate in the stomach and small intestine. However, it’s important to remember that eating food before consuming alcohol won’t prevent the beverage from reaching the bloodstream.
If your BAC increases, you can experience different effects of alcohol, such as speech impairment or coordination problems.
Alcohol takes approximately 5 minutes to reach the brain, although the beverage’s effects occur around 10 minutes.6
When your BAC increases, alcohol affects the brain and nervous system. This means you can experience changes in judgment and decision-making capabilities and become more uninhibited.
Alcohol’s effects can range from mild to moderate, depending on how much and quickly you drink. Effects include:
In more severe cases, if your BAC reaches 0.30, you risk coma or brain damage. This occurs because alcohol slows breathing and circulation, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain.
If your BAC goes over 0.35, you could die from alcohol intoxication (poisoning) or the brain’s inability to regulate your vital physical functions.
The effects of alcohol will be different according to your BAC levels.
If you have a BAC between 0.01-0.03, you might feel more euphoric (or happy). You may even shed inhibitions. This is the lowest measurable level of alcohol in your bloodstream.8
As the BAC level increases, alcohol’s effects become more intense. With a BAC between 0.16-0.20, you may experience dysphoric (unsatisfied) sensations and nausea. You may be disoriented, slurring your words, and losing your balance.8
There may even come the point where your BAC is so high that you’re mentally confused and need help walking. The effects of alcohol won’t be pleasant and can raise the risk of health complications.
Conversely, some people experience more euphoric feelings of pleasure as their BAC rises, which is why they continue to drink.
Among adults aged 20 to 64 years, excessive drinking was the cause of 1 in 10 deaths.
The duration of alcohol’s effects on the body will depend on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you remember, BAC represents the speed by which your body absorbs, distributes, metabolizes, and eliminates the beverage.
The liver, when functioning normally, can only metabolize one standard drink per hour. If you consume more than one standard drink within an hour, your BAC level increases and your liver needs more time to break down the alcohol.
For example, if you have a BAC of 0.08 (the legal drinking limit), your body will take approximately 5.5 hours to eliminate the alcohol. Because alcohol remains present in your system, it can still affect the body.
When you have poor liver function, you may not be able to metabolize alcohol as rapidly. Also, when you have an alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency, you metabolize alcohol even slower.
No. You cannot “sleep off” alcohol.
When you stop drinking alcohol or are unconscious/sleeping, it doesn’t mean that your BAC will stay steady or even go down. The body will continue letting alcohol enter the bloodstream.
If you have alcoholic beverages in your stomach/intestines, it will continue to absorb and increase your alcohol level as you sleep. Alcohol absorbed in your body will continue to break down/metabolize the alcohol as you sleep.
Your body needs time to eliminate alcohol from its system.
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Here are some other factors that influence alcohol’s effects on your body:9
The quantity of alcohol consumed will influence your BAC level and, subsequently, the substance’s effects on the body.
The liver cannot metabolize more than one standard drink in an hour. If you have more than that amount within the same time frame, your BAC level will rise, as well as the effects caused by alcohol.
Alcohol consumption impacts bodily functions and influences how you behave or act. However, if you drink alcohol more frequently, i.e., chronic drinking, you can develop tolerance to some of alcohol’s effects.2
If you have become tolerant to alcohol, consuming a constant amount of it has a lesser effect. You’ll need more alcohol to experience the same effect.
If you drink alcohol, you should do so when you’ve eaten some food recently. Having meals, especially those high in protein, can slow the rate of alcohol that enters the bloodstream. It can also help prevent the liver from becoming overwhelmed due to alcohol metabolism.
A lower BAC, even temporarily, could mean less severe effects caused by the substance.
Additionally, if you have diabetes, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach increases your risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). If left untreated, hypoglycemia can cause coma and result in death.
Your body weight can determine the quantity of space by which alcohol diffuses. For instance, a person who weighs 130 pounds can have two beers and a lower BAC than another person who drinks the same quantity but weighs less.
If you have a high muscle mass, your body can absorb and metabolize alcohol more effectively than a person with an elevated body fat percentage. This will help contribute to a lower BAC and lesser effects due to alcohol consumption.
Females will have higher BAC levels in less time than males due to biological differences:
Only a few studies have assessed the role of females’ menstrual cycles on their behavioral response to alcohol in controlled laboratory conditions.4
Yet, some findings have been reported. For example, alcohol might enhance some dysphoric (unease or dissatisfaction) sensations during the cycle’s luteal phase (last phase).
On the other hand, periods can increase the likelihood of dehydration. Because alcohol, too, leads to dehydration, the effects caused by the substance can be stronger.
Your body processes alcohol in the liver. The liver also breaks down other medications, e.g., Ambien (a drug for insomnia).
If you take medications or drugs while drinking alcohol, you risk worsening side effects or overwhelming the hepatic organ.
Also, older or debilitated people have an increased risk of serious alcohol-medication interactions. When you get older, the body cannot process either of the substances as effectively.
If both substances are present in the body for a longer time, the possibility of negative health consequences rises.
Multiple studies have shown that a leading factor influencing a person’s response to alcohol, especially in males, is a family history of alcoholism.
More specifically, males with a first-degree family history of alcoholism were reported to be less sensitive to some behavioral effects caused by alcohol.
Also, depending on your genes, your rate of alcohol metabolism may vary.5 Some people of Asian descent have a gene variant that influences how fast they can break down alcohol and causes symptoms like flushing or nausea.
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When you drink too much, you face both short- and long-term risks and dangers.
In the short term, you may experience or suffer from:
In the long term, you may experience or suffer from:
If you would like to prevent overdrinking, you can:1
If you or a loved one want to quit alcohol, it’s important to seek medical help. A healthcare professional can assess your case and help you choose the most appropriate treatment.
Different treatment programs are available, including:
Recovery from alcohol addiction is challenging but not impossible. With professionals' help and guidance, you can live a more fulfilling life.
While alcohol’s effects usually occur after an hour, different factors can influence this time. If you or a loved one exhibits signs of alcohol abuse, seek professional help immediately. Various treatments are available to overcome this problem.
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