Your Body and Alcohol


While the effects of alcohol can be fairly predictable, there are factors that can change the way it effects the same person on different occasions. Some of these factors are mood, fatigue, expectations and emotions. For more details on these factors click on this link. Absorption Rate Factors

The Immediate, Short and Long Term Effects of Alcohol Use

The First Few Hours After Drinking

Most of the effects of alcohol that people experience during intoxication are due to how it affects the brain. One of the most rapid effects of alcohol is on the central nervous system (CNS), which controls a range of vital body functions including the organs. When one is intoxicated the alcohol interferes with the CNS’s ability to analyze sensory information. This results in the typical symptoms of being drunk. Typical symptoms include:

  • Decreased motor coordination and balance
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred visions
  • Sweating
  • Loss in judgment
  • Dulling one’s sensation of pain (The dulling of pain is why alcohol was used in the past as an anesthetic).

In higher doses, the effects of alcohol on the cerebellum contribute to:

  • The loss of balance and coordination
  • Loss of the ability to judge distance and heights
  • Dizziness.

Alcohol’s effect on the outer layer of the frontal cortex region of the brain interferes with the conscious thought process contributing to loss of inhibitions. Alcohol is also a diuretic, so the kidneys direct fluids straight to the bladder, making one urinate excessively and speeding up the loss of fluid from the body causing dehydration.

Most of the nasty symptoms of a hangover including headache, dizziness, thirst, paleness and tremors are caused by dehydration.

Detoxification or Coming Down and the Morning After

The liver metabolizes about 90% of the alcohol in our body while only about 10% is excreted through either our urine or breath. The liver metabolizes alcohol at the rate of about one standard drink, or .015 – .017, per hour.This is why large doses of alcohol can be fatal. Or, a second danger is that A breathalyzer test could still be positive in the morning. If one returns to drinking in the morning for a tailgate or Kegs and Eggs, one’s BAC can be a lot higher than they think.

For example:
John Smith goes to bed at 2:00 a.m. with a BAC of .20. He gets up at 9:00 a.m. with a BAC of .095 (legally intoxicated), at 3:00p.m. the next day he still has a BAC of .005.

When a person drinks the body responds to large quantities of increased glucose in the system by producing more insulin which removes the glucose. Once the process has started, the insulin carries on working removing glucose from the blood. Low blood glucose levels are responsible for that:

  • shaky feeling
  • heavy sweating
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • feeling tired

To overcome this feeling of lethargy and tiredness the body will be craving a carbohydrate boost which is why many people feel hungry when they have been drinking.

Although people often seem to crash out and sleep after drinking, there is evidence to show that after drinking people’s quality of sleep will be effected through dehydration.

  • The toxicity of alcohol can irritate the stomach causing gastritis (chronic stomach upset) often resulting in retching and vomiting.
  • The toxic effect of alcohol can also cause inflammation of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach, causing heartburn.
  • Alcohol often affects the large bowel. The small and large intestines reabsorb salt and water, but alcohol interferes with this process often causing diarrhea.

How Sleep is Affected

For most students, studying and preparation for tests is essential to academic performance. When alcohol is in your system your brain’s ability to learn and store information is inhibited due to compromising the hippocampus, vital to the formation of new memories. Memories are solidified during sleep.

Alcohol interferes with your sleep cycle by disrupting the sequence and duration of normal sleep, thus reducing your brain’s ability to retain information.

  • The REM stage of sleep is compromised after a night of drinking, which is vital to memory.
  • Even though someone who has been drinking might look as if they are crashed out, they will not be getting the deep sleep that is needed to recharge their batteries.
  • The sleep deprivation suppresses normal hormonal levels decreasing oxygen availability and consumption, thus decreasing endurance.

People are still likely to feel tired after sleeping following a night of drinking as they will have missed out on quality sleep.

Alcohol relaxes the pharyngeal muscles, in the back of the mouth, increasing the likelihood of snoring.

  • Consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one night can affect brain and body activities for up to three days.
  • Two consecutive nights of drinking five or more alcoholic beverages can affect brain and body activities for up to five days.
  • Attention span is shorter for periods up to forty-eight hours after drinking.
  • Even small amounts of alcohol BAC of .03 can persist for a substantial period of time after the acute effects of alcohol impairment disappear.

The Short Term Effects on Muscles, Endurance and Nutrition

Few students realize that consuming alcohol after a workout can cancel out any physiological gains they may have received from the activity. Not only does long-term alcohol use diminish protein synthesis resulting in a decrease in muscle build-up, but even short-term alcohol use can impede muscle growth.

  • Because of alcohol’s effect on sleep, your body is deprived of a chemical called human growth hormone or HGH. HGH is part of the normal muscle building and repair process. Alcohol, however, can decrease the secretion of HGH by as much as 70%.
  • Alcohol triggers the production of a substance in your liver that is directly toxic to testosterone. Testosterone is essential for the development and recovery of your muscles. As alcohol is absorbed through your stomach and small intestine and into your cells, it can disrupt the water balance in muscle cells, altering their ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your muscles’ source of energy. ATP provides the fuel necessary for your muscles to contract.
  • Speeding the recovery of sore muscles and injuries is essential to the gains from a workout. On occasion, when a student is injured or sore and doesn’t work out, they may see this as an opportunity to use alcohol. The use of alcohol causes dehydration and slows your body’s ability to heal itself.

Ever feel tired and unmotivated after a night of drinking or even a day or two later?

Alcohol holds very little nutritional value. The relatively high calories in alcohol are not available to your muscles. The body treats alcohol as fat, converting alcohol sugars into fatty acids. When alcohol is oxidized by dehydrogenase (the enzyme that breaks down alcohol) it produces an elevation of NADH reducing the production of ATP (which is the muscle’s source of energy), resulting in lack of energy and loss of endurance.

Alcohol use inhibits absorption of important nutrients such as thiamin, vitamin B12, folic acid, and zinc. What do you need these nutrients for?

  • Thiamin (B1) is involved in the metabolism of proteins and fat, the formation of hemoglobin, and it metabolizes carbohydrates.
  • Vitamin B12 is essential to maintain healthy red blood and nerve cells.
  • Folic acid is part of a coenzyme involved in the formation of new cells.
  • Zinc is essential to your energy metabolic processes. The depletion of zinc can have an effect on reducing endurance.

Your body needs these vitamins and minerals to be in the correct balance for the body to function normally, This includes potassium along with calcium and sodium, which are known as ions maintained by the kidneys. The level of each ion must be maintained within narrow limits, but dehydration caused by drinking can affect the concentration of ions by draining potassium from the body, resulting in thirst, muscle cramps, dizziness and faintness.

Long Term Effects of Alcohol Use

Health problems can occur after drinking over a relatively short period of time. Addiction to alcohol can occur in as little as an 18 month period of time based on the amount and sometimes frequency of drinking. Genetic factors of a family history of addiction can also greatly speed the process. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems after consuming less alcohol than men do over a shorter period of time. Listed below are serious conditions that can be the result of long term drinking.

Alcohol-related liver disease – alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause death if drinking continues.

Heart disease – Moderate drinking of red wine can have beneficial effects on the heart, however long-term heavy drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some kinds of stroke.

Cancer – Long-term heavy drinking increases the risk of developing certain forms of cancer, especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and voice box, colon and rectum.

Pancreatitis – Long-term heavy drinking can lead to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas.

*Gastritis (infection of the mucous membrane of the stomach) and inflammation of the pancreas.

The brain also suffers from continuous abuse. Brain damage, like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, can occur.