The Effects of Alcohol: Physiological, Behavioral & Long-Term

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  • 0:02 Effects of Alcohol
  • 0:36 Physiological Aspects
  • 4:51 Negative Effects
  • 7:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

If you've ever wondered why men seem to tolerate alcohol better than women or what alcohol does to the body and mind, then tune into this lesson for more information.

The Effects of Alcohol

If you enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, no one can blame you so long as you are healthy enough to drink and drink in moderation. But before you do drink, it's really important you know what this drinking can lead to, specifically if you drink too much.

I mean, if you will spend hours of your time finding out the bells and whistles a new smartphone will bring you once you buy it, I think it's even more important to learn about the consequences of alcohol once you drink it. We'll talk about that as well as some interesting gender-based facts regarding alcohol consumption.

Physiological Aspects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a substance that is mainly metabolized in the liver and a little bit in the stomach. The intoxicating agent found in alcohol is known as ethanol. Metabolism refers to the process by which substances are converted into energy and waste products by the body.

So, you know that coal can be burned to heat water into steam. Steam drives a turbine that then provides energy. Well, our body does the exact same thing, but with food and beverages. The food and beverages are like the raw material (coal) and our body is full of tissues (such as the liver) that perform the conversion of raw materials into energy and left-over waste products.

90% or more of the alcohol a person drinks is metabolized by the body. The rest is excreted unchanged by the kidneys into urine, by sweat glands, and by the lungs as a person breathes out. This is, by the way, the basis for the function of the Breathalyzer test. This test approximates BAC, or blood alcohol concentration, as a person exhales into a device. This figure, BAC, is dependent on many different things, such as gender-based physiology and genetics. Let's examine them:

  • Gender: Men have a greater capacity to metabolize alcohol in the stomach. This means that higher levels of alcohol reach the bloodstream in women, resulting in faster inebriation. Men tend to be bigger than women, allowing proportionately greater amounts of alcohol consumption. Finally, hormones found in higher quantities in women affect the metabolism of alcohol itself. Again, this all leads to men being more 'tolerant,' if you will, of alcohol simply due to nature.
  • BAC also depends on body fat: Body fat, also tied in with gender since women naturally have more of it, affects blood alcohol concentration. This is because, in a simple way, alcohol can concentrate in muscle more so than fat. You can think of muscle as a sponge that soaks up excess alcohol, lowering BAC, while fat is like a waterproof coat that puts the alcohol back in the blood, increasing BAC.
  • Size also influences BAC: In general, assuming similar body compositions, larger people will have a lower BAC than smaller individuals as a result of proportionate differences, meaning one identical drink will look and feel much bigger and have a bigger effect on something like an ant than on an elephant. I exaggerate, but I think you get what I mean.
  • Blood alcohol concentration is also influenced by food: The more food you have in your stomach, the slower the rate of its absorption, and the slower the BAC is to build within your body. You can think of food as a checkpoint on a road that slows down the flow of traffic. Food slows down the entry of alcohol into blood.
  • And finally, we've got genetics: The rate at which alcohol is metabolized by the liver is mainly dependent on your genes. All else equal, people with a faster metabolism break down alcohol much more quickly and can, thus, drink more with fewer initial side-effects. This metabolic rate cannot be changed by things such as caffeine, cold showers, exercise, breathing techniques, or other drugs. It's like a computer's maximal processing speed. It's set in stone. You can punch the keyboard or yell at the computer all you want, but that won't change a thing.

In general, the less alcohol you absorb than you metabolize during a given time-frame, the lower your BAC will be. That's why you can drink a lot of alcohol, but over a long period of time, and not appear very drunk.

Negative Effects of Alcohol

But that doesn't mean you won't suffer any consequences. Once alcohol enters your body, it causes different physiological, behavioral, and long-term effects.

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