How Does the Human Body Process Alcohol?


Alcohol flows through membranes throughout the body and eventually reaches the bloodstream. Which carries alcohol to almost every organ in your body.

Multiple factors affect the amount of ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) made by your body. e.g. ethnicity and gender. Caucasians tend to produce more ADH than Asians, Native Americans and Inuits. Furthermore, women produce less ADH than men.

This means that a higher amount of unmetabolized alcohol flows from their stomach to bloodstream. Resulting in them becoming tipsy on even a small amount of alcohol.

Once the alcohol has flown through your stomach, it makes its way into your bloodstream and then into your small intestine.

Most of the alcohol people drink is absorbed into the small intestine. From here, it makes its way through a large blood vessel into your liver.

Alcohol becomes metabolized in the liver. An enzyme similar to gastric ADH helps achieve this. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) converts this into energy. Which converts glucose from carbohydrates into energy. During this process, glucose conversion stops suddenly. Half an ounce of pure alcohol can be processed by a healthy liver in an hour. The remaining alcohol flows to your heart.

When alcohol enters your heart, contraction in your heart is reduced by alcohol. Slightly less blood is pumped out, all over your body. Vessels begin to relax and temporarily, blood pressure drops. The heart soon returns to normal. However, vessels remain relaxed and blood pressure may remain low for as much as half an hour.

Alcohol then flows to lungs via the pulmonary vein. Each time you breathe, some alcohol is released in your breath. The blood becomes slightly oxygenated however remains laden with alcohol. Which flows back to your heart via the pulmonary artery. Then up and out of the aorta.

Levels of high density lipoproteins are increased. Unfortunately, not necessarily the good ones that release cholesterol from the body. However, alcohol temporarily prevents the blood from clotting. Reducing risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Alcohol causes blood vessels to expand, increasing the amount of blood rising to your skin. Making you feel warmer and perhaps even making your skin appear pink. Alcohol is released as you sweat. People may even be able to smell the alcohol.

When alcohol finally reaches your brain, transmission of impulses between nerve cells become slower. This causes well known side effects such as poor judgement, slurred speech and blurred vision.

The reduction of antidiuretic hormones is a negative consequence. Because these hormones prevent you from making too much urine. Subsequently, loss of vitamins, liquid and minerals is common. Along with becoming very thirsty.

The entire cycle will continue as long as you have alcohol in your bloodstream. Or in other terms, enough alcohol for your liver to produce enough ADH. Which metabolises the alcohol in your body.

What does this have to do with drink driving?

Everybody is different and has different characteristics. For example, weight, age, sex, metabolism, type of alcohol consumed, concentration of alcohol drunk, food consumed and mood. As such, alcohol sits in everyones body differently. For example, someone that is tall and carries a lot of weight is likely to process alcohol more quickly than a shorter, thinner person.

How can we check the amount of alcohol in our bodies?

The only way we can check the amount of alcohol in our bodies, and subsequently our fitness to drive, is by using a breathalyser. On the Drink and Drive Safe site, we stock a range of breathalysers or a range of budgets. From a basic, single use breathalyser at £2.99 to a more advanced fuel cell version priced at £249.99.

Why is it important to breathalyse?

A small amount of alcohol can affect your ability to drive. So we recommend that if you are going to drive, don’t drink at all. However, we understand that some people enjoy a drink regardless. Irriversable changes to your life can occur if you are found to be over the limit. For example, losing your job. You may even face a prison sentence.