Alcohol is a chemical compound found in beer, wine and spirits. Alcohol is normally produced by the fermentation of sugars found in plant materials such as fruit, corn and potatoes. Alcohol is an intoxicant that can be addictive.
Alcohol is absorbed by the body mostly through the gut (intestines). Alcohol can be measured in the blood a short time (usually just a few minutes) after drinking it. Alcohol is absorbed into the body more quickly if it is a long time since the person has eaten, compared to if it is drunk along with a meal. Alcohol is transported to all the organs in the blood, and very shortly after drinking alcohol all the body’s cells will contain it.
Alcohol enters the bloodstream even more quickly if it is a long time since you have eaten, and the stomach is empty. In this case, the maximum concentration of alcohol can be reached 15–30 minutes after drinking a glass of wine. Your body will also absorb the alcohol more quickly if you drink sparkling (carbonated) drinks like champagne, alcopop and alcoholic drinks with sparkling mineral water. The concentration of alcohol in the blood will sink as the alcohol is processed in the liver.
When alcohol reaches the blood, it can be measured as the blood alcohol content. The higher this is, the more noticeable the effect of the alcohol is.
As soon as alcohol is absorbed into the body, the body starts the process of getting rid of it, or metabolising it. The liver metabolises up to 95 per cent of alcohol, and the rest leaves through the urine, sweat or breath.
A lot of people enjoy the mild effects of alcohol. Some normal effects are heightened mood (you feel happy), a sense that the intoxication is worth it, increased impulsiveness, and an increased desire to take risks. In addition, there can be reduced attention and ability to concentrate, a lessened sense of judgement, poorer coordination and reduced error control. Error control is a function of the brain, which ensures that what you want to do and what you actually do, are the same thing. Some people also become more aggressive.
Some of the effects of a high level of alcohol consumption are: nausea, vomiting, unsteadiness, tiredness and lethargy. The worst effects of a very high intake of alcohol can be difficulty in breathing, breathing stops, and then death. In case of a high level of alcohol intake, you can get an overdose or alcohol poisoning. Different people have different levels of alcohol tolerance, so the same amount of alcohol can affect two people very differently. A blood alcohol content of 0.3 can be deadly. However in combination with medicines or other intoxicants it can be deadly at a lower level. Alcohol poisoning can lead to unconsciousness. Your breathing may stop and death may result.
All countries make it illegal to drive if you have over a certain level of alcohol in your blood, but the levels vary from country to country. You can check your country’s drink driving limit on the net.
Large amounts of alcohol are damaging to the body, leading to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and several types of cancer and liver disease.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol may also lead to dependence, known as alcoholism. There is an increased risk of alcohol dependence if you start to drink during puberty, compared to starting as an adult.
In many countries buying and drinking alcohol is illegal if you are under eighteen, and buying alcohol for someone under eighteen is a punishable offence. You can check the internet for the rules in your own country.