First and foremost, alcohol is classified as a drug – a very strong CNS depressant. The primary depressant effect of alcohol is seen in the brain and spinal cord. Many people think of alcohol as a stimulant because of the way most users feel after consuming a serving or two of their favorite drink. Any temporary sensation of jubilation, boldness, or relief is attributed to alcohol’s ability as a depressant drug to release personal inhibitions and provide temporary relief from tension.
The absorption of alcohol is influenced by several factors most of which can be controlled by the individual. These factors include the following:
– Strength of the beverage. The stronger the beverage, the greater the amount of alcohol that will accumulate within the digestive tract.
– Number of drinks consumed. As more drinks consumed, more alcohol is absorbed.
– Speed of consumption. If consumed rapidly, even relatively few drinks will result in a large concentration gradient that will lead to high blood alcohol concentration.
– Presence of food. Food can compete with alcohol for absorption into the bloodstream, thus following the absorption of alcohol. By slowing the alcohol absorption removal of the alcohol already in the bloodstream can occur. Slow absorption favors better control of blood alcohol concentration.
– Body chemistry. Each person has an individual pattern of physiological functioning that may affect the ability to process alcohol.
– Gender. A significant study reported that women produce much less alcohol dehydrogenase than men do. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down alcohol in the stomach. Three other reasons help explain why women tend to absorb alcohol more quickly than men of the same body weight:
- Women have proportionately more body fat than men. Since alcohol is not very soluble, it enters the bloodstream relatively quickly.
- Women’s bodies have proportionately less water than men’s bodies of equal weight. Thus alcohol consumed does not become diluted as in men.
- Alcohol absorption is influenced by a woman’s menstrual cycle. Alcohol is more quickly absorbed during the premenstrual phase. There is also evidence that women using birth control pills absorb alcohol faster than usual.
With the exception of a person’s body chemistry and gender, all factors that influence absorption can be moderated by the alcohol user.