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Get the Facts on Alcohol

The real prize in tackling misuse is a whole-of-community effort to champion positive social behaviour and consumption, while ensuring people have the information they need to make good choices when they are drinking.

What's going on inside?

A healthy human being can only process one standard drink an hour. Anything more than this circulates around your body, through your blood, until your liver can catch up and process it.

While it's important to recognise the long-term health impacts of drinking alcohol, it's equally important to understand what happens in your body every time you drink.

When you drink, the alcohol flows directly through your body's membranes into your bloodstream, which carries it to nearly every organ in your body. The average person needs an hour to process each standard drink.

Once you start consuming more than one standard drink an hour, you may start to experience the stimulatory effects of alcohol - you might feel more relaxed, less inhibited, and you may be more excitable.

Step 1. From mouth to stomach

Un-metabolised alcohol flows through your stomach walls into your bloodstream and on to your small intestine.

Step 2. Next stop, the liver

Most of the alcohol you drink is absorbed through the small intestine. From there it flows through a large blood vessel into your liver. in the liver, an enzyme metabolizes the alcohol. The normal, healthy liver can process about 10grams of alcohol (thats one standard drink) in an hour. the rest flows on to your heart.

Once you start consuming more than one standard drink an hour, you may start to experience the stimulatory effects of alcohol, you might feel more relaxed, less inhibited, and you may be more excitable.

Step 3. Heart, blood, breath

Entering your heart, alcohol reduces the force with which your heart muscle contracts. you pump out slightly less blood, blood vessels all over your body relax, and your blood pressure goes down temporarily (for as long as half an hour).

The alcohol also makes your blood less likely to clot, temporarily reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Meanwhile, alcohol in the blood from your heart flows through your pulmonary vien to your lungs. Now you breathe out a tiny bit of alcohol every time you exhale, and your breath smells of alcohol.

Step 4. Rising to the surface

With larger volumes of alcohol, your blood vessels expand, so more warm blood flows up from the center of your body to the surface of the skin. You feel warmer and, if your skin is fair, you may flush and turn pink.

At the same time, tiny amounts of alcohol ooze out through your pores, and your perspiration smells of alcohol. If you are prone to 'alcohol flushing' you will experience these effects earlier than someone who is not.

Step 5. Brain drain

As you drink more your blood alcohol concentration rises, and the stimulation alcohol gave you earlier will shift to sedation. When the alcohol reaches your brain, it will slow the transmission of impulses between nerve cells that control your ability to think and move. That's why your thinking may be fuzzy, your judgement impaired, your tongue twisted, your vision blurred, and your muscles rubbery. Alcohol also reduces your brains production of antidiuretic hormones, so you need to urinate more often. As a result you may lose lots of vitamins, and minerals, get very thirsty, and your urine may smell faintly of alcohol.

This cycle continues as long as you have alcohol circulating in your blood, or in other words, until your liver can produce enough Alcohol Dehydrogenase to metabolize all the alcohol you've consumed.

ADH, The Magic Enzyme

Alcohol is processed in the body by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH).  The more ADH you produce, the less alcohol passes from your stomach into your blood and then around your body.

The amount of ADH your body makes is influenced by your gender and your ethnicity.

Asians, Native Americans and Inuits make less ADH than most caucasians, and the average woman (regardless of her ethnicity) makes less ADH than the average man.  As a result they are likely to becomes tipsy on smaller amounts of alcohol.

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