Too Much of a Good Thing

Overindulging on any alcoholic beverage leads to the classic symptoms of queasy stomach, shaking hands, and pounding headache. Scientifically, here is what really goes on inside your body when you ingest alcohol.

How Wine Moves Through the Body

Once you take a sip of that incredible Amarone, it goes into the stomach, where 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed. The rest moves on to the small intestines, where most of the rest is absorbed. The alcohol is delivered to the liver, where enzymes break it down. Now, the liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol at a time — about one drink an hour. When you consume more, the alcohol is in a holding pattern — in your blood and body tissues — until the liver can metabolize some more.

The alcohol that remains unmetabolized can be measured in breath and urine as “blood alcohol content” (BAC). BAC peaks within 30 to 45 minutes after consuming a drink. BAC is measured as a percentage. In most states, .08 percent is considered legally drunk.

Men and Women Process Alcohol Differently

A man and a woman can be the same height and weight, but they will still handle that glass of wine differently:

  • Women have less body water — 52 percent compared to 61 percent for men. The man's body will be able to dilute the alcohol more readily than a woman's body can.

  • Women have less of the liver enzyme (dehydrogenase) that breaks down alcohol, so a woman will metabolize alcohol more slowly.

  • Hormonal factors have an impact. Premenstrual hormones cause a woman to get intoxicated more quickly. Also, birth control pills and estrogen medications will slow down the rate that alcohol is eliminated from the body.

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