Have you ever thought about how long it takes for alcohol to kick in? Why do some of your friends feel that buzz (or the effects of alcohol) after 1 drink and others can drink all night long with the proverbial “wooden leg”? Alcohol absorption is different for everyone, but a key factor in the effects of alcohol is your stomach enzymes, and whether your body has them. The 2 main enzymes are alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). These enzymes are responsible for breaking down alcohol which decreases the amount of alcohol that enters your bloodstream.
Studies have shown that men have more ADH and ALDH than women, which is why women cannot typically drink as much as men. If you do not have enough ADH and ALDH then your stomach does not break down alcohol effectively, and your first drink goes right through your stomach and into your small intestines, from there the alcohol enters your bloodstream and hits your brain, and you feel the buzz.
How Long Does It Take For Alcohol to Kick In?
So how long does it take to feel the effects of your drink or the buzz from alcohol? This all depends on time, size, and the amount consumed. Your liver can metabolize approximately 1 drink per hour; however, that is very dependent on many factors including if your drink is a standard drink, if your stomach is full, whether you are well hydrated, whether you are taking any medications, how much you weigh, and your gender.
Alcohol Common Standard Drinks
What is a standard drink? According to the National Institute of Health, In the United States, a “standard drink” (also known as an alcoholic drink equivalent) is any drink containing about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol.
So what counts as a drink? When you are at your favorite bar, asked if you want a 6 oz or 9 oz glass of wine, and you opt for the 9 oz, this is above the standard. Although you may appreciate the option for a larger glass of wine, and enjoy more of your favorite drink, you are drinking more than what is considered the normal size beverage.
Factors Influencing Alcohol Absorption
There are many factors that play a role in feeling that buzz.
Drinking on an Empty Stomach
Greasy foods, sugary mixers, protein, and fruit, are all great options to fill your stomach with before drinking. Some are healthier than others, but they all help with slowing down how fast alcohol enters your bloodstream. Food will not prevent you from getting drunk, but it will slow down the effects of the buzz, and may even make you feel full and help you drink less.
Female vs Male Metabolism
Studies have shown that females have less ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) and ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase) and therefore are not as efficient in breaking down alcohol, which is why alcohol enters a female’s bloodstream more quickly. Males, on the contrary, have exceedingly high levels of ADH and are more proficient in breaking down alcohol, and slow down the amount of alcohol that enters the bloodstream by 30%.
How Long Does Alcohol Remain In The System?
How long alcohol remains in your system depends on your metabolism of alcohol. Your liver is the work-horse in metabolizing alcohol. The stronger the drink and the more you drink, the more there is to metabolize. Once you take your first drink, it takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to reach your bloodstream, and then your body will begin to break it down, this is known as the half-life of alcohol. The half-life is how long it takes your body to get rid of the alcohol, which is typically 4 to 5 hours.
The half-life of alcohol, or getting rid of alcohol within your body, is affected by age, weight, medications, gender, and your health. The older you are, the larger you are, and the unhealthier you are, the slower your body will be at getting rid of the alcohol.
Tips To Avoid Getting Too Drunk
If going out and having a fun night involves alcohol, then you will want to follow these tips to help avoid getting too drunk.
- Protein-rich foods will help delay alcohol absorption. Eggs are a great source of protein, are easy and quick to prepare, and are highly nutritious with 6 grams of protein per 1 egg!
- Water is your friend! Remember to drink water before you start drinking, while you are drinking, and after you stop drinking alcohol. Simply put, water will keep you hydrated, replenish your fluids, and help flush the toxins out of your body.
- Drink responsibly. Know your tolerance, do not overdo it, and drink slowly over a period. The legal blood alcohol content (BAC) at which you are considered legally drunk is 0.8%. Your weight, gender, body fat, medications, and stomach content, as well as alcohol consumption all play a role in your BAC.
- Have a plan and stick to it. Have a total drink limit for the night and adhere to that number. Once you start drinking more than what you planned, you are setting yourself up for failure and a night of overindulgence, and a high probability of getting too drunk.
When going out and having fun involves alcohol, remember size does matter. The larger the drink, the more you drink, the stronger the drink, and if you have a full stomach all play a key role in metabolizing alcohol. When you take your first drink, and the alcohol enters your stomach, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) are the 2 enzymes that are responsible for breaking down alcohol. Women tend to have less ADH and ALDH. If you do not have these enzymes, the alcohol passes right through your stomach and into your small intestines, where the alcohol begins to enter your bloodstream, and things will start to feel hazy.
The work-horse of your body, the liver, has the key role of eliminating alcohol from your body and can process about 1 eight-ounce alcoholic beverage per hour (assuming you have a healthy liver). You can slow down alcohol absorption by drinking less, drinking smaller quantities, drinking over a long period, and limiting your consumption of alcohol. There are other ways to help decrease the effects of alcohol which include increasing your water intake, by eating protein-rich foods, diluting your beverage with a non-alcoholic mixer, and of course moderation.
Frequently Asked Questions
YES, size matters! The less you weigh, the less water you have in your body, which allows your body to absorb more alcohol, which elevates your BAC.
YES, if you drink on an empty stomach, the alcohol goes straight through your stomach and into the small intestines and right to your bloodstream and liver.
There is no true answer to this question because there are so many factors that play into alcohol absorption. Instead, ask yourself the question “Am I legally drunk” and “is it safe for me to get behind the wheel”? If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08/% or higher, then you are legally drunk and should never get behind the wheel.
+ 5 Sources
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- How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? Cleveland Clinic. Published April 26, 2021. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-system/
- What’s a standard drink? – Rethinking Drinking – NIAAA. www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/What-counts-as-a-drink/Whats-A-Standard-Drink.aspx#:~:text=What%27s%20a%20%22standard%22%20drink%3F%20Many%20people%20are%20surprised
- Duke University. How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body? – The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership. Duke.edu. Published 2019. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://sites.duke.edu/apep/module-1-gender-matters/content/content-how-is-alcohol-absorbed-into-the-body/
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- Orywal K, Szmitkowski M. Alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase in malignant neoplasms. Clinical and Experimental Medicine. 2016;17(2):131-139. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10238-016-0408-3