Many of us love a fun night out with friends at the bar, or maybe you prefer drinking pints at the pub. Either way, you usually end up drunk.
But what does being drunk even mean? What does alcohol do to your body? And importantly, how does alcohol effect you when you also have Asian Flush?
Let's take a look at the science of getting drunk:
Why does alcohol make you drunk?
Let's get right to the point: your body doesn't like alcohol. Once it enters your system, your body works hard to break it down and get rid of it immediately. Too much alcohol in the system results in getting drunk.
But how does the process work?
The alcohol found in alcoholic beverages is ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Thankfully, alcoholic drinks you purchase at the bar do not contain pure alcohol. Consuming pure alcohol can be seriously dangerous as it only takes a few ounces to quickly raise your blood alcohol level to a dangerous level.
Instead, different types of drinks will have different ethanol concentrations (by volume) such as:
Once you consume an alcoholic drink, the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach (about 20%) and the small intestine (80%) before entering the bloodstream. Once the alcohol in the bloodstream, it gets carried around the body and exerts its effects on the body.
The observed effects depend directly on the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is related to the amount of alcohol consumed.
Next, the body works to get rid of the alcohol. Some will be removed by the kidneys, some through the lungs and the majority will be eliminated by the liver.
The SciShow has a great video on the impact of alcohol on humans.
An average person can eliminate 0.5 oz (15 ml) of alcohol per hour. So, it would take about one hour to remove the alcohol from a 12 oz can of beer. Getting that alcohol out of your system really takes some serious effect.
So you've had a glass of wine and your body begins to break down the alcohol. Your liver produces an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which converts alcohol into acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde is a toxic chemical that needs to be reduced into harmless acetic acid as soon as possible. Even still, acetaldehyde can cause some really uncomfortable symptoms when it hangs around in your system, such as a flushed face and headaches.
But, given time, your body will break down acetaldehyde and remove the remaining alcohol from your system. If you've drank enough in a short amount of time, chances are you'll feel the symptoms of being drunk before your body clears the alcohol out of your system.
You might also experience all the fun symptoms of being hungover the next day.
Asian Flush and Acetaldehyde
In a "normal" body, acetaldehyde will be broken down into acetic acid and the individual drinker is none the wiser. They can still experience being drunk and subsequently hungover symptoms later on, but at a usual severity.
However, not all are impacted by acetaldehyde equally.
Those with the condition "Asian Flush" causes the individual to experience much more severe and fast-acting symptoms when exposed to acetaldehyde. Those with Asian Flush have a genetic deficiency called ALDH2 which impairs their ability to break down acetaldehyde. This means this toxic chemical hangs around in their system far longer and causes immediate symptoms, such as red flushed skin, headaches, dizziness and/or hives.
When someone with Asian Flush has a drink, or even a few sips of alcohol, they can experience negative symptoms right away. It almost seems like they are immediately drunk.
So while it may seem those with Asian Flush have a low tolerance to alcohol, it's because of their genetic enzyme deficiency that causes them to react so severely to acetaldehyde when drinking.
People with this condition need to be more aware of how much they are drinking as high levels of acetaldehyde in their system can be dangerous.
Even though it's typically called "Asian Flush" this condition can effect anyone, even if you're Caucasian.
How many units does it take to get drunk?
Oftentimes people will ask: "how many drinks will get me drunk?" This is a tough question! How many drinks, or units, of alcohol it takes to get a person drunk will vary from person to person.
The rate of intoxication depends on different factors such as:
- body type and weight
- how quickly you consume alcohol
- what type of alcohol you're drinking
Knowing how many units needed to get drunk is tricky. However. the usual rule of thumb is that if you drink more than one drink within an hour, you are working towards getting yourself drunk. You may not feel it after two drinks within an hour, but by the time you've had four drinks in two hours it will be much more noticeable.
Symptoms of Being Drunk
Obviously, everyone is different so drunk symptoms will vary. Different types of alcohol may even have different effects on you. However, the common symptoms of being drunk can include:
- glassy or red eyes
- smell of alcohol on your breath and/or clothes
- impaired motor function
- slurred speech
- mood swings
- change in personality (ex. more extroverted, talking louder than normal, becoming more aggressive, etc)
Some people may find that certain drinks like cider make them sleepy, whereas gin makes them bubbly. A lot of it depends on the person and how their body reacts to the alcohol they're drinking. A person's personality may also impact how they display drunk symptoms.
However, there are a few different stages of "drunkenness" that most people will experience.
Stages of Drunkenness
Different levels of BAC will often correspond to different levels of drunkenness.
Euphoria (BAC = 0.03 to 0.12%)
- more self-confident
- shortened attention span
- trouble with fine motor skills (ex. writing)
- impaired jugement
Excitement (BAC = 0.09 to 0.25%)
- trouble remembering things
- delayed reactions
- vision can become blurry
Confusion (BAC = 0.18 to 0.30%)
- can become confused
- may become highly emotional (aggressive, withdrawn or overly affectionate)
- trouble seeing and slurred speech
Stupor (BAC = 0.25 to 0.4%)
- barely move at all (walk, stand, etc)
- may lapse in and out of consciousness
Coma (BAC = 0.35 to 0.50%)
- lower body temperature
- breathing is slower and more shallow
- slow heart rate
- possible death
Death will occur in an individual with a BAC more than 0.50%
How to Lessen the Effects of Alcohol
While you may want to drink at the bar, you may also want to avoid getting drunk. You could avoid alcohol altogether, but sometimes that's not very practical (or fun).
Here are some easy tips to minimise your drunk symptoms when drinking alcohol:
By forcing yourself to consume alcohol slower, you'll be giving your body time to properly break it down in your system. You'll also end up drinking less over the course of the night.
Based on our rule of thumb, your chances of getting drunk greatly decrease if you're not having more than one drink an hour, so pacing yourself is key!
To help yourself drink alcohol slower, try ordering drinks that are very cold or filled with ice. If you order a glass of red wine, it can be easy to drink it quickly. However, you physically won't be able to chug a drink when it's too cold, forcing yourself to drink slowly.
Choose Your Drinks Wisely
Choosing drinks with less alcohol conent is an easy way to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. Thus, you'll lower your chances of getting drunk. Drinks like shandies, which are beer mixed with a non-alcoholic drink like lemonade, are a great choice.
You still get the fun of being out with friends, and drinking, but your drink's alcohol content is much lower than usual.
Alternate your alcoholic drinks with water and/or non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night. You'll drink less alcohol overall, plus you'll remain hydrated. Staying hydrated makes a huge difference in getting drunk and possible hangover symptoms the next day.
It's also helpful to leave a glass of water beside your bed so you can continue hydrating yourself when you wake up in the morning. Your lack of hangover will thank you!
Health Effects of Alcohol
We all know alcohol isn't healthy for us, but it is ingrained in many aspects of our lives. From a pint with friends at a bar, to a glass of wine at a business dinner, alcohol is everywhere. That's why it's so important to remember the health effects of alcohol and what alcohol does to your body.
Alcohol exhibits two main phases. At the beginning, the individual will experience "stimulating effects and euphoria." At this early stage, alcohol reduces your inhibitions and will release a little dopamine to make you feel good.
Then depressive effects will begin.
Consuming alcohol increases the effects of the inhibitory transmitter Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that dampens responses. Too much GABA causes communication between neurons in the brain to slow down, decreasing cognition, fine motor skills and judgement.
We all know the feeling, but it's important to remember what's actually happening in your body during these phases when consuming alcohol.
Long Term Effects of Alcohol
We know alcohol isn't healthy. The odd drink here and there can have minimal effects, but continued abuse of alcohol can result in numerous long-term effects:
- Increased activity in the liver causes cell death and hardening of the tissue
- Because alcoholics lose balance and fall more often, they suffer more often from bruises and broken bones
- Stomach and intestinal ulcers can form because the constant alcohol use irritates and degrades the linings of these organs
- Poor nutrition decreases levels of iron and vitamin B, leading to anemia
It's important to keep an eye on your alcohol intake and ensure it remains within a safe consumption rate.
No matter what type of drink you prefer, it's vital to drink responsibly. You may still experience the effects of drinking alcohol, but with a better understanding of what it means when you get drunk, you can minimise your symptoms.