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When you take a drink, it immediately is absorbed in every tissue it touches. Because the liquid is so thin, it can be absorbed through the walls of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines as well as being digested like food. When alcohol reaches the brain, it disrupts normal brain function and growth.

Path of alcohol in the body:

  1. Mouth: Alcohol enters the body.
  2. Stomach: Some alcohol gets into the bloodstream through the stomach, but most goes on into the small intestine.
  3. Small intestine: Alcohol enters the bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine.
  4. Heart: It pumps alcohol through the body.
  5. Brain: Alcohol then reaches the brain.
  6. Liver: Alcohol is oxidized by the liver at a rate of about 0.5 ounces per hour; 90% of alcohol is broken down by the liver.
  7. Kidney: It eliminates 5 percent of the alcohol through the urine.
  8. Lungs: They exhale 5 percent of alcohol, which can be detected by breathalyzer devices.
  9. Alcohol is converted into water, carbon dioxide, and energy.

The amount you drink affects your blood alcohol content (BAC). Your BAC affects how you look and act after drinking. Intoxication results from too much alcohol in the blood. When you have more than one drink in an hour, alcohol saturates your blood and raises BAC levels, causing drunkenness. That's why pounding shots or playing drinking games can result in BACs that can last for hours. When a person has 12 drinks, he or she could reach a BAC level as high as 0.5%, which can lead to death.

Other things that influence how alcohol will affect a person include the amount of food in the stomach, any medication taken, one's fatigue, tolerance, age, and gender.

Watch It, Girls

Females take a bigger hit than males when drinking alcohol because they have less of the liver enzyme that breaks down alcohol. So a female's body breaks down alcohol more slowly than a male's body even if the two people weigh the same and drink the same amount of alcohol over the same period of time. Since alcohol stays in a female's body longer, it causes more damage. Birth control pills and other medications influence estrogen, which also can slow down the rate at which alcohol leaves the body.

Females who are heavy drinkers are at a greater risk of liver disease, damage to the pancreas, and high blood pressure than males who are heavy drinkers. So more alcoholic females die from cirrhosis of the liver than do alcoholic males. Ladies, don't forget. You get drunk faster than your male buddies, so be aware and be safe.

Binge Drinking, Alcohol Abuse and Addiction »

  1. “Neuroscience for Kids.” Accessed Dec. 1, 2007.