When a person drinks alcohol, their body processes it first through the stomach, where it passes into the bloodstream. At this point, it reaches the brain, and the person begins to feel a buzz. At the same time, the liver starts to metabolize the alcohol, breaking it down into waste products that can be filtered out by the kidneys.
The liver can process about one drink per hour, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as 12 ounces of domestic beer, 8 ounces of malt beverage, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of 80-proof alcohol. Because women tend to be smaller than men, women’s blood alcohol percent will tend to rise faster than men’s, but men’s and women’s bodies will both metabolize alcohol at about the same rate.
Drinking faster than the liver can process alcohol leads to a buildup of alcohol in the blood, increasing feelings of drunkenness. This also leads to an increased accumulation of toxic alcohol metabolites, as they are being produced too quickly for the kidneys to process them. These toxins, as well as alcohol in the blood, can all lead to adverse health consequences.
Health Risks Of Long-Term Abuse
Long-term alcoholism can lead to a buildup of toxins in several major organs, among other pressing concerns. The following is a list of some of the most common effects.
- Loss Of Brain Mass – According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Center, PET scans and CT scans show that chronic alcoholics have brains that are smaller and lighter than non-alcoholics of the same age. Their research shows that alcoholics can suffer permanent loss of brain function, even after drinking has stopped.
- Stroke And Heart Disease – Triglycerides are one of the byproducts of alcohol metabolism, and can cause high blood pressure. This can increase a person’s risk of stroke or heart attack. Alcohol is also a blood thinner, which puts further strain on the heart and can also raise blood pressure.
- Cirrhosis – Alcohol toxins can cause scar tissue to build upon the liver, reducing liver function by limiting the flow of blood through the liver. Although these symptoms are reversible with sobriety, continued alcohol intake will cause continued scarring. Eventually, the liver can become too scared to function, which can be fatal in advanced cases.
- Bleeding Of The Esophagus Or Intestinal Tract – Over time, alcohol can weaken mucous membranes in the esophagus, stomach, intestines, or rectum. Because alcohol and stomach acid is caustic, this can quickly lead to ulcers and life-threatening internal bleeding. Bleeding in the intestines or rectum can also lead to sepsis, a blood infection which spreads more rapidly in alcoholics because alcohol is a blood thinner.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy – When liver function is impaired by alcohol, ammonia can build up in the blood, poisoning brain cells and doing permanent damage to the frontal lobe, which can lead to issues with decision making, coordination, and memory. The worst cases can even lead to dementia.