Alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the stomach and the small intestine. Food in the stomach slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed, but does not prevent intoxication or drunkenness. All alcohol consumed will reach the bloodstream, regardless of how much food is in the stomach. Alcohol is distributed throughout the water in the body, but not into fatty tissue.
The liver breaks down about 91 per cent of alcohol, and a small amount leaves the body in urine, sweat and the breath. The liver can only work at a fixed rate, getting rid of about three-quarters of a standard drink an hour. Sobering up takes time, and cold showers, exercise, black coffee, fresh air or vomiting will not speed up the process. Someone who drinks a lot at night may still have a high concentration of alcohol in their bloodstream the following day.
Research shows that moderate amounts of alcohol can reduce the risk of developing some types of cardiovascular disease in people aged 40–45 years and over. However, it is important to remember that the risk of cirrhosis, some cancers and other diseases becomes greater with increased alcohol consumption.
After a few drinks the person may feel more relaxed, have reduced concentration and slower reflexes.
After a few more drinks, they may have fewer inhibitions, more confidence, reduced co-ordination, slurred speech and intense moods (for example, sad, happy, angry).
If the person continues to drink they may experience confusion, blurred vision and poor muscle control.
Continuing to drink may result in nausea, vomiting and sleep.
Consuming more alcohol could possibly result in coma or death.
Binge drinking can be described as drinking heavily over a short period of time or drinking continuously over a number of days or weeks.
Binge drinking is harmful because it results in immediate and severe intoxication. As well as health risks, this can lead people to take risks and put themselves in dangerous situations.
Common effects of binge-drinking episodes are hangovers, headaches, nausea, shakiness and vomiting.
For more information, please click on the Australian Drug Foundation's DrugInfo Clearinghouse web site link below.
Last Reviewed: 20 September 2006