How Your Body Processes Alcohol
After even one drink, you will likely feel the effects of alcohol within minutes. Alcohol first enters your stomach before it travels into your bloodstream. Once alcohol reaches your blood, it takes effect and can affect multiple organ systems.
Your liver eventually breaks down alcohol and is responsible for eliminating most of it from your body. There is a misconception that there are tricks to help remove alcohol faster (like a cold shower or coffee).
The only way to remove alcohol from your system is waiting for your liver to metabolize the substance.
It usually takes about one hour to metabolize one standard drink in the average person.
However, the time it takes to metabolize alcohol may depend on:
- a full or empty stomach
- liver health
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Binge drinking is heavy alcohol use that raises blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to at least 0.08 g/dl.
Blood alcohol concentration, also referred to as blood alcohol content, is a measurement of alcohol intoxication. A BAC of 0.08 g/dl means there is 0.08 grams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood.
The number of drinks it takes to reach this BAC depends on the type of alcohol consumed, gender, and health. However, it is usually 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women.
Short-Term Effects Of Binge Drinking
Although the first drink may feel energizing, alcohol is actually a depressant. After a while, alcohol slows activity in the brain of essential bodily functions. Binge drinking can significantly slow breathing and cause coma or death.
After about two drinks, alcohol consumption may cause:
- increased mood
- feeling more relaxed
- increased confidence
About 4-5 drinks on one occasion is considered binge drinking. Combining alcohol with other substances can significantly increase the risk of dangerous side-effects.
Consuming 4-5 or more alcoholic drinks may cause the following side-effects:
- impaired judgment
- lowered inhibitions
- slurred speech
- impaired balance and coordination
- mood swings
- nausea or vomiting
- memory loss
- decreased bladder control
- blackouts (alcohol-induced amnesia)
These are serious health problems that can occur from just one binge drinking episode. However, frequent heavy drinking can interfere with work, school, and relationships.
Long-Term Effects Of Heavy Alcohol Use
Excessive drinking can also lead to serious long-term effects, including:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- irregular heartbeat
- liver disease
- brain damage
- weakened immune system
- increased risk of cancer
Alcohol abuse can eventually develop into alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is distinct from binge drinking. People with alcohol use disorder often cannot stop drinking, regardless of their desire to stop and the negative consequences of drinking.
Signs of an alcohol use disorder include:
- inability to control the amount of drinking
- socially withdrawn
- drinking alcohol in unsafe situations
- experiencing cravings for alcohol
- increased tolerance or dependence
- unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking
How Alcohol Affects The Brain
One factor in alcohol addiction is how alcohol affects the brain.
Alcohol increases the activity of dopamine in the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is a brain chemical responsible for pleasure. If someone frequently drinks large amounts of alcohol, it can alter the way this part of the brain functions.
Dangers Of Binge Drinking
Along with health effects, binge drinking poses serious risks to the person and their community.
According to the CDC, binge drinking increases the risk of the following:
- car crashes
- domestic violence
- sexual assault
- sexually transmitted infections (STI)
- fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Binge Drinking Prevention & Treatment
Although the United States has implemented policies and strategies to reduce binge drinking, it is still a prevalent issue. If you recognize a binge drinking pattern in yourself, you should speak with your healthcare provider about the next steps to take.
Even if you feel you do not have an alcohol use disorder, you may benefit from an addiction treatment center. These programs have valuable resources that can help you learn how to change unhealthy behaviors and improve your quality of life.