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How Alcohol Affects Your Body

February 28, 2017

A glass of wine once in a while can have health benefits, but indulge too frequently and you can suffer ill effects that extend beyond the usual hangover. How alcohol affects your body can vary greatly.

How Your Body Processes Alcohol

Like food, when you drink alcohol, it travels to your stomach then is absorbed in your small intestine. But unlike food, alcohol doesn’t need to be digested. This means about 20 percent of alcohol that enters your stomach is immediately absorbed into your bloodstream.

Once the alcohol enters your bloodstream, it travels quickly to your brain, which can make you feel happy or uninhibited. However, if you have more than a drink or two, you could end up experiencing slurred speech, losing coordination or feeling depressed or agitated. The extra calories in alcohol can also add to your waistline.

How quickly your body processes alcohol depends on:

  • Your weight (if you’re smaller, you’ll likely feel effects faster)
  • If you’ve eaten (food slows down alcohol’s absorption)
  • Your gender (women feel the effects of alcohol quicker than men)

How to Consume Alcohol Safely

If you are trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, The National Institutes of Health recommends:

  • Pacing yourself when you drink and try sipping slowly
  • Drinking water and eat while drinking to reduce unwanted effects
  • Having a designated driver or alternate way home like a taxi or bus
  • Being aware of any medications you take, over-the-counter or otherwise, and the interactions they could have with alcohol

Social Drinking vs. Alcoholism

The line between social drinking and alcoholism can be very thin. Unfortunately, according to U.S. News & World Report, there is no “a-ha” moment that lets you know you’ve crossed that line.

If you’re wondering whether you have a drinking problem, U.S. News & World Report recommends asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you often feel guilty about your drinking?
  • Do you feel the need to lie to others about your drinking?
  • Have one or more of your loved ones expressed concern about your drinking habits?
  • Do you frequently drink more than you plan on drinking?
  • Do you black out when drinking?
  • Do you feel that you need to drink to relax or feel better?
  • Do you find that you wake up from a night of drinking with severe anxiety, shaking or sweating that only a drink or medication can fix?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable in environments where alcohol is unavailable?
  • Have you ever tried to control your drinking?
  • Have you had problems at home, school or work as a result of drinking?
  • Have you ever thought that your life would be better if you didn’t drink?
  • Do you ever find yourself jealous of people who can drink without consequences?

If you’ve answered yes to a few questions or feel you may have a drinking problem, talk to your doctor.

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