Drinking . . . For Science!

Despite being only a casual drinker at best, I have a great deal of fascination with alcohol consumption. Sparked by a recent discussion, I decided to go do some research. Today’s post is an exploration of a few interesting things about alcohol absorption that I discovered.

Alcohol absorption is an interesting process, because it is dependent on a variety of factors. One of the more common beliefs is that idea that having a full stomach soaks up the alcohol, reducing the total amount. This is interesting because it is a myth, but a myth that attempts to explain actual real world evidence.

Having a full stomach does slow down how drunk a person gets. But the reason is not the food absorbing the alcohol. Instead, the food causes the value at the bottom of the stomach (the pyloric sphincter)  to remain closed as the food is digested. This means alcohol can only be absorbed through the lining of the stomach rather than the much larger surface area of the small intestines. With a smaller area, it takes much longer to get the blood into the circulatory system, giving the body time to process what does get through.

What alcohol you drink also has an effect. The optimal concentration of alcohol for absorption is between 10% and 30%. With less than 10%, the added volume of liquid slows the emptying of the stomach, delaying absorption by the intestine. It also alters the chemistry of the stomach contents, slowing diffusion. Concentration of above 30% irritates the membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. This causes an increase in the secretion of mucus which hinders absorption.

This ties into the old saying “Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” Most beers have a concentration of less than 10%. Liquor is on the other end of the spectrum, with concentrations over 30%. If you drink beer first, the only delay you get is based on content percentage; adding more alcohol changes that, restoring optimal conditions. If you drink liquor first, you cause a physical response. The greater mucus in the digestion system doesn’t go away with a decrease in alcohol ratio. It will continue to limit alcohol absorption as you move to beer.

Interesting enough, wine and mixed drinks sit right in that optimal absorption range. This is amusing because most “hardcore” drinkers dismiss them out of hand. But with a little biology knowledge, an inexpensive wine might be the best bang for the buck when it comes to getting a good buzz going. The opposite is also true. Do not underestimate the power of a good mixed drink or a glass of wine. You might be getting a lot more drunk than you realize.

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought the next time you go drinking. Think twice before following the same drinking patterns you always do. You might be surprised of what kind of results you get if you plan a little before you go. As always, drink responsibly and be careful.

-That is all.

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