How Alcohol is metabolized by our system?

Alcohol is such a thing which is either eulogized or cursed. The impact of alcohol on the body depends on how it is metabolized in the body. Alcohol is associated with some grave diseases like acute pancreatitis or irreversible liver damage as in cirrhosis of liver. In this article, the aim is to understand how

alcohol is metabolized

in the body.

The first thing to be understood is that unlike other dietary components like fat, carbohydrate and protein, alcohol cannot be put away to be processed or metabolized later. When alcohol is consumed, the digestive system has to stop everything else and metabolize it first.


Mechanism: How Alcohol is metabolized by our system?

Alcohol fit for human consumption is ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Once it enters the stomach about 20% of it is directly absorbed into the blood stream. The stupor associated with alcohol consumption is caused by the part directly absorbed in the blood stream. It reaches the brain and can affect cognitive abilities.

A small part of the alcohol is discharged through breath and bodily fluids like sweat, saliva and urine. Drinking alcohol will increase the concentration of alcohol in the blood stream . This measure is known as the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). The rest passes through the intestine to be metabolized by the normal digestive faculties.

The liver is the primary organ involved in the breaking down of alcohol. This can be well co related to the fact that alcohol abuse is deeply associated with liver damage. The liver is responsible for detoxifying the alcohol and removing it from blood through a process known as Oxidation. This process is of utmost importance as it protects the cells and organs from the so called alcohol induced toxins.

In the liver, alcohol is metabolized by enzymes which are proteins that act as catalysts in other metabolic processes. A particular liver enzyme called Alcohol Dehydrogenase, commonly referred to as ADH acts as a catalyst in the conversion of alcohol into acetaldehyde. This compound is metabolized further by different enzymes into acetate. And acetate is finally converted into water and carbon dioxide.

What makes alcohol harmful is the rate at which the liver metabolizes alcohol. The liver can oxidize only about one-third or one-fourth of an ounce per hour irrespective of the amount consumed. Hence, with alcohol abuse or with an intake of large amounts of alcohol it puts the liver under a lot of stress.

The rate at which alcohol is metabolized by the liver depends on the following factors.


: Women are most likely to have higher absorption rate and Blood Alcohol Concentration after consuming the same amount of alcohol as men. They are more susceptible to liver damage, heart muscle damage and brain damage caused by alcohol than men. The enzyme ADH responsible for metabolizing alcohol in the liver is less active in women than men.


: The rate at which alcohol is absorbed depends on the food with which it is consumed or the type of food in the gastrointestinal tract at the time of alcohol consumption. This rate depends further on the rate at which the stomach contents are passed on to the intestine from the stomach. A diet which is high in fat, carbohydrates and proteins will take a longer time to be broken down and be passed on to the small intestine. A slower rate of metabolizing the food contents of the stomach ensures that the alcohol too is absorbed slowly.

A word about alcohol metabolism and Medications

Alcohol consumption along with over the counter pain relievers could bring about a disaster. Acetominophen taken in standard dose could inflict serious liver damage when coupled with heavy drinking. This is because, in alcoholics, an enzyme CYP2E1 is activated which reacts with pain relievers and causes liver damage. Alcohol metabolism can affect the effectiveness of other medications too. Hence, a lot of drugs come with the standard instruction of not taking them immediately before or after alcohol consumption.

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