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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Drinking Strategies: Intoxication

Drunk. Intoxicated. Loaded. Sloshed. Bombed. Hammered. Smashed. Wasted. Pissed. There are so many ways to explain how it feels, but only one way to explain exactly how it works. In my last article, I discussed the science of a hangover. Now we’ll look at the immediate effects alcohol has on your body, how it affects different body-types, and what factors you can control.
  • When you drink, ethanol is absorbed into the bloodstream via digestion (20% in the stomach and 80% in the small intestine as we learned last time). If the amount coming into your body exceeds what it can expel, you become intoxicated.
  • Your blood transports the ethanol through your body where it is absorbed by the tissues. How quickly this absorption and the subsequent metabolism occurs is determined by body-type and what you've eaten that day.
  • Your brain's neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate, which are related to both speech and movement, are disrupted. The cerebellum is also affected, inhibiting motion and balance.
  • Dopamine is increased in the brain, creating a feeling of pleasure.
  • The inhibitory behavioral centres in the cerebral cortex are depressed, lowering inhibition, slowing information processing from the senses, and disrupting thought processes.
  • The hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which coordinate automatic brain functions and hormones, are inhibited. Nerve centres responsible for sexual arousal and performance get depressed, so while sexual urge increases, performance decreases.
  • The medulla is affected which induces sleepiness, slows breathing, and lowers body temperature.
  • Low blood glucose levels cause shakiness, sweating, dizziness, lethargy, and blurred vision. Carbohydrate boosts will counteract this, which is why you often crave snacks when drunk.
  • Ethanol is diuretic, making your kidneys push fluids to the bladder faster than usual causing dehydration, which results in thirst, dry-mouth, cramps, dizziness, and faintness.
  • Ethanol metabolism is mainly handled by the liver. A byproduct of this process is acetaldehyde, which is toxic for the liver, brain, and stomach lining, causing headache, nausea, heartburn, and vomiting. The liver will need extra water, but since ethanol is a diuretic, supply is low and the liver steals water from other organs like the brain (which leads to even worse headaches).
  • Mineral balance in the blood is disrupted causing even further dehydration.
To summarize, when you're drunk you get thirsty, hungry, wild and uninhibited, stupid, sleepy and dizzy, while speech, movement, and sexual performance start to suck. Most of you already knew that, but now you know why!
We can see factors you can control:
  • The rate and volume of consumption.
  • How much you've eaten, which will slow absorption times.
  • How much water you drink to counteract dehydration.
You can also
  • Avoid certain medication, over-the-counter drugs, and narcotics that can make symptoms worse.
  • Lower levels of fatigue and stress, both of which increase alcohol's effects.
  • Increase tolerance. Regular drinking develops your liver's ability to break down alcohol more rapidly and brain cells become less sensitive to the effects
Unfortunately there are also issues affecting intoxication that you can’t control:
  • The younger and healthier you are, generally the faster you metabolize alcohol.
  • Overweight people generally get drunk faster because fatty tissues contain less water than muscle, decreasing the body's dilution capabilities.
  • Women generally metabolize alcohol slower due to having less body water, lower levels of the enzymes that break down alcohol, and more body fat (see above).
Using all of the above information, we can come up with some general tips to avoid getting too drunk - essentially the same rules to avoiding hangovers:
  1. Eat. The more and better you eat, the slower alcohol is absorbed. Having a snack while you're drinking will also counteract sleepiness.
  2. Drink lots of water. Ethanol has many dehydrating effects, plus your liver needs extra water to metabolize it.
  3. Know the proof of your drinks and don't drink low-quality liquor.
  4. Be aware of drunk symptoms. The more symptoms you experience the closer you are to your limit.
  5. Be a young, fit, healthy male. This may be impossible for you, but this type of person generally metabolizes alcohol the fastest. Keep these factors in mind depending on the company you keep while drinking.
Next time I'll talk about something less health-conscious - the cheapest ways to get drunk. Beer? Wine? Shots? Cocktails? Penny for penny, what is the most affordable way to get wasted.

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