If you have experience drinking, you might have noticed that you can drink approximately the same amount on different occasions and sometimes feel a buzz, while other times “feel nothing.” There are scientific reasons for this discrepancy.
There are not one, but numerous factors that influence how your body absorbs and responds to alcohol. One of these factors, for example, is gender – women typically get drunk faster than men, but that one comes as no surprise!
Factors that Affect Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Below are the main factors that affect BAC:
- How much you weigh: Even men who weigh the same as women still have more blood to dilute the alcohol. Plus, the less you weigh and the less body fat you have, the more you’re affected by alcohol.
- How fast you drink: The faster you drink, the faster BAC rises.
- Eating: When you’ve eaten, alcohol is absorbed slower into the bloodstream. Eating a meal high in protein and fat just before, or while drinking will slow blood alcohol absorption.
- Gender: Women have less of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach, which contributes to a higher BAC than a man of the same weight.
- Alcohol concentration: More alcohol=higher BAC.
- Size of drink: More alcohol means higher BAC.
- Strength of drink: Naturally, a stronger drink results in a higher BAC.
- Medications: Some medications are harmful when they are combined with alcohol, and can result in dangerous drug interactions, and serious side effects. Combining also intensifies the effects of alcohol. Anti-psychotics in particular should not be mixed with alcohol.
- Fatigue: Fatigue can magnify the effects of alcohol. When fatigued, the liver is less efficient at eliminating alcohol, leading to a higher BAC than usual.
- Mood: In depressed or anxious people, alcohol can intensify these feelings. Plus, stress emotions can change how the stomach processes alcohol.
- Types of mixers: While water and juice slows the alcohol absorption process, carbonated beverages accelerate the process, creating a rapid rise in BAC.
What if I Can Handle My Alcohol?
Being able to “handle” your alcohol is what the scientific and legal community refer to as “functional tolerance.” Being a seasoned drinker means that you can handle your alcohol, right? Wrong!
By having functional tolerance, your body has decreased its sensitivity to alcohol’s effects. So, while you may exhibit functional tolerance and not seem as if you had a lick of alcohol after 10 beers, it doesn’t mean your BAC hasn’t risen accordingly!
Functional tolerance is a behavioral adaption to alcohol; a high tolerance doesn’t mean your BAC rises slower than a non-drinker. Unfortunately, the liver eliminates alcohol at the rate of one drink an hour, thus having a high tolerance has zero effect on BAC.
When a person develops a tolerance upwards of 50% that means it takes double the amount of alcohol to “feel” its effects. So, you can only imagine the high BAC levels that such a person has.
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