Ever Wondered How Does Alcohol Make You Drunk? Here's The Answer

If you're a drinker, you know your limits with alcohol. You're also familiar with what happens when you've had too much. But ever wondered what happens when you get drunk? This article offers a peek into the science behind the buzz and the hangover.

Why do people drink alcohol?

Alcohol stimulates the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin, giving you a happy, relaxed feeling. But there's more to it - alcohol impacts 50 different neural mechanisms, which explains the various cognitive, motor and behavioral effects of drinking.

To cite an effect, alcohol sends more of the chemical messenger responsible for producing a calming effect, to your brain cells. Known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), this neurotransmitter plays a role in controlling nerve cell activity associated with anxiety, fear, and stress. As GABA rushes into your brain cells, you start experiencing the sedative effects of alcohol.

While increasing GABA, alcohol also reduces the activity of another neurotransmitter, glutamate, which is responsible for increasing brain activity and energy levels. It explains why you're so relaxed after a few drinks. At some point, you start feeling drowsy and fall asleep.

To summarize, alcohol is a stimulant and a depressant. This is both good and bad. Alcohol gives you a nice buzz and helps you de-stress. But there's a dark side. Too much dopamine can decrease impulse control, cause hallucinations, increase aggression, and affect your ability to make good decisions. This apart, alcohol can slow down your motor functions, impacting movement and coordination.

What in alcohol causes these effects?

Blame it on ethanol, the main ingredient in alcohol. During the alcohol fermentation process, yeast is added to grains (e.g malted barley to make beer) or fruits (e.g. grapes to make wine), which converts the sugars in these ingredients to ethanol and carbon dioxide.

Spirits like whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum contain the highest concentration of ethanol. Wine contains lesser, between 12 and 15% ABV, although fortified wines contain 20% ABV. Beers have the lowest concentration of ethanol, between 4% and 10% ABV. Craft beers are stronger than regular beer, containing about 12% ABV.

How much do you need to drink to get drunk?

This depends on the number of drinks and the type of alcohol you're having.

In women, 1-2 drinks and in men, 2-3 drinks within the span of an hour can lead to the euphoric stage of intoxication or what is colloquially called being tipsy. It's when you feel buzzed, chatty and confident, but also find it a bit difficult to process information or react in time. At this point, you should ideally call it a night. Carrying on drinking can make you lose control of your mental and emotional faculties.

One standard drink has 13.6 grams of alcohol, regardless of the type of drink. A 12 oz/341 ml bottle of beer, 5 oz/142 ml glass of wine, and 1.5 oz/43 ml of hard liquor each contain 13.6 grams of alcohol. They're each equal to one standard drink.

What alcohol gets you drunk the fastest?

When it comes to alcohol type, drinks with a higher ABV are more likely to increase your blood alcohol levels faster than those with a lower alcohol content, says Dr. Simran Deo, a General Practitioner, in a LADbible article. Drinking a large amount of a low strength alcohol can also cause your blood alcohol level to rise.

You can get drunk faster when you have aerated beverages like champagne or gin and tonic as the drink gets absorbed into your bloodstream in less time. The gas from a fizzy mixer can increase the pressure in your stomach and force alcohol through you stomach lining and into your bloodstream faster.

What happens when you get drunk?

Alcohol initially enters your bloodstream via the blood vessels in your mouth and tongue. Some of it goes through your stomach, and most via your small intestine. Once in your bloodstream, alcohol causes your blood vessels to widen, which can make your skin flush, decrease your blood pressure, make you feel warm but only temporarily, and in fact, cause your body temperature to drop.

It takes less than five minutes for alcohol to reach your brain. The initial euphoria can give way to excitement. You may slur your words, stumble, and have trouble remembering things. When alcohol makes its way into your kidneys, you have the urge to pee, which can dehydrate you and cause the dreaded hangover the morning after.

What happens when you get drunk for the first time?

If it's your first time drinking alcohol, you could possibly get drunk faster. But that could be due to reasons other than the fact that your body is reacting to your first-ever drink. If you're having whiskey or a gin and tonic, you're likely to feel tipsy faster than if you were having a beer or a glass of wine. Ditto if you're drinking on an empty stomach as your body will absorb the alcohol quickly.

A couple of things you can do to avoid getting drunk fast are: 

  • Eat a meal high in carbs or fat to slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream
  • Stay hydrated with water while drinking alcohol (for the same reason as above)
  • Avoid drinking alcohol faster so that less of it is available to be absorbed
  • Continue snacking to remain satiated

Can you enjoy the familiar taste and flavor of alcohol without stumbling, bumbling and fumbling?

Certainly! You simply have to replace alcohol (or reduce its intake) with non-alcoholic drinks that contain up to 0.5% ABV or none at all. They're made from botanicals and herbs in an intricate manufacturing process that removes ethanol or retains it in minute quantities. There are non-alcoholic beers like Big Drop Brewing's excellent, award-winning IPA, non-alcoholic spirits such as The Spirit of Bourbon and Ritual Gin Alternative, and non-alcoholic Pinot Noirs, whites and rosés.

It's impossible to get drunk on non-alcoholic/low-alcohol drinks even if you consume a lot in a short span of time. They're great for hydration, low in calories and sugars compared to standard drinks, and the vitamins and minerals in them give your body an extra boost.

Non-alcoholic drinks replicate the flavors and aromas of regular alcohols. They contribute to a pleasurable sensory experience, although not to the extent of regular alcohol. Non-alcoholic drinks have been around for a long time, featuring on party menus, given as gifts and stored at home to be enjoyed for their taste and for unwinding and relaxing.

Better Rhodes is a premier online marketplace for non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks of all types. Have a look at our range to understand the sheer variety of non-alcoholic options you can try to experience something different and better for your overall well-being.