How Long Does it Take for Alcohol to Kick In?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol will enter the blood immediately. Although the first drops of alcohol will start to interact with the body right away, there are many factors that delay the ability to sense these effects. This influences how fast you will notice the effects of alcohol. Since these effects vary widely from one drinker to another, it’s helpful to understand what can change the amount of time it takes for alcohol to kick in fully.
Overview of Alcohol’s Effects
Most drinkers will notice the effects of alcohol within 10 minutes, but some will be affected even sooner. There are many factors that contribute to these differences between people. This includes the size of the person’s most recent meal, body weight, gender, and other variables. There are also some differences in the type of alcoholic beverage being consumed. For example, people drinking gin will tend to notice the effects sooner than a person drinking beer. The strength of the alcoholic drink plays a huge role in the amount of time it takes for the alcohol to affect your system.
Alcohol in the Human Body
The human body processes alcohol according to its capacity to metabolize beverages. The capacity of each person to absorb and process alcohol can vary widely. The car is a useful metaphor that can be used to visualize how this works. If the car were to represent the human body, and the gasoline represented the amount of alcohol, you could try to figure out how the miles per gallon, or MPG. The distance the car could travel on a single tank would be decided by the weight of the vehicle, the size of the gas tank, the efficiency of the engine, and other factors.
This metaphor is helpful in understanding the way alcohol affects different people. The differences in body type, age, gender, medical condition, and alcohol tolerance all play a role in how soon the effects of the drinks will be felt. For example, many people report extreme sensitivity and almost instantaneous reactions to alcohol when first exposed to it at an early age. Over time, they notice that they require more alcohol to get a similar effect. This phenomenon is called alcohol tolerance.
Alcohol Absorption and Digestion
The rate of absorption and digestion also varies from one person to another. There is no exact amount of time that can be reliably cited to express how quickly alcohol will take effect, but more people will feel it within a half-hour. This assumes a moderate rate of consumption; the practice of gulping alcohol would speed up the effects of intoxication.
This calculation is based on the standard drink and a normal pace of drinking within a single hour; however, the absorption rate isn’t uniform. For example, two people with different body weight having the same drink will not feel the effects identically or even at the same time. This is true even if the rate of ingestion is the same and the drinks are identical. Below is a summary of the main factors that affect the amount of time it takes for alcohol to be felt in the body.
The amount of time it takes for the alcohol to kick in will depend on these factors:
Tolerance: Each person has a different tolerance for ingesting alcohol. People with low tolerance may feel a dramatic change after only one sip, for example. Those with a higher alcohol tolerance might need two drinks before even noticing any effect. However, since alcohol enters the bloodstream immediately, the alcohol might affect the person while they’re still unaware of this fact. In addition, some people have a higher alcohol tolerance only because of the presence of acetaldehyde enzymes in their bodies. This enzyme breaks alcohol down faster.
Frequency: Frequency refers to how often a person drinks and how fast they consume a standard drink. The more alcohol you consume, the less effect it will have on your body. As a result, people with a high alcohol tolerance require more drinks to get the same effects.
Liver condition: The liver is only capable of managing one standard drink per hour. The standard drink is measured according to the alcohol content. For example, 12 ounces of beer is the same as a 4-ounce glass of wine or a 1.25 shot of 80-proof liqueur. The standard rate of consumption is one standard drink per hour; if you drink more, you will feel the effects faster because your liver is unable to process the new alcohol content.
Aging: Older bodies have a slower metabolic rate for food and alcohol. This increases the speed at which intoxication may occur.
Female or male: Women and men have different hormones, which affect the metabolism of alcohol. Estrogen is a hormone in women which increases sensitivity to alcohol. Dehydrogenase is an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, and males tend to have higher amounts of this substance. Alcohol use disorder in women increased by 83 percent over a period of just over 10 years. Women’s bodies typically require more time to process the same amount of alcohol, which partially explains this spike.
Food intake: The amount and type of food in your stomach will affect how fast it takes for the alcohol to become noticeable. Heavier foods can slow down the effects of alcohol, and drinking on an empty stomach will make the person more responsive to the presence of alcohol in the bloodstream.
Medications: Prescription medications can interact with alcohol in a way that makes it have more impact. This includes the amount of time it takes for the alcohol to kick in. Over-the-counter drugs and street drugs both interact with alcohol, which can be potentially dangerous.
Drinking speed: The speed of drinking also affects the amount of time it takes to affect your system. Sipping a drink will be less intense than gulping a drink quickly, for example.
How Your Body Processes Alcohol
Alcohol enters the bloodstream almost instantly because of the tiny blood vessels inside of the mouth, which can absorb the alcohol in small amounts. However, by the time the alcohol reaches the stomach, various tissues have already begun to absorb it. The alcohol must reach the small intestine to continue being absorbed, but it won’t be completely processed until it reaches the liver.
The Liver and Alcohol Metabolism
The liver breaks down alcohol with enzymes that convert the molecules of the alcohol. Overwhelming the liver’s ability to break down alcohol by drinking quickly within a short amount of time means that the effects of the alcohol will be stronger. It will also be felt faster, and this partially accounts for the differences in how much time it takes for the alcohol to kick in. People who have healthy livers will be able to process alcohol faster.
The healthy liver will typically metabolize one standard drink within a one-hour period. Any additional alcohol will stay in the bloodstream, and that will strengthen the effects of intoxication. Excessive alcohol intake will eventually affect the internal organs.
The brain, heart, and kidneys are especially vulnerable to damage from the excessive consumption of alcohol. The brain can be affected by alcohol within five minutes, for example. This is the reason that people experience changes in their balance and judgment within only a few minutes after consuming alcohol. The blood pressure often rises because the heart is affected, and the kidneys also absorb stress from the alcohol. This contributes to the phenomenon of dehydration.
Alcohol and Responsible Drinking
Responsible drinking requires accurate information about how alcohol affects the drinker. Knowing how fast alcohol will affect you after drinking allows you to pace the rate of consumption. This also means being aware of the last meal that was eaten, any medications being taken, and a knowledge of the weight of the body.
Excessive use of alcohol over time can create serious health problems. The first step to avoiding these consequences is to notice how your body interacts with alcohol from the very first sip. Understanding how your body reacts to alcohol will help you to correctly gauge a safer level of social drinking. However, excessive drinking that causes long-term damage to the internal organs should be avoided by getting help.
Moderate alcohol drinking can reduce the risks associated with internal organ damage and alcohol use disorders. However, if there is an underlying reason for excessive drinking, it is beneficial to seek help because many addictions can be successfully treated by resolving the underlying issues that caused the alcohol dependency to form. Contact our center for helpful information about overcoming alcohol addiction today.