How and why alcohol affects everyone differently

How and why alcohol affects everyone differently

Have you ever wondered why a couple of drinks can leave your friend feeling relaxed and sociable, while the same amount might make you feel drowsy or leave the room spinning? Alcohol affects everyone differently. Numerous variables contribute to the unique ways you may respond to it, from genetic factors to personal tolerance levels.

Different body weight and composition

Your body can determine how alcohol affects you. Generally, those with a lower body weight tend to feel the effects of alcohol a lot quicker than heavier people. This difference is because alcohol is water-soluble, and its concentration in the bloodstream is higher for those with less water in their bodies.

The distribution of body fat can also influence how drinking affects you. People with more fat and less muscle may experience a stronger impact, as fat cells don’t absorb alcohol easily.

How fast or slow your metabolism is

Enzymes are the key players in the process of breaking down alcohol in the body. The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a toxic substance that another enzyme further metabolises. How efficient these enzymes are varies from person to person due to genetic factors.

Some individuals have a faster metabolism for alcohol, meaning their bodies process it much quicker. As a result, they may feel less intense effects for a shorter duration. On the other hand, those with slower metabolisms may experience a prolonged and more intense impact.

Whether you’ve eaten or not before drinking

Whether or not you’ve had a meal before drinking can significantly influence how your body responds to it. Having a bite to eat first can slow down the absorption, providing a more gradual effect. A meal including cabs, fats and proteins can help in this regard, lining your stomach and preventing the rapid rise in blood alcohol levels. These foods can curb hunger and balance electrolytes. On the flip side, drinking on an empty stomach allows your body to absorb the alcohol quickly, intensifying its effects.

Some of the best foods to eat before consuming alcohol include:

  • Bananas
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Avocado
  • Quinoa
  • Asparagus
  • Trail mix

Your gender

Men and women metabolise alcohol differently due to body composition and enzyme activity variations. Generally, women tend to have a higher proportion of body fat and a lower water content than men. This means that, on average, women may experience a more rapid and intense impact from the same amount of alcohol.

How old you are

Various changes occur in your body as you age, impacting how you process alcohol. Older adults tend to experience a decline in muscle mass and increased body fat, leading to a smaller volume of water in their bodies. With less water to dilute the alcohol, older individuals may feel the effects much quicker than their younger counterparts.

You may dehydrate faster

Alcohol has a diuretic effect, meaning it increases urine production and subsequently leads to dehydration. Some people may have a higher tolerance for alcohol-induced dehydration due to the body’s ability to retain water more efficiently or their kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine.

If you’re more prone to dehydration, you may experience increased thirst, dizziness and fatigue after a night of drinking. Counteract these effects by prioritising hydration during and after consuming alcohol. Hydrating helps replenish the fluids lost through alcohol-induced dehydration, reducing the risk of these symptoms. Adults should drink roughly 72-104 ounces of water daily to ensure proper kidney function, adequate digestion, weight management, and increased energy levels. These benefits are especially important if you’ve been drinking.

Whether you take medication or have a health condition

Certain medications and health conditions can interact with alcohol, amplifying or diminishing its effects. Liver disease can also influence how your body processes alcohol, potentially leading to more severe consequences.

The drink you choose and how fast your drink it

The type of beverage you choose and the pace at which you drink it can impact how quickly you become intoxicated. Hard liquor, such as spirits, typically has a higher alcohol by volume compared to beer or wine. Beer, wine and ciders usually have an alcohol by volume content of around 15% or less, compared to drinks like brandy that typically have a 35% alcohol content. Consequently, drinking shots or cocktails with strong spirits can lead to a more rapid increase in blood alcohol content.

Downing one shot after another can overwhelm your body’s ability to metabolise alcohol, causing you to feel the effects rapidly. However, if you sip your drink slowly, your body has more time to process the alcohol, leading to a more gradual and controlled rise in intoxication.

Always be responsible

The unique ways in which alcohol affects each person highlight the importance of responsible drinking. Understanding the reasons behind these differences can help you make better decisions and take a more mindful approach to consumption. Whether it’s your body composition, genetics or your beverage choice, recognising these individual differences is key to creating a healthy relationship with alcohol.

Written by Mia Barnes

Mia is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for women’s health and wellness. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the healthy living online publication, Body+Mind Magazine

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