When does alcohol kick in?

There are a number of factors that affect the rate at which alcohol onset begins, such as age, metabolism, and gender. More about alcohol metabolism here.

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Ethanol – more commonly known as alcohol – is a psychoactive ingredient found in many alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits. When consumed in larger quantities, alcohol has intoxicating effects such as, drunkenness, consciousness changes and also changes in mood and emotions.

So, when does it kick in? When do alcohol effects peak? Here, we review the onset time, the ‘high’ you can experience on alcohol and its duration. Continue reading here for more on alcohol metabolism…and then join us in the comments section at the end with your questions. In fact, we try to answer all legitimate questions with a personal and prompt response.

Alcohol active ingredients

The molecular formula of ethanol or ethyl alcohol is C2H5OH. Drinks may contain other ingredients such as flavorings and color, but the active ingredient is always alcohol. But, how do we get alcohol? The manufacturing of ethyl alcohol is completed through the following processes:

1. The fermentation of carbohydrates

This is the method used for the production of alcoholic beverages. Fermentation involves the transformation of carbohydrates into ethyl alcohol by growing yeast cells. The chief raw materials fermented for the production of industrial alcohol are sugar crops such as beets and sugarcane, and grain crops such as corn (maize).

2. The hydration of ethylene

Hydration is a process of adding water molecules to a substance. Ethylene can be hydrated when it’s heated with a dilute sulphuric acid (H2SO4) catalyst. The direct hydration from ethylene to ethanol is conducted at elevated pressures and at temperatures above the dew point of water at reaction conditions.

When does alcohol start working?

Alcohol starts working quickly after it enters the body. And, how does it work?

During the absorption process, about 20% of the administered alcohol immediately passes from the stomach into the blood, and the rest, about 80%, is absorbed through the small intestine. Then, ethanol is distributed from the blood to all tissues of the body.

7 factors that influence alcohol onset

For alcohol to work on the brain, it must enter the body, dissolve into a solution, be absorbed by the body and then distributed to the brain and other organs. And in the process, a number of different factors can affect the rate at which alcohol onset begins. The factors that affect alcohol’s onset, include:

1. Age – As you get older, body fat increases and body water content decreases. Such changes influence the processing of alcohol in the body, which makes older people more susceptible to its effects. Younger individuals are also at a greater risk of fast alcohol onset due to less weight and smaller size.

2. Size and weight – Those who are smaller in size weigh less will feel the onset of alcohol effects more quickly. This happens because they have less tissue in the body with which to absorb ethanol.

3. The concentration of alcohol – Basically, the greater the alcohol concentration, the faster the absorption. Beer contains 2-6% alcohol, wine contains 8-20% alcohol, and champagne contains 8-14% alcohol. Distilled spirits such as vodka, rum, and whiskey can contain from 40-95% alcohol.

4. The type of drink – Cocktails created as a mixture of several alcoholic drinks, or mixture of alcoholic drinks with juices and carbonated beverages tend to speed up the process of alcohol absorption.

5. Empty or full stomach – If you have just eaten, the food will slow down the absorption of alcohol and the onset of its effects. On the other hand, alcohol will be more easily and quickly absorbed on an empty stomach.

6. Gender – Alcohol affects women at a much faster rate than men. This is the result of several biological predispositions observed in women, such as:

  • generally smaller weight and size
  • more body fat and less water in body
  • lower level of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) – the enzyme that breaks down alcohol
  • quicker onset of effects just before a period and during ovulation

7. Tolerance to alcohol – The more you drink, the more drinks you need to feel the effects of alcohol. Tolerance is the process of having to drink a lot before you feel drunk, although at the beginning it only took 2-3 drinks to get the same effect.

When does alcohol peak?

According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is determined by three (3) primary factors:

  1. The amount of alcohol consumed
  2. The presence or absence of food in the stomach
  3. Factors which affect gastric emptying and the rate of alcohol oxidation

Alcohol’s peak time varies from 10 to 90 minutes after you have started drinking. Keep the previously listed factors that affect alcohol absorption in mind, because they directly influence the blood alcohol concentration levels.

When does alcohol wear off?

After the consumption alcohol leaves the system in two ways:

  1. 10% is excreted through breath, perspiration, and the urine
  2. 90% is metabolized

The body metabolizes alcohol at the rate of about 0.005 per twenty minutes. Regardless of age, size, or race, everyone metabolizes alcohol at the same pace. That pace is .015 of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) per hour. This means that for every hour you are not taking alcohol, .015 of the alcohol in your body is being metabolized and leaves the system.

Risks of alcohol addiction

Abusing alcohol for a longer period of time or having an alcohol addiction can cause you serious health problems. If you have an alcohol addiction you are putting yourself at risk of many behavioral, psychological and physical changes:

  • anemia
  • anxiety
  • cancer
  • cardiovascular problems
  • change in appearance
  • criminal behavior
  • depression
  • euphoria
  • liver damage
  • memory loss
  • mood changes
  • nerve damage

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When does alcohol kick in questions

Did we answer all that you wanted to know on the topic of alcohol onset and effects? If you feel you have more to ask, or simply have a comment, we encourage you to post it below. We’ll try to answer all legitimate inquiries personally and promptly. In case we don’t know the answer to your questions, we’ll refer you for sure to someone who does.

Reference Sources: Australian department of health: Alcohol
NIH: Alcohol Metabolism
NCBI: Alcohol Metabolism
NIH: Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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