Alcohol kicks in faster than you might think. It enters the bloodstream immediately and affects your brain about ten minutes later. In fact, a small amount of the alcohol you drink is absorbed while it’s still in your mouth.

If your drinking gets out of control, it can be dangerous. That’s why it’s important to be aware of everything that affects alcohol absorption.

What If I Drink on an Empty Stomach?

Did you know that your stomach isn’t actually where most of the alcohol enters your blood? The stomach absorbs about 20% while the rest goes into the small intestine. If you’ve eaten, it takes longer to make it to the small intestine because the food gets in the way. Without any food in your stomach, though, the alcohol can enter the blood much faster. That means it kicks in much faster.

What Specifically is a “Drink” of Alcohol?

In order to answer how long it takes for alcohol to kick in, we’ll have to first take account of what an exact “drink” is. Alcoholic beverages come in different containers of differing amounts with different concentrations of alcohol. A full glass of strong liquor is, of course, going to kick in harder and faster than a few sips of beer, so we have to set standards.

Beer

Beer usually has between 4% and 10% alcohol. We define a drink of beer as 12 ounces. That’s the amount in most cans and bottles as well as the common pilsner glass at bars. If you buy a pint, though, that’s 16 ounces. More beer means more alcohol. 16 ounces in one hour will affect you more than 12 ounces in the same amount of time.

Wine

Wine is stronger than beer. It usually has between 12% and 18% alcohol. That means one “drink” is much less. A standard wine glass holds 5 ounces of wine. Fortified wine has even more alcohol, so a drink is only 3 or 4 ounces.

Liquor

Liquor is distilled alcohol. Whiskey, vodka, gin, rum and brandy are all types of liquor. It’s very strong, usually around 40 or 45% alcohol, and sometimes even more. That means a “drink” is just 1.5 ounces. That’s the amount in a normal shot glass.

Keep in mind that mixed drinks and cocktails are just shots of liquor mixed with other ingredients, so a margarita with one shot of tequila is one drink. However, if you “make it a double,” now you’re having two drinks.

What Else Affects How Fast Alcohol Kicks In?

Food is one of the biggest things that affects how fast alcohol kicks in. It’s not the only thing, though. You’ll have to take all things into account to get a better idea of how fast alcohol will affect you.

Time

The faster you drink something, the faster the body can absorb it. That’s why things like shots affect you very quickly. It’s important to remember the definition of a “drink.” If you drink 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor over the same time period, they’ll kick in at the same time. However, if you chug the beer in a few seconds while sipping on the liquor for an hour, the beer would kick in faster even though it’s not as strong.

Gender

Alcohol tends to kick in faster for women than for men. This is due to a lot of things. For one, men have more body water and blood to dilute the alcohol. An additional difference is that young men produce more liver enzymes to break down the alcohol and remove it from the blood.

Size

Alcohol kicks in faster for smaller people than bigger people. A bigger person simply has a bigger body to absorb the alcohol. They have to drink more to have the same effect. This is also a big part of why alcohol kicks in faster for women than men.

Medications

Alcohol competes with other drugs for space in your blood and liver. This is true even of over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol. It’s best to avoid alcohol when taking medication. It could be dangerous.

How to Slow Down Alcohol Absorption

Drinking responsibly means keeping your rate of alcohol absorption down. These tips will help you drink without it getting out of hand.

  • Eat no more than an hour before you drink.
  • Drink slowly. In other words, sip, don’t chug.
  • Avoid shots.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, which can make alcohol enter the blood faster.
  • Drink a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have.
  • Don’t drink more than one drink per hour.

Keep all this in mind while you’re drinking. The body absorbs alcohol quickly, so it’s best to drink in a controlled and responsible manner.

Sources:

  1. ABC of alcohol: Alcohol in the body.
  2. Factors that affect how alcohol is absorbed & metabolized.
  3. Overview of alcohol consumption.
  4. Gastric Alcohol Dehydrogenase Activity in Man: Influence of Gender, Age, Alcohol Consumption and Smoking in a Caucasian Population.

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