Alcohol and the body
How does the body process alcohol?
The liver processes 90% of the alcohol we drink and the rest escapes from our bodies through our breath, sweat and urine. The liver can only metabolise a certain amount of alcohol per hour.
The speed at which we process alcohol depends on the amount of enzymes in our liver and this varies from person to person. After your first drink, the amount of alcohol in your blood will probably peak within 30-45 minutes.
Your body absorbs the alcohol faster than your liver can process it. Since the processing part is slow, it’s best to pace your drinking to stop the alcohol from building up in your body.
Our ability to process alcohol depends on:
- Alcohol concentration – one unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol - the amount of alcohol the average adult can process within an hour.
- Type of drink – fizzy drinks speed up how fast we absorb alcohol.
- Gender – women’s bodies absorb and processes alcohol differently to men. Women have a higher blood alcohol concentration, making them more susceptible to liver disease, heart muscle damage and brain damage.
- Size/weight – the smaller or lighter the person, the less tissue they have to absorb the alcohol, which means that alcohol is absorbed more quickly.
- Age - teenagers and older people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.
- Food – eating a balanced meal before drinking helps the body to absorb the alcohol more slowly and helps to eliminate alcohol from your body more quickly.
Until your liver processes all of the alcohol in your body, it gets spread throughout your body affecting your brain and other tissues. Find out more about how alcohol affects your brain and body