In short, when you drink, the alcohol goes into your bloodstream. Ethanol is the substance in alcohol that causes you to feel intoxicated. The molecules in ethanol are so small that they fit through the gaps between your brain cells. There, the molecules inhibit the neurotransmitters in your brain, which causes you to feel drunk.
Here are the details:
- Ethanol is a water-soluble substance that enters your body when you drink alcohol. After the ethanol enters your digestive system, it passes through the bloodstream, which takes it through the cell membranes and the heart. It spends quite a bit of time in the brain, where it has slowing effects on the central nervous system. While inside the brain, ethanol causes the release of dopamine, which causes you to feel good. Also, the dopamine links with your nerve receptors.
- One of these receptors, glutamate, is particularly cohesive to ethanol. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that usually excites neurons, but binding to ethanol prevents the glutamate from becoming active, causing the brain to respond slower to stimuli. The ethanol also binds with GABA, or gamma aminobutyric acid, which becomes more activated, causing you to feel sleepy and calm. Naturally, the intensity of drunkenness hinges on other factors, too. Age, gender, weight, how much food you ate today, can all factor into how much alcohol it takes to intoxicate you.
- Eventually, the enzymes in the liver will metabolize at the rate of about 1 ounce per hour, but over a long period of time, the process can damage your liver. Alcohol can also be breathed out through the lunges or excreted by the kidneys in the form of urine.
- A flood of alcohol, which is about 1 liter of spirits, can slow brain function to the point that it fails to send vital signals to the body, such as those that regulate heart rate and breathing. Alcohol poisoning or acute intoxication can be fatal if you pass out and your brain fails to send your body the signal to breathe. Another common cause of death is that the gag reflex is suppressed and the person aspirates, meaning that they inhale their own vomit and choke to death.