Any experienced drinker knows that no two nights of drinking lead to an identical morning after. Some mornings it may feel like you simply didn’t log enough sleep, while others like a truck ran over your head… twice. But do you know why? Modern science claims that “alcohol is alcohol,” yet many who drink swear different alcoholic beverages cause significantly different reactions in their mental and physical state. The truth, as always, is not black and white. While the way alcohol is metabolized in the body is consistent no matter what you are drinking, different people drinking the same thing may react differently and the same people drinking different things may also react differently. So what gives? The way you feel after drinking depends on a variety of factors, including who you are, what you drink and how you drink it.
First, it is important to note that the body does technically metabolize all alcohol the same way. To put it simply, once a drink enters the stomach it will be carried by blood vessels to the blood stream. There, about 20% of the alcohol is absorbed while the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine. Once there, the alcohol will enter the blood stream through the small intestine walls and then be metabolized by the liver. On average, the liver can process one ounce of liquor per hour. When you consume alcohol at a faster rate, your system becomes saturated and the additional alcohol will accumulate in your blood stream until it can become metabolized. This is where feeling drunk begins.
Your body metabolizes all alcohol this way, from a pint of beer to a glass of wine to a shot of vodka. So what leads to different outcomes? First of all, women metabolize alcohol at a different rate than men. This has been attributed to women having less body water, so the percentage of alcohol entering their blood stream is a higher, leading them to become drunk more quickly. Additionally, things like body weight, medications and how much food you’ve eaten that day can all affect how quickly you become intoxicated by affecting the alcohol absorption in the stomach. This is why smaller women tend may be considered “lightweights” and why you should always eat dinner before drinking.
It may not be a surprise to you that a cheerleader becomes drunk more quickly than a husky football player, but the content of a drink and your mindset during drinking can affect your degree of intoxication as well. If you’re drinking a mixed drink, it likely includes soda or fruit juice. Soda, or any other carbonated beverage, speeds up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and will leave you feeling drunker faster. Not only that, the caffeine present in soda will keep you alert, meaning you may not realize how significantly the alcohol is affecting you until you are already too drunk. Likewise, using a fruit juice as a mixer masks the taste of alcohol due to the acidity and sugar. Not being able to taste the alcohol in a drink will lead to drinking faster which leads to – you guessed it – becoming drunk more quickly than if you were drinking, say, a vodka on the rocks where you can taste how strong it is.
Perhaps you have heard someone claim “tequila makes me crazy” or “whiskey makes me mean.” When considering that all alcohol is metabolized the same way, it might lead you to believe that these differences aren’t possible. If you took two people of identical gender, height and weight and gave one an ounce of whiskey and one an ounce of tequila and asked them to drink at the same rate, they would likely have identical reactions. However, in reality this is not how people drink.