Alcohol Intoxication Facts
Alcohol Intoxication Causes
Alcohol is a generic term for ethanol, which is a particular type of alcohol produced by the fermentation of many foodstuffs - most commonly barley, hops, and grapes. Other types of alcohol commonly available such as methanol (common in glass cleaners), isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), and ethylene glycol (automobile antifreeze solution) are highly poisonous when swallowed, even in small quantities.
Ethanol produces intoxication because of its depressive effects on various areas of the brain causing the following physical and mental impairments in a progressive order as the persons alcohol level increases (the person becomes more and more intoxicated).
What happens to brain function: Alcohol increases the effect of the body's naturally occurring neurotransmitter GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). Neurotransmitters are substances that chemically connect the signals from one nerve to the next allowing a signal to flow along a neural pathway. An inhibitory neurotransmitter (alcohol) reduces this signal flow in the brain. This explains how alcohol depresses both a person's mental and physical activities. By way of comparison, cocaine does the opposite by producing a general excitatory effect on the nervous system.
Available forms and measurement: A standard "drink" of ethanol consists of 10 grams. This amount is equal to:
Absorption: Approximately 20% of ethanol is absorbed into the bloodstream directly from the stomach, and 80% from the small intestine. Consequently, the longer the ethanol/alcohol remains in the stomach, the slower it will be absorbed and the lower the peak in the blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
Distribution: Ethanol is highly soluble in water and is absorbed much less in fat. So alcohol tends to distribute itself mostly in tissues rich in water (muscle) instead of those rich in fat.
Metabolism (elimination): Metabolism is the method by which the body processes alcohol and everything else a person eats or drinks. Some of the alcohol is converted to other substances (such as fat, as in "beer belly"). Some is burned as energy and converted to water and carbon dioxide. A small amount is excreted unchanged in the breath and urine. The liver metabolizes about 90% of the ethanol. The lungs excrete about 5% during exhalation (breathing out). Alcohol excretion by the lungs forms the basis for Breathalyzer testing. Another 5% is excreted into the urine.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
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