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Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs

Absorption Rate Factors

Why does alcohol affect people differently? Your level of intoxication varies according to an individual's physiological and biological factors. Drinking the same amount as your friend will affect you in different ways. The following are some factors that may come into play in the absorption of alcohol. Keep these in mind to better prepare your limits.

Factors that effect how alcohol is absorbed

Males have a higher concentration of an enzyme that allows them to break down alcohol more effectively than a woman. Also, alcohol is water-soluble and women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat, which does not absorb alcohol and thus results in a higher blood alcohol concentration. An additional factor is hormone differences. Research suggests that the menstrual cycle and the use of any medication containing estrogen may influence the liver's ability to metabolize alcohol.

Body Weight
A larger person has more blood and water in their body and will have a lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than the smaller individual.

Full vs. Empty Stomach
When food is ingested, the pyloric valve at the bottom of the stomach will close in order to hold food in the stomach for digestion and thus keep the alcohol from reaching the small intestine. The larger the meal and closer in time to drinking, the lower the peak of alcohol concentration; some studies indicate up to a 20% reduction in peak blood alcohol level.

High Stress vs. Relaxed
High Stress vs. Relaxed Alcohol is absorbed more quickly from the small intestine than it is from the stomach. Stress causes the stomach to empty directly into the small intestine, where alcohol is absorbed even faster. Decreased stress has been shown to slow the rate of gastric emptying which in turn delays the absorption of alcohol, and peak blood alcohol concentrations are reduced. (Holt, 1981)

Liquor mixed with soda or other bubbly drinks speeds up the passage of alcohol from the stomach to the small intestine, which increases the speed of absorption.

Other drugs and medications often have adverse effects and unpredictable interactions with alcohol. Know the potential interactions with medications/drugs you may be taking and whether or not alcohol use is contraindicated.

Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, can cause significant liver complications if paired with alcohol. Antihistamines can make you drowsy and the depressant effects of alcohol will amplify that feeling. You can ask a doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to drink alcohol while taking a medication or over-the-counter drug. Find out more about harmful interactions from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Health Concerns
Health Concerns Your body may be predisposed to handling alcohol poorly. Genetic enzyme deficiencies (alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase), diabetes, hypertension, depression, seizure disorder, and other health conditions may decrease your body's ability to process alcohol and therefore present increased health risks. Alcohol use may exacerbate these conditions and/or increase your risk of developing chronic diseases

Chugging vs. Sipping
Going overboard when drinking is like overdosing. Your body may respond by shutting down. First, your cognitive system shuts down and you lose your inhibitions. Pour in more alcohol, and your body might force you to vomit (first sign of alcohol overdose), or pass out (other brain functions shut down). Finally, your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems will shut down due to a systemic alcohol overdose. Enjoy your drink more slowly and spread out your drinking over time. You can more effectively monitor your level of intoxication.


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Boynton Health

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Minneapolis, MN, 55455

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