Alcohol On An Empty Stomach: What Happens In The Body?

Have you ever wondered what happens in your body after drinking alcohol on an empty stomach? Discover the most important side effects that come with it here.

Alcohol on an empty stomach: what happens in the body?

Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is something everyone does at some point, be it after work, on a night out with friends, or in any other situation. But is it safe to do so? Are there any consequences for this type of alcohol consumption if you haven’t eaten before? We’ll tell you!

The consumption of alcoholic beverages is generally accepted in society. However, the World Health Organization reports that 3 million people worldwide are killed every year from consuming alcoholic beverages. It is even a risk factor for more than 200 diseases.

How does the body absorb alcohol?

The process of ingesting alcohol begins with its ingestion through the mouth. Because this substance has a low molecular weight, it easily passes through cell membranes and from there into blood vessels. As a result, the mouth, esophagus, and stomach can absorb tiny amounts.

Once the alcohol reaches the stomach, this organ absorbs 15 to 20%. The substance then enters the small intestine, where the main absorption takes place. This process then continues to 80% in the first and second part of the intestine (duodenum and jejunum). The final part of absorption ultimately takes place in the colon.

The WHO warns that alcohol consumption is harmful
The World Health Organization warns that no amount of alcohol is safe for health.

Alcohol on an empty stomach: how does food help or affect absorption?

The absorption of ethanol in the duodenum and jejunum is faster than in the stomach. For this reason, the rate at which the stomach empties is an important determinant of the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed by a person.

In this regard, science shows that the ability to absorb this substance increases when the stomach is empty. This is because the contact area decreases (Fick’s law) and gastric emptying slows down.

However, fatty foods would be the exception to this rule, as they affect gastric motility differently than other nutrients. In particular, they increase exercise and ensure that alcohol gets into the blood faster.

Fortunately, foods high in carbohydrates and proteins cause absorption to be slow and the concentration of alcohol in the blood to decrease by up to 25%.

Consequently, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach leads to higher plasma ethanol concentrations and increased toxic effects.

Alcohol content and absorption in the body

On the other hand, the absorption increases if the drink in question has an alcohol content of 20 to 35%, since these do not induce strong muscle movements compared to drinks with an alcohol content above this value.

Likewise, when a person swallows a large amount at once, the absorption of ethanol increases, but not when a person swallows small amounts several times.

General effects of alcohol on the body

Like everything we ingest, the liver is the organ responsible for metabolizing ethanol as it converts this substance into acetaldehyde and then into acetic acid. In addition, the body excretes the remaining 5 to 10% through urine, sweat and breathing.

However, as long as ethanol is still present in the blood, it affects the nervous system. Because of this, classic symptoms such as the following appear:

  • The feeling of being uninhibited
  • Indistinct speech
  • Loss of coordination

It is important to note that high doses of alcohol can cause poisoning, which includes other symptoms such as:

  • Nausea, choking and vomiting
  • confusion
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Sudden loss of coordination
  • Slow or abnormal breathing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • unconsciousness
  • Faint

Alcohol in women

It’s also important to note that women tend to have lower body mass than men. They also have a higher proportion of fat and a lower concentration of the enzyme “acetaldehyde dehydrogenase” (responsible for the formation of acetic acid) in the gastric mucosa.

For these three reasons, women tend to be more drunk than men when they drink the same amount of alcohol.

Alcohol in pregnant women

When pregnant women consume ethanol, it passes through the placenta from the mother’s blood to the fetus. Babies, for example, are exposed to the same blood alcohol levels as their mothers, which can lead to a variety of serious complications.

Prevention and Recommendations

When it comes to health, it is best to avoid alcohol consumption. If you do drink, especially on an empty stomach, here are some things to consider:

  • Choose a drink with a low alcohol content.
  • Drink water or other non-alcoholic liquids between sips of your alcoholic beverage.
  • Drink slowly and only in small amounts. 
  • Eat something an hour before drinking.
Alcohol is absorbed faster if you drink it on an empty stomach
Drinking alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach accelerates their absorption and increases their harmful effects.

What can you do to make you feel better after drinking alcohol on an empty stomach?

Drinking on an empty stomach increases the risk of the famous side effect popularly known as a “hangover.” This usually happens the next day after you’ve had a lot of alcohol or high-proof alcohol.

Common symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Dizziness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or think clearly
  • a headache
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Stomach discomfort

While these issues will go away on their own over time, you can consider the following tips to reduce them:

  • Drink water, broths, or fruit juices throughout the day
  • Try to sleep off the hangover
  • Eat easily digestible foods such as toast, crackers, and gelatin
  • Take pain relievers like ibuprofen to relieve any headache

It is never good to drink alcohol on an empty stomach

Alcohol is a substance that is harmful in itself, since its excessive consumption is linked to the development of various diseases.

When consumed on an empty stomach, the alcohol can have a greater impact on the body due to its rapid absorption. Since ethanol gets into the bloodstream earlier, it causes its classic effects and increases the risk of poisoning.

To prevent this from happening, it is advisable to eat something before drinking any alcoholic beverages. At the same time, it is ideal to drink plenty of water and avoid excessive alcohol. The best way to make sure alcohol isn’t affecting your health is to avoid it completely.

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