Science Behind: Why We Get Drunk

So you’re nearly half way through Freshers week and you may have already experienced some of Nottingham’s best nights out. After quite a few drinks, and far too many shots, with your new friends, it’s likely a few of you didn’t remember much the day after. But just why do we get drunk?

The liver is responsible for breaking down over 90% of the ethanol, taking about an hour to break down one to two units. Alcohol travels from the stomach to the small intestines where it is absorbed into the blood. Ethanol is water soluble so is easily transported around the body in the blood.

But when is the moment that you start to feel drunk? That comes after the blood has absorbed more alcohol than has been broken down by the liver and removed from the body. The metabolized fluid is then transported from the kidneys to the bladder which produces an excessive amount of urine. This increased loss of fluid causes dehydration which is the reason for the nasty hangover in the morning.

Though you’re confidence might grow due to alcohol, unfortunately your sexual performance will decrease because alcohol disrupts the release of hormones from the hypothalamus.

The reason it is difficult to focus or walk in a straight line when drunk is due to the affect alcohol has on your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released by nerve cells that are transmitted across synapses and cause a nervous response; alcohol disrupts these chemical messengers and slows down brain activity.

Alcohol increases the response to GABA which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that decreases the activity of brain activity. Ethanol also attaches to glutamate receptors which prevents this excitatory neurotransmitter from binding, making you slow and slurring your speech.

The initial euphoric, happy feeling comes because alcohol increases the production of dopamine, which controls the reward and pleasure centres of the brain, while your lack of co-ordination comes from depression of the movement centre of the brain called the cerebellum.

There is also a large influx of blood glucose which causes a higher release of insulin to counteract it. Blood glucose levels then drop which makes you tired and shake. The cravings for McDonalds come because your body needs carbohydrates for energy to overcome this sluggish feeling.

Alcohol affects the levels of ions and minerals in the body making you thirsty or dizzy. The dreaded headache you receive the next day is due to the body needing more water to remove the toxins. This means the liver must focus water away from the brain and organs to removing the toxins in urine. So this is the reason to drink water after a night of heavy drinking, or you are likely to wake up with a heavy head the next day, and be left wondering just what happened last night?

Jessica Hewitt-Dean


Leave a Reply