You’ve been out at your favorite cidery and, in the passing hours, you may have had one too many. You start to feel glued to your seat, a bit chattier with the young lady or fellow next to you, and ready to smack the guy changing the jukebox. You also forget it is 2017 and there aren’t jukeboxes. What is this strange sensation taking over your body? Buddy, you are drunk, plain and simple. In all the times you have been plastered to the wall, do you understand what is actually happening? Why does alcohol get you drunk? Let’s find out…
Ethanol. You’ve heard of it before, I am certain. It is contained in what you drink and takes the ride to the stomach just like the rest of the ingredients. The major difference with ethanol, though, is that it is water-soluble and pure chaos. As it gets into the digestive system, the stomach and small intestine, it passes into small blood vessels into your bloodstream. All aboard! Just for ratio’s sake, your stomach absorbs about 20% of the alcohol while the small intestine takes in the remaining 80%.
As you absorb the alcohol into your bloodstream, it finds routes through your cell membrane and into the vital organs. Ethanol is small enough to go anywhere in the body, and that’s how it does such a wonderful job on your thinker, the brain. It fits into small spaces of the brain, challenging the nerve receptors. Ethanol binds with one neurotransmitter named glutamate, and, boom, you have some excited neurons. As those two chat and carry on, your body’s stimuli are becoming more and more unaware, slowing reaction time. In the process, Ethanol’s brother Ethanol (parents weren’t creative, I guess) binds with GABA. No, not Yo Gabba Gabba!. We are talking gamma aminobutyric acid, but you already knew that. When these two bind, they fatigue the body, only furthering the bodies slowed reaction time.
So, that one drink doesn’t seem so hard to handle and you don’t feel bogged down. But, I hate to say it, your body is reacting to even one drink. And after a few, you are going to feel the effects. The more you drink, the more these receptors are slowed. That’s why that extra cider or mead can make you fall further into a drunken state.
How does the body react to all of this alcohol excitement? The liver is dutiful and ready to do its job in metabolizing and breaking down the alcohol with some handy-dandy enzymes. Our liver has the capability of handling roughly one ounce of alcohol within an hour. But, knowing you and our foolish ways, a few extra drinks slip into the system (oops!). Now, more and more of these evil ninjas are passing into the system and we only have one Chuck Norris to fend them off. And, while I understand his great strength, ever hero has his limits. He is overtaken. Your liver can no longer process more of the alcohol and it is oversaturated. The unprocessed alcohol sits in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized. Some of the alcohol is excreted through the process of sweating, hitting the little boys or girls room, and through the lungs — FYI, this is how breathalyzer tests work. As all that alcohol sits, the brain and organs are only more and more affected, as your receptors are continually bogged down.
Until everything is metabolized, you are going to have the alcoholic impairment. That’s why blood alcohol content, or BAC, is so important in determining someone’s level of drunkenness. It shows how drunk you are and how long until you are no longer deeply impaired. The liver just needs some time to process and recover. But, man, do you have a headache.
We aren’t going to fully tackle the nature of a hangover, but we will tell you it is caused by a combination of ethanol and other chemicals in your alcohol beverage (toxic ones) getting into the systems and waiting to be flushed. The best way to avoid a hangover is to alternate drinking your cider or mead with water, giving your body the sufficient time it needs to process the alcohol. As you drink, you are becoming dehydrated and your body suffers, feeling icky and sicky. Alternating your drink with water keeps the systems fully functional the following morning by diluting the alcohol, allowing for easier system flushing & prevention of operational interference.
All in all, cider and mead consumption, like all alcohol, should be done in moderation. The more you are responsible the more fun can be had. And we know no one likes hangovers.