In honor of my 21st birthday tomorrow, I have decided to post about the biology behind intoxication or in other words, what really happens to us on a night out drinking. Many young adults drink beer or liquor on a weekly basis when they go out socializing with friends but not so many of them know about what is really going on in their bodies when they drink these beverages. The main component working to get you drunk is obviously alcohol, but more specifically ethanol because it is water soluble.
When ethanol is consumed, the first place it travels to is your stomach. This is where the alcohol enters the water in your bloodstream. From there it travels to literally every other part of your body from muscles to skin and other organs like your lungs (this is how a breathalyzer is able to determine your blood alcohol content). The real damage (or bonus depending on how you look at it) however, doesn't happen until the ethanol reaches your brain.
Here, ethanol interacts with some of your neuronal receptors. One of which, the NMDA receptor, usually works by binding to a molecule glutamate to control memory functions. However, when ethanol is present, it binds to NMDA where glutamate normally would, blocking the site. Since glutamate can't bind, the receptor cannot do its job. This is the reason memory loss (or blacking-out) can occur with excessive drinking.
Another receptor it messes with is the GABA receptor. Instead of blocking GABA though, ethanol activates it. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that when it is activated it actually inhibits neuronal signals from transmitting. So when ethanol binds to it, it essentially slows the brain down. This is what gives us the euphoric feeling of being relaxed and stress free. It also is the reason people tend to be more talkative and confident when they are drunk.
So this weekend whether you find yourself cracking open a cold one or slapping the bag, think about what that ethanol is actually doing to your body. Or if you're too intoxicated to think that deep, think about it in the morning when you're hungover because that alcohol has dehydrated you. So don't forget to drink two cups of water before bed!
Posted by Kevin Barisano (1)
Thanks for sharing this, Kevin. It is definitely interesting knowing the science behind alcohol and how it effects our bodies internally. Do you know what happens to these receptors on the neurons as you continue to drink over the years?ReplyDelete
My research didn't extend this far but it is a great question. I can't imagine it has a positive effect but there may be some negative affects for these specific receptors.
It's crazy how damaging alcohol is and its affects on a persons body. I feel like when people drink they want that stress free and relaxed feeling that they forget about the consequences. But Happy 21st Kevin and have fun tonight :)ReplyDelete
Posted by Chelcie Claude
Thanks a lot informing us about this, definitely a very interesting topic that probably none of us have thought about. Very interesting to see how this all happens and the effects on our body and mind. Also Happy Birthday!ReplyDelete
Great post and very appropriate! I'd be curious to learn more about the effects on the various receptors and specifically what sort of combinations with other chemicals further impair or inhibit the receptors. I've heard lots of theories regarding drinking on an empty stomach vs. having a heavy carbohydrate meal before hand etc. I'm wondering if these anecdotes have any basis in science, or if they are purely anecdotal. It would be interesting to see if the effects of alcohol consumption can be slowed down or sped up depending on other chemicals present in your stomach.ReplyDelete
Posted by Kirk MacKinnonDelete
As I wrote above, the first place the ethanol travels to is your stomach. the food in your stomach soaks up some of the ethanol so the more food you have in there, the less ethanol can make it to your bloodstream.
When I think about what alcohol does to my body, I often focus more on how it damages my liver. Thank you for reminding us on the damages it does to our brain as well. I always wondered what caused a person to "black out". Now I know it's because the glutamate can't bind to NMDA.ReplyDelete
Posted by Amber Vien
There are clearly many other consequences and side effects of drinking alcohol; these were just two examples I thought fellow college students would relate to.
This was a great post because it is so relatable to your fellow college students, and is very interesting. I often wondered how exactly we "black out" from consuming alcohol. As other people have commented, I often joke about "my poor liver" after a weekend of drinking, but it is important to remember alcohol can impact us in other ways too. In recent media, many people have drawn attention to the harmful effects of drugs such as MDMA that have become more common on college campuses, but i think because alcohol has become so accepted students often over look the negative effects it has on their bodies and brain. Thanks for the blog post!ReplyDelete
Posted by Kristen Whitehead