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)