Why do we dance on the tables when drunk, why do we crave
chips at 3am and why do we feel so, so awful the next day?
What makes you feel drunk?
When a person drinks an alcoholic beverage, about 20% of
the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and about 80% is
absorbed in the small intestine.
One of the most rapid affects of alcohol is on the central
nervous system (CNS), which controls a range of vital body
functions including speech, muscles, sense organs and sweat
Usually the CNS receives information from organs such as
the eyes and ears, analyses it and then responds, perhaps
by contracting a muscle. However, alcohol impairs our CNS
functioning which, in turn, causes the usual symptoms of
being drunk. These include disturbed balance, slurred speech,
blurred vision, excess sweating and the dulling of our sensation
Alcohol also affects the outer layer of the brain (the
frontal cortex) that is concerned with conscious thought.
This is why people under the influence of alcohol often
lose their inhibitions and dance on the tables.
What makes you feel so lousy?
Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it encourages
the body to lose more water than it takes on by halting
the production of the body's anti-diuretic hormone. This
means you feel the need to pee excessively, thus speeding
up the loss of fluid from the body that leads to dehydration.
Alcohol also attacks our stores of vitamins and minerals,
which need to be in the correct balance for the body to
function normally. Dehydration caused by drinking can affect
the balance by draining potassium from the body, resulting
in thirst, muscle cramps, dizziness and faintness.
The shakes: When a person drinks, they take in large quantities
of increased glucose. Their body responds to this by producing
more insulin, which removes the glucose. Once the process
has started, the insulin carries on working removing glucose
from the blood. Low blood glucose levels are responsible
for the shakes, excess sweating, dizziness, blurred vision
Munchies: To overcome this feeling of lethargy the body
craves a carbohydrate boost, which is why many people want
chips when they have been drinking.
Breaking it down
The liver is the main organ that gets rid of alcohol by
breaking it down. It metabolises about 90% of the alcohol
in our body while only about 10% is excreted through either
our urine or breath. The liver metabolises alcohol at the
rate of one to two units per hour, sometimes less than that
The liver needs water to get rid of toxins from the body
but, as alcohol acts as a diuretic, there will not be sufficient
amounts in the body, so the liver is forced to divert water
from other organs including the brain, which causes the
The liver also produces more toxins in the body as a by-product
during the breakdown of alcohol. When the liver is metabolising
alcohol it produces acetaldehyde, a substance which has
toxic effects on our liver, brain and stomach lining, resulting
in severe headache, nausea, vomiting and heartburn (aka
Alcohol interferes with sleeping rhythms, while dehydration
reduces the quality of rest we get. Alcohol also relaxes
the muscles in the back of your mouth, increasing the likelihood
The Morning after
If your alcohol consumption was fairly high the night before,
then you will be greeted with more than a common hangover
the next day. You could have one or all of these:
" The toxicity of alcohol can irritate the stomach
causing gastritis (chronic stomach upset) often leading
" Alcohol can cause inflammation of the oesophagus,
the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach,
" Alcohol often affects your bowel movements. The small
and large intestine reabsorb salt and water but alcohol
interferes with this process often causing diarrhoea.