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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Conrad

How Much Is Too Much Alcohol?

I think we all know what alcohol does to us, so here's some more info to make you feel guilty the next time you drink...jk. Here's more information on how it affects your body and is metabolized.

Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is the most commonly consumed drug globally, with an estimated 1.6 gallons (6.1 L) consumed by each person (over the age of 15) a year.


Alcohol is unlike carbs and fats. Ethanol is not essential for biological function and is, therefore, perceived as a toxin. For the body to remove it, the metabolism of ethanol takes priority above the use of other energy providing macronutrients. 7.1 kcals per gram of ethanol are used as energy. It is not required in the diet and, therefore, has no beneficial function. SURPRISE.


When you drink, a small amount is immediately metabolized in the stomach lining, but the rest of the alcohol passes unaltered into the bloodstream. Once in circulation, the water solubility of ethanol allows it to diffuse into the majority of tissues, particularly the liver, due to the flow of blood directly from the stomach. How fast we absorb it depends on your sex, body mass, the type of beverage consumed, whether the stomach is empty, and how fast you drink.


It doesn't really matter what type of food is in the stomach, but the presence of food makes the difference in absorption rates.

Concentrated alcoholic beverages (spirits) have a greater rise in blood alcohol content because each drink contains more ethanol. This effect is influenced by fed/fasted state. Ethanol from concentrated alcoholic beverages may be absorbed at a greater rate than dilute alcoholic beverages, such as beer, when the stomach is empty. But, the opposite is true.

When food has been consumed prior to or during alcohol consumption, dilute alcoholic beverages are absorbed at a greater rate than concentrated alcoholic beverages.

Additionally, consuming ethanol in carbonated beverages may result in a greater rate of absorption than when consuming alcohol in noncarbonated beverages.


Females tend to have a stronger reaction to alcohol due to several physiological differences:

1. People with more total body water (usually males) and those with greater amounts of lean muscle mass will require a few more drinks to feel effects. When total body water is accounted for, no difference in blood alcohol content (BAC) is evident between females and males.

2. Also due to chemical differences, less ethanol enters the bloodstream after a male consumes an alcoholic beverage.


90% is metabolized in the liver and 10% is excreted through great, sweat, urine. Because metabolism isn’t increased when ethanol enters, absorption of ethanol at a rate greater than that of ethanol metabolism will see BAC rise and intoxication begin.


If the goal is fat loss, drinking ethanol often is counterproductive. The acetate from ethanol metabolism provides ample acetyl-CoA to the aerobic pathways, thus reducing the body's need to utilize its own fat stores. Furthermore, by meeting energy needs with acetate, carbohydrates and fats consumed along with the alcoholic beverage will be treated like any other excess calories and be stored for later, creating a two-fold roadblock to optimal body composition management. Basically, alcohol takes priority and puts a halt to your body's metabolism of protein, fats and carbs. Read that again.


Risk taking behavior leading to accidents, falls, injury and death


Gut irritation and diarrhea

Inflamed pancreas

Sexual problems


Suicidal behavior

Increased stress, aggravation, and tension

Aggravating sleep disorders

Implementing Alcohol into a Healthy Diet

Be aware that when you drink alcohol it has no additional nutritive value and is considered an empty source of energy. It is recommended, 1 drink max for women a day and 2 drinks max for men a day. MAX.

Overindulgence on a regular basis we actually reduce lean muscle mass, testosterone, and protein synthesis.

Whether it's 1 drink or 5, poor dietary choices are often made before, during, and after alcohol is consumed, leading to excess caloric intake. Physical activity levels tend to decrease as habitual ethanol intake increases.

But, we're all adults. Make your own decision on whether you want a drink or not. Just be aware of the consequences and how it may affect your health.

Questions to ask yourself

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

2. How many drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day you are drinking?

3. How often do you have X (5 for men; 4 for women & men over 65) or more drinks on one occasion?

1 drink = Any alcoholic beverage that contains 0.6 ounces of ethanol.

Effects on the Central Nervous System

Ethanol acts as a depressant on the CNS. Once absorbed, it crosses the blood brain barrier allowing it to act in CNS - the greater the dose the more extreme the effect. Alters cortical excitability and the way signals are transmitted in CNS.

Increased activity in the limbic region, through the actions of dopamine and serotonin, reinforce the pleasure associated with ethanol consumption, making it a highly addictive drug.

May cause permanent damage: memory loss, learning difficulties, psychosis, mental confusion, and, in extreme cases, paralysis.

Effects on the Cardiovascular System

Drinking ethanol is likely to acutely increase heart rate and even blood pressure. Chronic, harmful ethanol consumption is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

In hot environments, ethanol-related increases in peripheral vasodilation (increased blood flow to the skin), along with increased feelings of being hot. Caution should also be taken when consuming ethanol in cold environments, as perceptions of cold and thermal discomfort are reduced, which may lead to a greater time exposed to the cold. Both scenarios put an individual at risk of developing hypothermia.

Effects on Immune and Hormonal Function

Acute alcohol consumption makes us more susceptible to infection and impacting recovery after illness or trauma.

Ethanol can alter normal hormone secretion with a reduction in testosterone in men and an increase in estrogen in both sexes. These changes may impact muscle mass, bone density, fertility, and sexual function and may contribute to the increased risk of breast cancer in females.

Sources: NASM Nutrition Coach 2019

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