HOW THE BODY PROCESSES ALCOHOL
The speed at which your body processes alcohol and the amount of alcohol you consume determine how long alcohol is in your system. Alcohol is processed, or metabolized, in the body more quickly than most substances, and a very high percentage of the amount consumed is actually metabolized. Alcohol typically enters the body through the mouth. It then travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. Alcohol metabolism begins in the stomach. Small blood vessels encounter alcohol there and begin to transport it throughout the bloodstream. Approximately 20% of the alcohol that enters the blood stream does so in the stomach. The remaining alcohol travels through the small intestine where it encounters greater concentrations of blood vessels. The 80% of alcohol that doesn’t enter the bloodstream through the stomach does so through the small intestine.
Once in the blood, alcohol is rapidly transported throughout the entire body, which is why alcohol impacts so many different body systems. Most alcohol that enters the body eventually ends up in the liver, where the vast majority of alcohol metabolism takes place. Because the liver does most of the heavy lifting in alcohol processing, it is generally the part of the body that is most impacted and damaged by long term alcohol abuse.
The two enzymes that are primarily responsible for alcohol processing are found in the liver, both of which break down ethyl alcohol (drinking alcohol) into Acetaldehyde, which is then further broken down into substances the body can absorb. Alcohol dehydrogenase (also found in the stomach) breaks down almost all of the alcohol consumed by light, social drinkers. Alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol into energy. Cytocrome P450 2E1 is very active in the livers of chronic, heavy drinkers. This enzyme actually drains the body of energy in order to break down alcohol.