Drink, drank or drunk \u2013 whatever state of imbibing you\u2019re in, the way you metabolize alcohol has an impact. From genes that affect alcohol metabolism from that first sip of wine to metabolic processes that contribute to that nasty hangover, alcohol\u2019s journey through your body is complex. When you drink alcohol, you lose 2 to 8% through sweat, saliva, breath and urine. Here\u2019s what happens to the other 92 to 98% of it: \tAlcohol moves through the digestive system and is absorbed into the bloodstream, brain, stomach and small intestines. \tYour brain ups the amount of dopamine, its feel-good chemical, and GABA, its inhibitory neurotransmitter, all the while decreasing glutamate, the excitatory neurotransmitter. These changes make you feel buzzed and relaxed. Too much alcohol and these effects intensify from a pleasant buzz to less desirable traits like slurred speech, clumsiness, slower reaction times and intense emotions. \tThe liver takes center stage for alcohol metabolism. It does most of the heavy lifting tied to breaking down alcohol so it can be excreted from the body. The primary enzymes that help \u201cbreak apart\u201d alcohol are: \tAlcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) - This enzyme metabolizes alcohol to acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance and carcinogen. \tAldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) - The ALDH enzyme breaks acetaldehyde down into a less toxic substance, acetate, which is further metabolized by other enzymes into water and carbon dioxide so the body can eliminate it. How Long Does Alcohol Metabolism Take? As a rule of thumb, it takes about one hour for your body to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. However, the time alcohol metabolism takes is also impacted by these factors: Enzymes The amount of metabolizing enzymes in the liver varies between people. If you have fewer \u201calcohol enzymes,\u201d it will take longer to metabolize alcohol. Age As you age, less body water and slower alcohol metabolism increases your sensitivity to alcohol, keeping larger amounts of it in your system longer (especially if you\u2019re 65 or older). Weight Alcohol\u2019s intoxicating effect decreases as weight increases, i.e., smaller people get drunk faster than those who have more meat on their bones. Gender Women may get buzzed off less alcohol than men. That\u2019s because women have less of the ADH enzyme, are usually smaller and have less water in their bodies than men, so alcohol stays in their system longer. Timing The longer the time between drinks, the lower your blood alcohol content (BAC) will remain. More time between drinks gives the liver longer to metabolize alcohol. Medication Certain medications can interfere with alcohol metabolism, essentially \u201ccompeting for attention\u201d from the same enzymes involved in metabolizing processes. These include some types of analgesics (pain medications), antidepressants and antibiotics. Food Intake Contrary to popular belief, food doesn\u2019t \u201csoak up\u201d alcohol, keeping you from getting drunk faster. In reality, ADH enzymes are higher when you have food in your stomach and food can also increase liver blood flow. Both of these conditions aid in quicker alcohol metabolism. Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is typically at its highest between 30 to 45 minutes after consuming one standard drink. A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor or 12 ounces of beer. Do Genes Affect Alcohol Metabolism? Genetics can affect the ADH and ALDH enzymes in different ways. For example, genes can cause different forms of enzymes, which can impact alcohol metabolism in ways like processing it at faster and slower rates. This is similar to the way genes can impact the rates of antidepressant metabolism. The two most studied of these alcohol gene variations include: Beta3 Class I ADH Isoforms Some ethnic groups such as Native Americans may carry a certain form of ADH (beta3 class I ADH isoforms) that cause them to eliminate alcohol at a higher rate than those without this form. Alcohol Flush Reaction A condition called alcohol flush reaction occurs in about 36% of people of Asian descent. It causes their skin to appear blotchy and red, and happens when they metabolize alcohol too quickly and have too little of the ALDH enzyme. This results in an excess of acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol. How Does Alcohol Metabolism Contribute to Hangovers? Many factors go into creating a hangover, including the way alcohol is metabolized. When alcohol is processed in the liver, it\u2019s first converted into acetaldehyde, a very toxic substance. Luckily, the next step in alcohol metabolism is to break acetaldehyde into a less toxic form and excrete it from the body. However, if you\u2019re drinking alcohol more quickly than your body can metabolize it, you\u2019re going to end up having large amounts of this toxin in your system for longer periods of time, which isn\u2019t good for anyone. Large amounts of acetaldehyde can lead to vomiting and headaches. Other reasons for hangover symptoms include dehydration, excess stomach acid, low blood sugar, expanded blood vessels and sleep disturbances. Alcohol Metabolism and Disease Regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to excessive amounts of toxic byproducts given off during alcohol metabolism. This puts you at greater risk for a number of cancers like: \tUpper respiratory tract cancers \tLiver cancer \tColon and rectum cancer \tBreast cancer Some people are less affected by carcinogens than others. Researchers theorize it has something to do with having certain genes that offer a \u201cprotective factor.\u201d Some heavy drinkers never develop alcohol-related cancers while some moderate drinkers do. Science is still trying to sort out these details. In the meantime, why risk it? If you\u2019re rolling the dice, drinking more than you should and hoping you have \u201cthe right genes\u201d so you avoid potential health consequences, it might be time to take a closer look at your drinking patterns.