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Hour by hour, how excess tippling plays havoc with your mind and body

on 20/12/11 at 11:44 am

Booze News

Why is that first festive drink so cheering — and why can’t you stop there? And what exactly makes you feel so dreadful the morning after?

As the Christmas party season gets into full swing, we ask the experts what happens to the body during and after drinking alcohol — and how you can minimise its effects.


When that first drink reaches your stomach, the alcohol enters your bloodstream, where it makes a beeline straight for your brain’s pleasure centres.

After just one drink, alcohol boosts the levels of four key brain chemicals — dopamine, serotonin, naturally occurring opioids and gamma-aminobutyric acid.

‘These combine to induce feelings of euphoria, relaxation and disinhibition,’ explains Dr Bhaskar Punukollu, a specialist addiction psychiatrist at the Clinical Partners practice, and at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust in London.

‘This euphoria is at its peak when you first start drinking. However, after several more drinks, the brain receptors for these chemicals become saturated, and drinking more alcohol doesn’t produce a greater high.

‘The brain simply can’t generate enough of the same level of dopamine or other chemicals again to make you feel as happy as when you first started.’

There’s some truth behind the claims you should line your stomach with food.

‘Roughly, you absorb about one unit of alcohol an hour, but drink after some food and the rate it enters your bloodstream is slowed,’ Dr Punukollu says.

‘Food absorbs some of the alcohol, and while the gut is absorbing key nutrients from the food, it’ll be far less efficient in absorbing the alcohol.’

Despite having the same number of drinks, someone who starts on an empty stomach can have three times more alcohol in their blood compared with those who have eaten a small meal beforehand, he says: ‘Alternating alcoholic with soft drinks can also slow down the effects.’


After two hours of drinking, now is the time you hit the dance floor and start saying things you might regret the next morning.

Blame this lack of inhibition on the way alcohol interferes with communication between the nerve cells in the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for processing information, and also initiates the majority of  muscle movements.

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