In 2016, nearly 3 million deaths worldwide were attributed to alcohol use , including 12% of deaths in men between the ages of 15 and 49. However, alcohol is a great social lubricant and allows you to feel intoxicated that can cushion emotional pain or stress.
For that reason, despite everything, people continue to drink. Also, the drunken effect is almost instantaneous when drinking. What is the reason that it takes so little time to feel its effects?
Alcohol is the generic name for a family of hydrocarbon molecules similar to gasoline and diesel, but with two additional atoms, one oxygen and one hydrogen .
Different alcohols are distinguished from each other based on the size of their molecules. The alcohol that we drink to disinhibit ourselves has two carbon atoms, and is called ethanol . When the label of an alcoholic beverage says that there is 13% (for example) percentage of alcohol, it is actually telling us how much dissolved ethanol we are about to consume.
Ethanol is a polar molecule (there is a separation of the electric charge of the molecule). Water molecules are also polar. While one end of an alcohol molecule looks like water, the other end, the hydrocarbon strand, looks like the structure of oils and fat molecules in the membrane that surrounds the cells of the body .
And therein lies the key to how quickly alcohol affects us, as Mark Miodownik explains in his book Liquids. Delicious and dangerous substances that flow through our lives :
It is this resemblance that allows alcohol to bypass the defenses of cell membranes and, because they are small molecules, to sneak through the cell wall of the stomach and enter directly into the bloodstream. About 20% of the ethanol we ingest when we drink wine passes through the stomach wall and ends up directly in the blood, so we feel the effects of alcohol almost immediately after drinking it.