Alcohol is certainly one of the most socially acceptable forms of drug use, but how much does the average person really know about the effects of alcohol and, in particular, the ways in which oxygen absorption is affected due to alcohol intake?
Blood Alcohol Level
Your Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) is the measurement used to read the level of alcohol in your bloodstream. As soon as alcohol enters your body it develops a BAL level. The more alcohol you consume, the higher your BAL will be and this has an immediate effect on your body’s ability to absorb oxygen. As you continue to consume alcohol, your BAL continues to rise and less and less oxygen is able to reach all the parts of your body which need it in order to function effectively.
Blood sludging, a medical term, is used to describe what happens to the red blood cells (which are responsible for carrying oxygen around your body) once alcohol has entered the bloodstream. When you drink any kind of alcohol, about 20% of it seeps through the stomach lining into the bloodstream and the remaining 80% is later sent into the bloodstream via the small intestine. The red blood cells react to the alcohol by clumping together and therefore reducing their capabilities for carrying oxygen around the body. This is why, after large quantities of alcohol consumption, you might feel dazed or light-headed and your motor skills (such as speech and physical reaction time) might be slurred or slowed down.
With less oxygen travelling around your bloodstream, your body begins to suffer from what is known as oxygen desaturation. A perfectly functioning body, devoid of alcohol, will display oxygen saturation levels between 97% and 99%. When alcohol is present in the bloodstream, that percentage decreases. Without oxygen, our organs and tissues slowly suffocate. When lots of alcohol is consumed in a short space of time, the body cannot cope with the increased levels. It doesn’t have the water required to continue diluting the alcohol being consumed and this results in a disproportionate amount of alcohol in the bloodstream in comparison to oxygen. This is when we start to experience headaches, delayed reactions and an increased tolerance for pain, for example.
The Central Nervous System
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is one of the parts of the body most affected by alcohol consumption and in particular the brain. Since the brain is one of the places in the body which holds the highest quantities of water, the body sends the alcohol towards the brain in order to dilute it. Alcohol is sent to the brain to be diluted and when the water in the brain runs out, the brain is directly subjected to the effects of the alcohol. It’s also important to note that the brain is an organ which requires huge amounts of oxygen to be able to function properly. As blood sludging and oxygen desaturation occurs, our brain cells are attacked and killed, we lose memory and in severe cases we pass out.
One of the most important differences between men and women is the natural proportions of muscle and fat. In general, women have more fat cells and men have more muscles cells in their bodies. Muscle cells hold more water than fat cells and this is why, in general, men appear to be able to “handle” their alcohol intake more than women. The higher levels of water in the male body help to dilute higher intakes of alcohol. Some studies have also shown that women develop higher BAL levels just before menstruation and notably lower than normal BAL levels at the very start of their menstruation period.
Don’t be fooled!
Even though you may feel more liberated, more relaxed, less anxious and happier through alcohol consumption, alcohol is not a stimulant. Alcohol is a drug which, through blood sludging and oxygen desaturation, actually slows down brain activity and depresses our levels of self-control (which is why we feel less inhibited when we drink). You might feel more capable in many ways when consuming alcohol, but your body is most definitely less prepared to cope with ordinary mental and physical operations.