Within 30 to 90 minutes of that first drink, alcohol can have a significant impact on your blood. Drinking too much too quickly can overwhelm the bloodstream. The stronger the drink, the quicker the blood absorbs the alcohol. Warm alcohol absorbs more quickly than cold alcoholic beverages. When you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, it can pack a powerful punch. Blood alcohol levels rise quickly when there is no food to absorb the spirits.
Lymph, white and red blood cells, infection-fighting agents, water, plasma and cellular debris in the blood reduce the strength of alcohol in the bloodstream. Blood alcohol concentration measures the amount or level of alcohol in the blood. How much alcohol you consume and how fast you drink it determines how much alcohol lingers in the bloodstream. Other factors, such as muscle versus body fat and the amount of food in the stomach, also affect the concentration of alcohol in the blood. Muscle holds water that dilutes alcohol, while fat stores alcohol. A healthy, muscular person with food in the stomach eliminates alcohol in about one hour if the individual drinks no more than one 1 oz. shot of 100-proof whiskey, a 12 oz. beer, or 3 to 4 oz. of wine, according to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library.
Alcohol starves red blood cells of oxygen, thickens the blood and kills the cells. These starved red blood cells clump together and restrict the flow of blood through small blood vessels and capillaries. This blood sludge chokes the tissues and cells in the bloodstream, according to Oregon Counseling. Capillaries in the skin break down and burst, resulting in red eyes the morning and damage to blood vessels on the face. Over time, alcohol intake reduces the production of red blood cells essential to maintaining oxygen supplies to the skin, muscles, liver and pancreas. It reduces blood flow to the muscles, including the heart, which makes the muscles weak. Poor red blood cell production causes anemia. These damaged red blood cells do not clot properly because the blood becomes too thin.
Drinking alcohol can deplete the production of leukocytes and thrombocytes. These bacteria fighters stave off infection. Even small increases in alcohol use can damage white blood cells. Drinking 1/2 qt. of alcohol a day for one week decreases T-cell production in the bloodstream, according to a 1998 study published in "Clinical Laboratory Science.” T-cells increase the strength of white blood cells essential to a healthy immune system. Alcohol has no nutritional value and dumps empty calories into the bloodstream, blocking the blood from absorbing vital nutrients. Excessive use of alcohol depletes the blood of iron, vitamins B and C and folic acid. All this lowers your resistance to illness.
ILaw enforcement, legal institutions and medical personnel measure blood alcohol concentration to determine the amount and effect of alcohol in your bloodstream. A BAC between 0.07 and 0.09, for example, impairs speech, balance, vision, judgment and reaction time. It takes 30 to 90 minutes for the blood to process and eliminate alcohol. If you consume more than one drink an hour, alcohol accumulates in the bloodstream faster than the body can eliminate it.
- The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: Alcohol
- Oregon Counseling: Biological Effects of Alcohol Use; Michael P. Dunlap, Psy. D.
- Indiana University: Effects of Alcohol Intoxication
- PDR Health: Alcohol Abuse
- "Clinical Laboratory Science"; Booze and Blood; The Effects of Acute and Chronic Alcohol Abuse on the Hematopoietic System; Elizabeth Haile; July, 1998