How does the body process alcohol?

This is how the human body processes alcohol step by step. How quickly this happens can be different for everyone, so it’s important to take your personal circumstances into account.

When drinking alcohol, it’s absorbed into the blood and reaches the brain

Illustration of a person drinking alcohol

Your body starts to break down the alcohol immediately, starting in your mouth, then in your digestive system.

As it enters your stomach and small intestine, some of the alcohol will be absorbed into your blood and circulated through your body. It will also reach your brain, where the intoxicating effects take place.

You’re likely to start feeling the effects of drinking within a few minutes. How quickly this happens depends on factors including how large you are, your gender and age, whether you’ve eaten and your general health.

Most of the alcohol you drink is broken down by the liver

Illustration of a human torso showing the liver

The liver is responsible for breaking down the alcohol you drink.

It takes the liver roughly one hour to break down one standard unit of alcohol, but this speed is slightly different for each person. However, the rate at which alcohol is absorbed from the blood and into the body can be vastly different, depending on your body size.

There’s nothing you can do to speed up this process. Your liver can only break down a limited amount of ethanol at once.

Any additional alcohol you consume during the hour your liver takes to break down each drink will remain in your blood and cross into your brain, making you more intoxicated.

Are you concerned about the effects of drinking on your body?