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  • Richmond Office
  • 1506 Willow Lawn Drive, Suite 121
    Richmond, VA 23230
  • Phone: 804.673.5600
  • Fax: 888.743.7228
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How Drinking Alcohol Affects Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

When a person drinks an alcoholic beverage, about 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed in the stomach and about 80 percent is absorbed in the small intestine. How fast the alcohol is absorbed depends upon several things:

  • The concentration of alcohol in the beverage: the greater the concentration, the faster the absorption.
  • The type of drink: carbonated beverages tend to speed up the absorption of alcohol.
  • Whether the stomach is empty or full: food slows down alcohol absorption.

After absorption, the alcohol enters the bloodstream and dissolves in the water of the blood. The blood carries the alcohol throughout the body. The alcohol from the blood then enters and dissolves in the water inside each tissue of the body (except fat tissue, as alcohol cannot dissolve in fat). Once inside the tissues, alcohol exerts its effects on the body. The observed effects depend directly on the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is related to the amount of alcohol consumed. The BAC can rise significantly within 20 minutes after having a drink.

Once absorbed by the bloodstream, the alcohol leaves the body in three ways:

  • The kidney eliminates 5 percent of alcohol in the urine.
  • The lungs exhale 5 percent of alcohol, which can be detected by breathalyzer devices.
  • The liver chemically breaks down the remaining alcohol into acetic acid.

Before you can even feel the effect of the alcohol on your system it is already in the bloodstream. You do not know when you have had too much to drink until it is too late. This is similar to sunburn, by the time you feel it, it is already too late. Alcohol is never actually digested as much as it is processed. It is absorbed directly through the lining of the stomach into the bloodstream. It does not have to go to the colon to be digested, which is why the body is feeling the effect so quickly.

If you take a shot of whiskey and hold it on your tongue, that whiskey passes through the walls of your tongue, your esophagus and then your stomach.On an empty stomach, a shot of whiskey is in your arm in seven seconds. It touches every major part of your body within two minutes.

Alcohol is absorbed directly through the stomach lining into the blood stream and carried to the brain. After the alcohol circulates through the brain, a small percentage is removed in urine, perspiration and by breathing while the rest is carried to the liver to be broken down into carbon dioxide and water. The liver can only process 1/3 ounce of alcohol per hour. This is a fixed rate so only time, not black coffee or a cold shower, will sober up a person who is impaired. Alcohol depletes the body of water so the morning after, you may have a headache, upset stomach and be dehydrated. Clearly, the drug alcohol, even after just a few drinks, is stressful for the body. Once alcohol gets into your bloodstream, you cannot kick it out. People think they can. Alcohol, because it is a poison, has to pass through your liver and your kidneys. It has to be cleaned, oxidized, and passed out through urine.That process takes approximately one hour per drink, under ideal circumstances.


About 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through stomach, and most of the rest is absorbed through the small intestine. Alcohol molecules are carried through the bloodstream and come into contact with the cells of virtually all the organs. When someone drinks on an empty stomach, the blood absorbs the alcohol rapidly. The body also absorbs higher concentrations of alcohol, such as mixed drinks or shots, very quickly.

Bob Battle
100% of my practice is devoted to serious traffic defense and criminal litigation in state and federal courts