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Alcohol metabolism: alcohol processing time for one standard drink (0.6 oz)

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Alcohol metabolism: alcohol processing time for one standard drink (0.6 oz)

Alcohol, medically known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is a psychoactive substance typically consumed for its depressant effects on the central nervous system. It is found in beverages like beer, wine, and spirits and serves a variety of social and recreational purposes.

The body’s primary objective during alcohol metabolism is to transform ethanol into less harmful substances that can be efficiently eliminated from the body, primarily through urine. The human body typically dedicates one hour to processing the alcohol contained within a standard drink, equating to around 0.6 ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. 

The majority of alcohol absorption occurs in the small intestine. Approximately 80% of the alcohol consumed is absorbed there, while the remaining 20% is absorbed directly through the stomach lining. Once absorbed, alcohol enters the bloodstream, leading to its subsequent distribution and metabolism.

The effects of alcohol consumption can range from relaxation and lowered inhibitions to impaired judgment, dizziness, immune system suppression, blood pressure changes, changes in mood and coordination or motor skills. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to more severe consequences, including alcohol addiction, liver damage and cancers.

The factors that affect how alcohol is metabolized in the body are age, weight, gender, body composition, liver function and genetics. While most of the alcohol is metabolized within one hour, traces of alcohol can still be detected in the body for a more extended period of time, especially in cases of higher alcohol consumption.

The purpose of a standard drink measurement is to provide a consistent and easily understandable unit for quantifying and comparing the amount of alcohol in different types of alcoholic beverages. This helps individuals gauge their alcohol intake accurately and make informed decisions about their consumption, helping to promote responsible drinking habits and minimize the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

What is alcohol metabolism?

Alcohol metabolism is a complex biological process involving multiple enzymes and pathways to convert ethanol into metabolites that are less harmful to the body. Ethanol (C₂H₆O) is the chemical term for alcohol and the primary component of alcoholic beverages. 

According to the 2022 issue of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism research titled “Alcohol’s Effects on Health”, alcohol undergoes various metabolic processes, with the primary pathway involving two main enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). These enzymes play a crucial role in dismantling the alcohol molecule and facilitating its elimination from the body. 

Initially, ADH transforms alcohol into acetaldehyde, a highly toxic substance recognized as a carcinogen. Subsequently, acetaldehyde undergoes further metabolism to convert into a less potent byproduct known as acetate. This acetate is then broken down into water and carbon dioxide, which are eliminated from the body through the respiratory and urinary systems.

Following intake, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream via the digestive system and subsequently transported to the liver, where most of its metabolic processes occur. Some intermediate metabolites may be toxic to the organism. As per PhD professor Cederbaum Arthur’s 2012 research paper, titled “Alcohol Metabolism”, published in Clinics in Liver Disease”,  certain factors contributing to alcohol toxicity are associated with alterations resulting from the breakdown of ethanol, such as modifications in the redox balance within the NAD+/NADH ratio.

What sorts of alcohol are commonly consumed?

The most commonly consumed sorts of alcohol are listed below.

  • Beer: Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grains, typically barley, as well as other grains like wheat, corn, and rice. As per the Alcohol Rehab Guide’s edition of 2023, titled “Types Of Alcohol”, beer is the most prevalent alcoholic beverage in the world. After water and tea, beer is the third most consumed beverage worldwide. It is brewed using water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. According to the same report, the alcohol content in beer typically ranges from 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Beer has held cultural significance as a social and ritualistic beverage in many societies throughout history. It has often played a central role in celebrations, religious ceremonies, and social gatherings, fostering community bonding and symbolizing conviviality and relaxation.

  • Wine: Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes or other fruits. It is produced by the fermentation of crushed grapes with yeast. This yeast converts the grapes’ sugar into ethanol, which is then stored for maturation and bottling. There are five primary classifications of wine: red, white, rosé, effervescent, and fortified. As stated in the 2020 issue of the Alcohol Help publication “What Are The Types Of Alcohol?” Wine is recognized as the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage, dating back to 7000–6600 BCE.  

According to the American Addiction Centers’ 2022 edition of “Alcohol by Volume: Beer, Wine, & Liquor“, a typical wine serving is 5 ounces and contains around 11-13% ABV. On average, white wine has around 10% ABV; however, it can vary, ranging from as low as 5% to as high as 14%.

Wine often plays a central role in religious rituals, artistic expression, and culinary traditions, reflecting the rich tapestry of human history and connection.

  • Liquors and spirits: Liquors and spirits are alcoholic beverages produced through the process of fermentation followed by distillation. As per the American Addiction Centers’ 2022 edition of “Alcohol by Volume: Beer, Wine, & Liquor“, distilled spirits contain a higher concentration of alcohol by volume due to the distillation process, consequently they have smaller standard serving sizes. A typical serving of these spirits is approximately 1.5 ounces—equivalent to a shot glass—which is the standard for liquors with 40% ABV, though some can be higher or lower. 

Fruit liqueurs generally have 28% to 32% ABV, while gin typically falls between 35% and 40%, and vodka usually varies from 35% to 46%. Whiskey, rum, and tequila have alcohol percentages around 40-46%, and cask strength whiskey can go as high as 55-60%.

Liquors and spirits have a wide range of flavors, often resulting from the base ingredients, distillation process, and aging procedure. Some spirits may have a smooth, subtle flavor, while others can be quite bold and robust. Flavor notes can range from fruity, spicy, and sweet to smoky, bitter, and herbal, depending on the type of spirit.

These beverages are often deeply embedded in a region’s heritage and are used in significant life events, religious rituals, and traditional ceremonies, reflecting the history and identity of communities.

What factors can affect the way alcohol is processed in the body?

depressed man with a beer in his hand

Factors that can affect the way alcohol is processed in the body are listed below.

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Body composition
  • Liver function
  • Genetics

1. Age

Age can affect the alcohol process in the body through physiological changes that come with aging, which can modify how alcohol is metabolized and distributed. As per the 2018 issue of Harvard Health Publishing, titled “Alcohol and age: A risky combination”, older individuals tend to have higher blood alcohol concentrations than younger ones when consuming the same amount of alcohol due to changes like a lower volume of total body water and slower rates of alcohol elimination.

Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. 

Additionally, aging is associated with changes in liver function and metabolic capacity, impacting the interaction between alcohol and medications. Alcohol’s effects on drug absorption, metabolism, and adherence to treatment can be especially problematic for older individuals, particularly when combined with other substance abuse issues, as stated in the 2000 issue of the American Family Physician “Alcoholism in the Elderly“. 

2. Weight

Weight affects the alcohol process in the body by influencing the distribution and concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream, which, in turn, can impact how quickly and intensely a person experiences the effects of alcohol and how long it takes to eliminate it from the system. 

PhD professor Cederbaum Arthur supports this idea in the 2012 research paper, titled “Alcohol metabolism” of the Clinics in Liver Disease journal, where he explained that the blood alcohol concentration resulting from an equivalent amount of alcohol per unit of body weight can significantly vary among individuals due to the considerable differences in fat and water proportions in their bodies. Additionally, the relatively low ratio of alcohol solubility in fat compared to water contributes to this variability. 

Additionally, heavier individuals generally have more blood volume. This means that the same amount of alcohol consumed will be more diluted in the bloodstream of heavier people compared to someone with a lower blood volume. 

3. Gender

woman passed out in front of alcohol

Gender can impact how alcohol is processed by affecting factors such as body composition, hormonal fluctuations, and physiological variations between individuals of different genders.

This is exemplified by the fact that women, who typically have more fat and less water than men, tend to achieve a higher BAC than men of the same weight when consuming the same amount of alcohol, as claimed in the 2012 article by the Royal Gazette,“Body fat and its affect on intoxication,” mentioned in the previous paragraph. 

According to the 2001 issue of Scientific American, “Enzyme Lack Lowers Women’s Alcohol Tolerance,” females possess fewer enzymes responsible for alcohol metabolism in the gastric region. Consequently, this disparity contributes to elevated BACs relative to males consuming an equivalent quantity of alcohol. 

However, in another study titled “Gender differences in moderate drinking effects”, published in the Alcohol Research and Health journal in 1999, industry experts came to the conclusion that men and women metabolize roughly the same total quantity of alcohol per hour. However, women exhibit notably higher alcohol elimination rates per unit of their lean body mass per hour compared to men. Consequently, women experience greater alcohol clearance rates (in g/L/h), meaning that they process more alcohol per unit of blood volume within the same time frame compared to men.

4. Body composition

Body composition can affect how alcohol is processed in the body by influencing the distribution of alcohol throughout various tissues and organs. The distribution of lean muscle mass, body fat, and overall metabolic rate can affect the rate of alcohol metabolism, the duration of its effects, and an individual’s tolerance and sensitivity to its intoxicating effects.

The 2023 issue of the Science Daily, titled “Lean body mass, age linked with alcohol elimination rates in women,“ indicated that the elimination rate of alcohol from women’s bloodstream is predominantly determined by their lean body mass (LBM). 

According to M. Yanina Pepino, the leader of the research group, there is a notable connection between the alcohol elimination rate of participants and their LBM because there is a link between lean body mass and the liver’s lean tissue. This specific tissue in the liver is responsible for the breakdown of alcohol.

Lean muscle tissue contains a higher concentration of water, which helps dilute alcohol in the body and potentially slow down its effects. People with a higher lean muscle mass often have a higher basal metabolic rate (BMR), leading to faster alcohol clearance from the bloodstream.

The ratio of body fat to water in the body is a crucial determinant for alcohol metabolism, as stated in the 2012 article of the Royal Gazette titled “Body fat and its affect on intoxication.” Alcohol dissolves more easily in water than in fat, therefore its distribution in the body varies and results in different intoxication levels among individuals. This variation can explain why individuals with differing body compositions may experience varying effects from the same amount of alcohol consumption.

5. Liver function

Liver function affects the alcohol process in the body by influencing the speed and efficiency of alcohol metabolism and detoxification, with a healthy liver leading to more effective alcohol breakdown. A healthy liver efficiently breaks down alcohol through enzymes like alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase, helping to prevent the accumulation of toxic byproducts. 

However, impaired liver function can slow down alcohol metabolism, leading to a greater risk of negative health effects and complications associated with excessive alcohol consumption. 

As per the 2021 edition of the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Pathophysiological Aspects of Alcohol Metabolism in the Liver, apart from social and mental health issues, over 200 disorders affecting various organs, including the brain, heart, gastrointestinal tract, and liver, have links to habitual alcohol consumption. Among these organs that suffer due to alcohol-induced damage, the liver is particularly vulnerable due to its pivotal role as the primary site for alcohol metabolism within the body. The process of alcohol metabolism yields substances that harm the liver, resulting in alcoholic liver disease (ALD), a primary contributor to the development of chronic liver conditions.

6. Genetics

several different colored cocktails

Genetics affects the alcohol process in the body by influencing the activity of key enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism, leading to variations in how quickly or slowly alcohol is broken down. These variations in turn impact an individual’s sensitivity to alcohol’s effects and their potential susceptibility to alcohol-related health risks. 

As mentioned previously, the human body possesses two alcohol-metabolizing enzymes: ADH and ALDH. As per The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership publication, titled “Content: Biological Factors Influence Alcohol Intoxication—A Focus on Metabolism”, the expression of particular genes facilitates the production of these two enzymes. The ADH2 enzyme is highly expressed in the liver and is primarily responsible for the majority of alcohol metabolism. Genetic polymorphisms in the ADH2 gene, resulting from minor mutations, can affect alcohol metabolism and contribute to susceptibility to alcoholism.

What is the processing time to remove alcohol from your body?

The processing time to remove alcohol from your body takes at an average rate of 0.015 to 0.02 g/100mL/hour. This rate corresponds to approximately one standard drink being metabolized in about one hour.

How long till the body eliminates alcohol from one drink?

It takes typically one hour till the body eliminates alcohol from one standard drink, which usually contains about 0.6 oz (14 grams) of pure alcohol, as defined in the article titled “What Is A Standard Drink?” by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

However, as claimed by the authors of the article “How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System? Published in April 2023 by Sandstone Care Press, factors such as age and weight can cause the effects of alcohol to linger for a shorter period of time in one person compared to another drinking the same amount of alcohol at the same rate.

How does the body metabolize alcohol?

The body metabolizes alcohol primarily through a two-step process involving ADH and ALDH enzymes in the liver as described below.

  1. ADH: As described in the 2021 research-based article by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism titled “Alcohol Metabolism”, firstly, ADH converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a highly toxic and established carcinogen. This reaction occurs mainly in the liver, though ADH is present in other tissues as well.
  2. ALDH: After ADH converts ethanol to acetaldehyde, ALDH converts it into a less toxic substance called acetate, which is subsequently broken down into water and carbon dioxide for simple elimination. This reaction also takes place primarily in the liver.

What are the effects of one standard drink of alcohol on the body?

A glass on alcohol with lemon on table.

One standard drink of alcohol can affect the body through the changes in cognitive function, intoxication, dizziness, blood pressure changes, and changes in mood. 

When individuals consume alcohol, they are likely to experience its fleeting effects, ranging from an initial sense of euphoria to subsequent discomforts like headaches or hangovers. These refer to casual drinkers. However, even a small quantity of alcohol can affect various physiological systems within the human body. These effects may be more serious and more noticeable among regular drinkers.

When an individual consumes an amount of alcohol that exceeds the body’s metabolic capacity, it leads to a state of intoxication. This occurs as the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream gradually rises, penetrating different bodily tissues. This distribution has the potential to affect nerve terminals throughout the body, consequently impairing the efficiency of brain activity.

What are the short-term effects of consuming alcohol?

The short-term effects of consuming alcohol are listed below.

  • Impaired judgment: Impaired judgment is a condition where an individual’s capacity to engage in reasonable and logical decision-making is hindered. Alcohol consumption slows down the brain’s functioning, resulting in poor decision-making, reduced inhibitions, and impaired assessment of risks and consequences.
  • Euphoria: Euphoria is the feeling of intense happiness, well-being, and heightened mood. Alcohol can induce euphoria by affecting the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It enhances the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which contribute to feelings of pleasure and reward. 
  • Relaxation: Relaxation is a state of reduced tension, anxiety, and stress, often characterized by a sense of calmness and ease. Alcohol consumption can cause relaxation by depressing the central nervous system. It slows down brain activity and reduces the transmission of signals between nerve cells, leading to a feeling of sedation and relaxation. 
  • Slurred speech: Slurred speech is when a person’s speech becomes unclear, slow, and difficult to understand. Alcohol consumption causes slurred speech primarily because it affects the brain and impairs the coordination of the muscles responsible for speech, including the tongue and vocal cords. Slurred speech is one of the visible signs of alcohol intoxication.
  • Coordination and balance issues: Coordination and balance issues refer to difficulties in controlling one’s movements and maintaining stability. Alcohol consumption can cause coordination and balance issues because it impairs the brain’s ability to communicate effectively with the body’s muscles and sensory organs, causing trouble walking steadily, performing tasks that require fine motor skills, or maintaining equilibrium.
  • Memory impairment: Memory impairment is a condition in which an individual experiences difficulties in remembering or recalling information, events, or experiences. Alcohol consumption can cause memory impairment through its impact on the brain’s functioning, impairing the encoding and retrieval of memories.
  • Altered perception: Altered perception refers to changes in a person’s sensory experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Alcohol consumption can induce altered perception by impacting neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in distorted visual and auditory sensations as well as an altered perception of time and space. 
  • Digestive distress: Digestive distress refers to a range of discomforting symptoms in the digestive system, including nausea, bloating, stomach pain, and diarrhea. 
  • Dehydration: Dehydration is when the body loses more fluids (primarily water) than it takes in, leading to insufficient water to carry out its normal functions. Alcohol is a diuretic, which leads to increased urination and fluid loss, potentially causing dehydration. Additionally, alcohol can impair one’s body’s ability to release a hormone called vasopressin, which helps regulate water balance in the body. 
  • Blood sugar fluctuations: Blood sugar fluctuations are the variations in the blood stream’s glucose (sugar) levels. Alcohol consumption can lead to both low and high blood sugar levels, depending on various factors, including the amount of alcohol consumed, individual metabolism, and the presence of underlying medical conditions like diabetes.
  • Mood swings: Mood swings refer to abrupt and intense fluctuations in a person’s emotional state, leading to rapid changes in mood, often from happiness to sadness or irritability. Alcohol consumption can cause mood swings by affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters and altering the balance of chemicals responsible for regulating emotions
  • Increased sleepiness: Increased sleepiness, often referred to as drowsiness or excessive tiredness, is when an individual feels an overwhelming urge to sleep or finds it challenging to stay awake. Alcohol consumption can cause increased sleepiness by affecting the central nervous system. The more alcohol a person consumes, the greater the sedative effect.
  • Hangover: Hangover is the body’s response to the toxic effects of alcohol and its impact on various bodily systems, including the digestive, circulatory, and nervous systems. After the effects of alcohol wear off, individuals may experience a hangover, including symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Interference with medications: Interference with medications occurs when alcohol consumption interacts with medications. This interference can lead to unpredictable and potentially harmful outcomes, including reduced drug efficacy, increased side effects, or dangerous reactions.

What are the long-term effects of consuming alcohol?

The long-term effects of consuming alcohol are listed below.

  • Liver damage: Liver damage is the impairment of the liver’s structure and function. Alcohol consumption can cause liver damage by promoting inflammation, fat accumulation, fibrosis, and, ultimately, cirrhosis, which can severely compromise the liver’s ability to perform its vital functions in the body.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Cardiovascular issues are a range of health problems that affect the heart and blood vessels, including conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. Excessive or chronic alcohol use can significantly increase the risk of these cardiovascular issues.
  • Cognitive impairment: Cognitive impairment is when a person’s cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and reasoning, are significantly compromised. Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to cognitive deficits, including memory problems, reduced cognitive processing, impaired judgment, and difficulties in problem-solving.
  • Addiction: Addiction is the inability to control one’s substance use despite harmful consequences. Regular consumption of alcohol can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD), characterized by an intense craving for alcohol, loss of control over consumption, withdrawal symptoms, and a higher tolerance to alcohol’s effects.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Gastrointestinal issues refer to a range of disorders and problems affecting the digestive system. Alcohol can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, causing issues like gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), ulcers, and an increased risk of pancreatitis.
  • Immune system suppression: Immune system suppression refers to a weakened or impaired immune response. Alcohol consumption can cause immune system suppression by disrupting the normal functioning of immune cells, making the body more susceptible to infections and diseases. 
  • Impotence and fertility issues: Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Fertility issues refer to difficulties in conceiving a child, including problems with both male and female reproductive systems. Alcohol consumption can interfere with nerve signals necessary for sexual arousal and the proper functioning of the erectile response. 
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Nutritional deficiencies refer to inadequate levels of essential nutrients in the body. Alcohol consumption can cause nutritional deficiencies because it interferes with the body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins (such as B vitamins) and minerals (such as magnesium and zinc).
  • Neurological effects: Neurological effects refer to the impact of alcohol consumption on the nervous system. Alcohol disrupts the regular communication between nerve cells, leading to peripheral neuropathy, a condition characterized by tingling, numbness, and pain in the extremities.
  • Mental health issues: Mental health issues refer to a broad range of conditions that affect a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, and sometimes exacerbates existing conditions.
  • Social consequences: The social consequences of alcohol consumption refer to the adverse impacts of excessive or irresponsible drinking. Alcohol abuse can strain one’s relationships and challenge fulfilling social and familial obligations.
  • Increased cancer risk: Increased cancer risk refers to the elevated likelihood of developing cancer due to various factors, including excessive alcohol consumption. Regular alcohol consumption has been associated with an increased risk of various cancers, including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers.

What does a standard drink of alcohol look like?

A man holding a standard glass of whiskey.

A standard drink of alcohol is typically defined as containing approximately 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. This amount of alcohol is considered equivalent to one alcoholic beverage to standardize consumption measurements.

According to the 2022 issue of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism research titled “Alcohol’s Effects on Health”, a standard drink in the United States is generally calculated based on the following common beverage types.

  1. Beer: A 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer, typically containing around 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), is considered a standard drink. 
  2. Wine: A 5-ounce glass of wine, with an average ABV of about 12%, constitutes one standard drink. Just like with beer, the ABV of wines can differ.
  3. Distilled spirits (hard liquor): A standard drink of distilled spirits, such as vodka, whiskey, gin, or rum, is typically 1.5 ounces at 40% ABV. This is the standard concentration for most spirits, though it’s important to note that some varieties may have a higher or lower ABV.

What is the limit on alcohol intake?

For men, the recommended limit on alcohol intake is generally two standard drinks per day. For women, the recommended limit on alcohol intake is one standard drink per day.

The 2022 guidelines of the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Aged Care, titled “How much alcohol is safe to drink?” stated that for adults with good physical well-being it is recommended to restrict alcohol consumption to a maximum of 10 standard drinks per week to mitigate the risk of alcohol-related health complications or physical harm, regardless of gender.

Furthermore, it is preferable to limit the intake to at most 4 standard drinks per day. It is noteworthy to mention that in Australia, a standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol. For children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, the guideline advises refraining from alcoholic beverages.

Different health-related organizations, such as the European Code Against Cancer, the Spanish Ministry of Health, the European Society of Cardiology, the UK Department of Health, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, offer different guidance on limiting alcohol consumption; however, they all have a common emphasis on adhering to guidelines or abstaining from alcohol for pregnant women, children and adolescents, as stated in the 2022 issue of the European Commission’s “Guidance for alcohol consumption”

Does drinking too much alcohol lead to alcoholism?

A middle aged man with a glass on alcohol drink in hand.

Yes, drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcoholism since it can fundamentally alter brain chemistry and lead to physical, psychological, and social harm. According to the 2022 edition of the Mayo Clinic’s publication on Alcohol Use Disorder, the consistent consumption of excessive alcohol over an extended period can result in alcohol-related complications or the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Drinking at a young age significantly raises the likelihood of encountering AUD.

Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol addiction, characterized by an inability to control drinking behaviors stated in the 2023 issue of the Alcohol Rehab Guide, titled “What Is Alcoholism?“.

Is drinking alcohol addictive?

Yes, drinking alcohol is addictive. Alcohol addiction is a chronic and potentially severe condition characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption, a preoccupation with drinking, continued alcohol use despite adverse consequences, and withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit. The addictive nature of alcohol stems from its impact on the brain’s reward system.

According to the 2021 issue of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Research, titled “Alcohol’s Effects on Health”, alcohol consumption can lead to physical changes in the chemical composition and function of the brain, which makes alcohol addictive. In this process, the reward and pleasure centers of the brain become overloaded, resulting in a strong desire to re-experience those pleasurable sensations. 

Even if a person initially intends to stop drinking, alcohol can impair their ability to control impulses and make sensible decisions, increasing the likelihood of relapse. What may begin as alcohol abuse can rapidly and effortlessly develop into alcohol dependence.