Alcohol is one of the only drugs in the country that is legal for recreational use. But that does not mean that it can’t be dangerous. Drinking affects the body and brain in a number of ways. Both the short-term and long-term effects of drinking, especially heavy drinking, can be seriously concerning.
In addition to drinking’s mental and physical effects, it is also a highly addictive substance. Alcohol use disorders affect over 15 million people in the U.S. alone. Of those, nearly two-thirds are men. In order to understand how to enjoy alcohol responsibly, it is a good idea to understand both how it is processed by the body, and how alcohol consumption looks on a national level.
In this article, we will dive head-first into the world of alcohol, uncovering the truth about this mysterious and popular mind-altering substance. We will answer questions about how alcohol is processed by the body, how it affects those who drink it, and who drinks alcohol the most. In particular, we will look at male alcohol consumption and what age of men are most at risk for dangerously heavy drinking.
When Does Blood Alcohol Level Peak?
When a person drinks, the alcohol passes through their stomach and into their small intestine. During its journey through the gastrointestinal tract, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the blood, alcohol begins to affect the central nervous system (CNS), which is what leads to the feeling of being ‘buzzed’, or drunk.
As your body processes alcohol, it is first absorbed into the bloodstream, and then gradually removed as your liver and other organs filter and detoxify your body from the drinks. During the time that alcohol is in your blood, it can be measured with tools such as breathalyzers. These tools show your blood alcohol level. In most states, a blood alcohol level of over .08 means that a person can no longer drive legally. But driving and operating other equipment can become dangerous long before the blood alcohol level reaches .08.
Important Blood Alcohol Content Factors
Everyone’s body absorbs and processes alcohol differently. One drink can affect two people in totally different ways. Some of the factors that affect how much a drink raises a person’s blood alcohol level, and how long this change takes to occur, include:
- Gender: In general, the same drink will affect a woman’s blood alcohol level more heavily than their male counterpart. This is due to several factors, including weight, body fat content, and how much ADH (the enzyme needed to break down alcohol) is present.
- Age: Age can play a significant role in the way that alcohol is absorbed and processed by our bodies. In general, the metabolism of younger people is faster, and the total process from drinking alcohol to removing it from the body takes a shorter time. There are exceptions to every rule, however. Younger people also tend to weigh less than older drinkers. The heavier a person is, the more alcohol it takes to raise the blood alcohol content.
- Food Intake: Most people who have had alcohol a few times know how much of a difference eating a meal can make on its effects. If you do not eat for a while before drinking, alcohol’s effects will hit much sooner and feel more intense. This is because food slows down the process of alcohol entering the bloodstream. With a full stomach, drinks are taken into the bloodstream at a slower rate, meaning it takes longer to reach peak blood alcohol level.
- Type of Drink: It matters what kind of alcohol you are drinking. If you have one cocktail, one glass of wine, and one beer—all with the same overall alcohol content—they will all enter the bloodstream differently. In general, hard liquor enters the bloodstream quicker. However, this depends on multiple other factors including what is already in your stomach and what the alcohols are mixed with.
Clearly, there is a lot to consider when asking how long after alcohol consumption the blood alcohol level will peak. In general, blood alcohol level will peak at some point between 10 and 90 minutes after consuming a beverage.
Average Male Alcohol Consumption
Average alcohol consumption varies greatly depending on a number of factors. These factors include variables such as age, gender, wealth, and family situation. While there are no clear numbers regarding average male alcohol consumption, one recent study showed that the country is very divided when it comes to drinking alcohol.
This study found that while about 30 percent of people do not drink at all, 10 percent have over 70 drinks per week, which is over 10 drinks per day! Another 30 percent or so have less than one drink per week on average. From this study, we can see that while some individuals drink excessively, many (around 60 percent) do not drink or hardly drink at all.
Male vs Female Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption is very different for men and women. At certain ages, social factors might push men and women to drink more or less for different reasons. For example, in college-aged men, culture promotes heavy drinking. But alcohol also affects men and women completely differently, and it is not just because of differences in height and weight.
Reasons Why Alcohol Affects Men Differently From Women:
- Water content: Men have more water in their bodies on average than women do. This means that they dilute the alcohol more when it enters their body. This results in less alcohol entering the bloodstream for men than for women, and less effect on the central nervous system as a result.
- Enzyme presence: Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) is the enzyme that humans have in their bodies to break down alcohol. Men have more of it, on average, than women. More ADH means better efficiency when breaking down and removing alcohol from the body.
- Hormones: Women’s menstrual cycles affect their hormones. Hormones, in turn, affect how the body metabolizes different substances, including alcohol. Depending on where a woman is at in her cycle, she will metabolize alcohol differently. Men do not experience such drastic and regular hormonal changes.
- Body fat: Women, on average, have more body fat than men. Fat is slower to absorb alcohol, so people with more body fat usually experience less drastic effects from the same amount of alcohol.
Despite the fact that alcohol usually affects men less severely than women, men have more alcohol-related troubles than women. According to the CDC, men are almost twice as likely to be dependent upon alcohol than women. In addition, men are consistently hospitalized for alcohol-related reasons more often than women, and are more likely to commit suicide after drinking alcohol.
How Long Does Peak Alcohol Concentration Occur?
Peak alcohol level depends largely on the specifics of a person’s drinking at the time. If someone has one drink and drinks it quickly, their blood alcohol level will rise until peaking, and then begin to taper off.
But most people continue to drink, so their blood alcohol level peaks based on how they are drinking. For example, someone who drinks heavily for an hour and then continues slowly sipping beer for the next several hours will see their blood alcohol levels decrease after peaking despite their continued slow drinking.
Blood alcohol content, or BAC, is measured in grams of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood. As a good rule of thumb, about .015 grams of ethanol can be removed from the blood every hour. According to this rule, someone with a BAC of .08 would take around 5 hours to clear all the alcohol from their blood.
When we think about this in the context of ‘sobering up’ to drive home, most people would agree that 5 hours is much longer than they would plan to wait. These numbers show the importance of drinking slowly and making sure you have a plan to get home safely.
Alcohol Test Timeframes
If you are concerned about alcohol showing up on a drug test, don’t worry too much – you have little control over this scenario. Depending on the type of test, alcohol might be detectable anywhere between 12 hours to 90 days from your last drink, so if you aren’t supposed to be drinking, your best bet is to simply stay off the juice. The following timeframes for alcohol tests give you an idea of how long each type of test can detect alcohol:
- Blood test: Blood tests can usually detect alcohol for 12-16 hours after the last drink.
- Breathalyzer: A breathalyzer can detect trace amounts of alcohol for up to 24 hours after the last drink.
- Urine test: Usually, a urine sample can detect alcohol between 1 and 4 days after drinking.
- Hair follicle test: Hair tests can detect alcohol, and other substances, for up to 90 days.
Alcohol Consumption by Age Group
Just as alcohol consumption varies by gender, it varies depending on age group as well. A recent study out of the UK suggests that drinking in men peaks around the age of 24, with an average of about 13-14 drinks per week being consumed. The study also shows that women drink far less than men, with an average of about 4-5 drinks per week during their peak. Even with the disparity in how the female and male bodies tolerate alcohol, this is quite a large difference.
Men are more at risk for dangerous drinking behavior such as binge drinking. According to the CDC, nearly a quarter of all American men binge drink at least five times per month. Binge drinking is extremely dangerous behavior that increases the risk of alcohol-related injury and death. Binge drinking occurs in college-aged men more than in any other group of people.
Dangerous behavior such as binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependency and the development of severe addiction. Alcoholism is a serious disorder that can lead to fatal overdose, also called alcohol poisoning.
When enjoyed responsibly, alcohol can be a safe and enjoyable substance. But remember that even though it is legal, alcohol is highly addictive. Treatment for addiction to alcohol involves detoxing the body and providing the person with ongoing support for their addiction. If you or someone you know is an alcoholic, now is the time to act by calling our treatment specialists today.