Sobering Up - Sobering up

Sobering Up

Hangover explained: How the body metabolizes alcohol

From a headache and generally feeling unwell, to loss of control, nausea and loss of consciousness: Drinking too much is likely to have unpleasant consequences – from a 'hangover' to life-threatening alcohol intoxication. Intoxication? That's right, because even though we consume beer, wine and champagne for enjoyment, ethanol is a neurotoxin, and the liver is hard at work breaking it down even after just one glass. What exactly does this process involve in the body?

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Sobering up: how it works

Reducing the BAC is a metabolic process during which alcohol (ethanol) is broken down into harmless substances and then excreted.

Anatomy 1

A minimal amount of the alcohol is excreted directly via the skin, kidneys and lungs, which among other things resulty in that 'boozy' smell.

Anatomy 2

The alcohol enters the bloodstream via the digestive organs - primarily the mucous membranes of the small intestine.

Anatomy 3

90 to 98% of the alcohol is metabolised by the liver. This metabolic procedure takes place in three steps.

Anatomy 4

Step 1: The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase breaks the alcohol down into acetaldehyde. Among other things, this toxin is responsible for the hangover.

Anatomy 5

Step 2: Acetaldehyde is then converted to acetic acid by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), and subsequently released into the body fluids.

Anatomy 6

Step 3: A series of additional enzymes converts the acetic acid into carbon dioxide and water. These are excreted via the breath, sweat and urine.

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Is there a rule of thumb? Not when it comes to calculating breath alcohol levels!

Putting into practice a rough rule of thumb is somewhat risky. And breath alcohol calculators on the Internet or apps are only as accurate as the data entered. People who want to act in a responsible manner when driving need accurate readings. An alcohol breath test is easier, faster and more accurate than a 'theoretical' calculation. More about the various measuring methods can be found in our Dräger Review Special, ' Drugs and Alcohol'.

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6 ‘sobering’ facts you should know

There are many myths and legends on the subject of alcohol and sobering up. We show you some facts - even if they might be unpleasant.

1. The liver reduces the blood alcohol content by a maximum of 0.2 per mille per hour

It takes up to three hours for the body to fully metabolise an after-work-beer - depending on the blood alcohol content, which can theoretically range from 0.18 to 0.3 per mille for a standard glass (0.25 l with around 10 g of pure alcohol), depending on the consumer's gender, weight and size. The liver reduces the blood alcohol content by between 0.1 and 0.2 per mille per hour - also depending on individual factors such as age: The liver isn't nearly as efficient in young people as it is in adults. 

2. Tricks for sobering up more quickly? No chance.

Dancing energetically, drinking lots of water or strong coffee with lemon, 'sweating it out' or a cold shower: These are just a few of many popular tips on how to help the liver metabolise alcohol and to sober up more quickly. Unfortunately none of these work: The liver works at a constant rate and can't be 'tricked' into working more quickly. The best thing to do: just sleep it off, and measure your blood alcohol level before getting into the car again the next day!

3. Men metabolize alcohol more quickly

Not only do women have a fundamentally lower tolerance for alcohol, but the rate at which their liver metabolises it is also a bit lower for hormonal reasons: While a male liver usually metabolises 0.2 per mille per hour, the average for women is only 0.1 mille. One consequence is that after a night of partying the blood alcohol level can be significantly higher for a woman than for her partner, even though she drank less. So caution is required when it comes to the question of who is able to drive! 

4. Genetics plays a role as well

Not all people have the same amount of ALDH. This enzyme is essential for metabolising alcohol and manages to turn highly toxic acetaldehyde into less problematic acetic acid. This is why some people experience a worse hangover than others after a night of partying, even if everyone consumed the same amount of alcohol. By the way: For genetic reasons, over 50 percent of the Asian population have almost no ALDH. Therefore their bodies launch a massive response to the toxic acetaldehyde. People who consume alcohol turn red, start to sweat and suffer from nausea and palpitations - the so-called 'flushing' response.

5. 'Morning after' drinks only delay the hangover

Curing nausea and headaches with even more alcohol the morning after is a popular yet ineffective strategy, because it only further increases the amount of alcohol in the blood which has to be metabolised by the liver. The hangover will eventually come later on, after the extra intoxication has worn off.

6. So what does help?

Drinking lots of water or fruit juice spritzers to provide the body with fluid and electrolytes - because alcohol causes the body to excrete more water. Salty foods help to compensate for the loss of minerals. An espresso can help as well, because coffee stimulates the circulation. Getting fresh air and exercise is better than any headache pills, which can further tax the already stressed stomach.

Precision breath alcohol content check

Fast, clean and above all, reliable: Using the Alcotest® 4000, you can measure your breath alcohol content with the same technology and precision as police officers. In just a few seconds you have an accurate result you can rely on.

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Please Note

The morning after drinking, your driving can still be impaired even if you are below the legal drink drive limit. If you do not feel safe to drive - do not drive - even if you are below the drink drive limit.

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