Alcohol decomposition is a chemical process. This takes place both in the liver and in body cells and ensures that alcohol that has entered the body is converted or broken down. The breakdown of alcohol is automatic and begins shortly after alcohol intake. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the length of the breakdown process can vary greatly.
Process in the liver
Alcohol is also known as ethanol. Unlike other substances, alcohol is not stored in the body. Immediately after absorption, the alcohol is transported via the bloodstream into the body’s cells.
Most of the alcohol is metabolized by the liver and rendered harmless. Smaller parts of the alcohol are excreted through other organs, such as the kidneys, lungs and skin. In the liver, the detoxification of the alcohol is mainly through a process called oxidation.
Here, three main steps take place. In the first step, the alcohol that has been absorbed and transported via the blood to the liver is oxidized to acetaldehyde. This means that there is a chemical accumulation of oxygen.
An oxidation is therefore only a transformation of the chemical structure. With each conversion, the property of the alcohol is slightly changed. Already after the first oxidation step, the alcohol no longer works in its intoxicating way.
In the second oxidation step the acetaldehyde is converted to acetate. The chemical structure of acetate is even further removed from the actual alcohol, so the alcohol is correspondingly ineffective at this stage. The third step is divided into activation and re-oxidation.
First the acetate is activated by acetyl-CoA, then the remaining substance is oxidized to carbon dioxide and water in the tricarboxylic acid cycle. These two substances form the decomposition product of alcohol. Carbon dioxide is exhaled, water is made available to the body for further metabolic processes.
The entire degradation process of alcohol requires numerous substances called enzymes. Enzymes accelerate degradation pathways and initiate reactions. Without them, metabolic processes are not possible.
The so-called alcohol dehydrogenase is primarily responsible for the degradation of alcohol. It is found in many body cells, but the one in the liver cells is the most important for humans. If larger amounts of alcohol are taken up and have to be metabolized, another enzyme system is started.
This is also called the cytochrome P450 system, which accelerates the breakdown of alcohol. A third enzyme, the so-called catalase, is also involved in alcohol degradation. It plays a role in the last step in particular.
Accelerate alcohol degradation
A common misconception is that you can speed up the breakdown of alcohol. The liver takes time. The alcohol level cannot be reduced by more than 0.2 per thousand per hour.
There are, however, measures that can be taken to ensure that the alcohol consumed is not felt as intensely. This is often wrongly presented as accelerated breakdown. One of these measures is to eat something fatty before drinking alcohol.
The stomach is then more concerned with the absorption of the food than the alcohol. In addition, alcohol deprives the body of fluid, which can be compensated for by drinking water regularly. This also increases the distribution volume in which the alcohol is found and thus its effect is weakened.