Metabolism of Alcohol

Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and duodenum. Absorption depends on many factors, including sex and weight of the individual, duration of drinking, nature of the drink, and presence of food in the stomach. Alcohol dehydrogenase in the gastric mucosa may contribute substantially to alcohol metabolism (gastric first-pass metabolism), but this effect is generally only evident with low doses and after eating. Studies of alcohol dehydrogenase activity in gastric biopsies of women suggest a significant decrease in activity in women compared with men, which could explain why women have higher peak blood alcohol levels and are more susceptible to liver damage after consumption of smaller quantities of alcohol when compared with men (16). Further details of alcohol metabolism are given in Chapter 10.

Once absorbed, alcohol is eliminated at a fairly constant rate, with 90% being metabolized in the liver and the remainder excreted unchanged in urine, breath, and sweat. The rate of elimination in moderate drinkers may vary between 10 and 20 mg/100 mL blood/h, with a mean of 15 mg/100 mL blood/ h. Chronic alcoholics undergoing detoxification have elimination rates of 19 mg/100 mL blood/h or even higher (17). This increased rate of alcohol burnoff is believed to be a consequence of increased activity of hepatic microsomal enzymes (P450IIE).

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