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Does Alcohol Slow Metabolism? How It Affects Your Metabolism 2023?

Dara Brewton

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

does alcohol slow metabolism

A person watching their weight may worry about the effects of alcohol on their metabolism. However, imbibing has become an important part of the culture in most places. Friends go out for cocktails or even after-work Happy Hour celebrations. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Metabolism?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant because it slows down several processes in the body when consumed including metabolism. It weakens a person’s central nervous system and causes a decline in intellectual performance, reaction time, and motor coordination.

About 20%[1] of the alcohol gets absorbed by the stomach and the rest in the small intestine upon consumption. The liver breaks it down but only at a rate of one ounce per hour. This rate means drinking more saturates the body because the alcohol in a drink will stay in the blood and tissues until the body can metabolize it.

Alcohol And The Body

Drinking alcoholic drinks, whether over time or on a single occasion, can seriously affect the body. While alcohol consumption can cause damage to several of the body’s organs, the digestive system is at particular risk for damage from the toxins because it is the first line of contact for anything ingested in the body. 

Alcohol consumption affects the digestive system in the following ways:

  • Liver. Heavy drinkers can damage their livers because drinking alcohol inflames the liver and can cause cirrhosis, fatty liver[2], fibrosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Pancreas. Alcoholic drinks cause the pancreas to release toxic substances that can, in turn, cause pancreatitis.
  • Gastrointestinal tract. Large amounts of alcohol affect the gastrointestinal system. It can inflame and damage the gastrointestinal tract and alter the intestinal immune balance.

Increasing intake of prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics promotes digestion and boosts and supports digestive health. These bioactive compounds together support healthy bowel movements and overall immune system health and resolve any problems in the digestive system caused by the toxins in alcohol drinks.

The Effects Of Alcohol On Metabolic Rate And Fitness

Physical fitness and alcohol have an inverse relationship. When you consume large or even moderate amounts of alcohol, it decreases physical wellness but improving the body’s fitness can decrease the harmful issues. 

A person can increase their body’s metabolic rate by working out, remaining physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet.

When you drink alcohol, it affects your health in several ways.

Physical Performance

Because even one drink of alcohol is considered a sedative, it can lower performance by slowing down reaction time and function, weakening hand-eye coordination, and preventing a person from thinking clearly.

Weight Loss

Alcohol drinks contain very little to no nutritional value but contain empty calories. It also decreases muscle-building function. In addition, alcoholic drinks are often mixed with some sugary beverages high in calories to enhance the flavor when a person drinks — usually one that is not very healthy. 

Sugar consumption after working out can halt the fat-burning process because the body switches to burning the sugar from drinking instead of burning the fat stored in the body, which inhibits weight loss. In addition, excess calories get stored in the body as fat. Most of this fat gets stored in the abdominal area as visceral fat, increasing the chances of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes, to name a few.

Fatigue and Dehydration

Exercise and drinking alcohol leave a person dehydrated. Combining exercise with drinking wine (or other beverages) afterward can compound dehydration and leave a person with a worse hangover the following day. 

Being dehydrated can make a person feel more tired and sluggish, which affects performance when working out. Aside from dehydration, both alcohol and exercise also deplete glycogen storage. Glycogen[3] is the fuel that the body uses for energy, and once this energy is used up, fatigue will set in, again affecting performance while working out.

Muscle Repair

When you consume alcohol, it decreases the body’s secretion of the human growth hormone (HGH). HGH helps repair muscles from the stress of working out, and lower levels of HGH means the muscles will not heal as fast, and the body will feel sore longer.

Alcohol also increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which destroys the muscles in the body.

Liver Damage

This damage can cause alcoholic fatty liver disease[4], affecting how the body metabolizes and stores fat and carbohydrates, making it more difficult to lose weight. 

If you think you may have liver damage, seek medical advice.

It Impairs Judgment

 Red wine, beer, and liquor consumption also impairs judgment and can extend to food choices while intoxicated or when drinking at a moderate level. Moreover, while alcohol is dense with calories, it activates neurons in the brain that triggers intense hunger making it difficult not to overeat.

Testosterone Levels

Alcohol also lowers testosterone production, which can predict metabolic syndrome in men. Metabolic syndrome is signaled by high cholesterol, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and body mass index. 

Lower testosterone levels also negatively affect the quality of sleep[5] a person gets, which in turn causes imbalances in hormones responsible for energy storage, satiety, and hunger.

Gastrointestinal Health

Alcohol intake also impedes digestion and nutrient absorption. The toxins in even one drink of alcohol can cause a stressed-out stomach and intestines decreasing the digestive secretions making it difficult for the food you eat to break down and move through the digestive tract, affecting the metabolism and weight loss.

Inversely, studies have shown that exercising and being physically active reduces a person’s tendency to drink. The dopamine the brain releases when working out makes the person feel good, replacing the feel-good effect many drinkers seek from red wine or other beverages. Studies show working out also relieves stress, which is one of the reasons people consume but does not cause harm to the body as alcohol does.

What Determines How Efficiently Alcohol Gets Metabolized in the Body?

Several factors determine the rate alcoholic beverages get metabolized in the body.

Gender

Because of differences in our physiology, women[6] feel their alcohol intake more than men, even if they are the same size. The reason is that a woman has less water in their body than men do. When men have a drink, it is diluted by the water in their system more than when a woman has a drink. 

Men also have more liver enzymes called dehydrogenase in their bodies than women. Dehydrogenase breaks down alcoholic beverages like wine or beer. With less of this enzyme, alcoholic beverages stay in women’s systems longer. 

Medicine with estrogen, such as birth control pills, also slows down the breakdown and elimination of alcohol in women’s bodies. The fluctuation of hormones days before a woman gets her period also lets the effects of alcohol set in faster. 

Women are also at higher risk of damaging their pancreas and livers and developing high blood pressure from long-term alcohol use.

Age

Alcohol metabolism is slower because of the decrease of enzymes that break down alcohol and the decrease of water volume in the body as we age. Furthermore, for the elderly who may take other medications or have liver disease, there may also be a change in the rate alcohol is broken down in their organs.

Food Intake

Having food in the stomach before drinking and snacking while drinking affects the body’s alcohol absorption rate by up to three times as much. Food dilutes the alcohol and slows down its absorption in the small intestine, where most of what is drunk are absorbed.

Being of Asian Heritage

Up to 50% of Asians have difficulty metabolizing alcohol. The reason is that a liver enzyme that metabolizes alcohol is not active. Even with moderate drinking, they may experience one or more of the following symptoms: rapid heartbeat, facial flushing, dizziness, nausea, and headache.

Smoking

Studies have shown that nicotine lowers blood alcohol concentrations in the body because it slows down the stomach’s ability to empty its contents to the small intestine.

You Can Drink In Moderation

Watching one’s weight does not mean you can never drink alcohol or have to drop these empty calories entirely out of one’s diet. Just like with food choices, a person can make smarter beverage choices for alcoholic drinks to achieve their health goals and monitor the number of calories they consume. 

Instead of opting for cocktails that are high in sugar, select ones that are lower in calories, such as vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila, and brandy, which are all a more moderate 100 calories per serving (1.5 ounces). Pick mixers low in calories such as club soda, or drink the alcohol on the rocks or straight. The most important thing to bear in mind is drinking in moderation and seeking medical advice if you are experiencing any symptoms. 

Cutting back on alcohol will help a person be more successful on their road to a healthier body.


+ 6 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Ucsc.edu. (2021). Alcohol and Your Body. [online] Available at: https://shop.ucsc.edu/alcohol-other-drugs/alcohol/your-body.html#:~:text=Once%20swallowed%2C%20a%20drink%20enters,absorbed%20through%20the%20small%20intestine.
  2. ‌Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Fatty Liver Disease: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Types & Prevention. [online] Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15831-fatty-liver-disease
  3. ‌Murray, B. and Rosenbloom, C. (2018). Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. Nutrition Reviews, [online] 76(4), pp.243–259. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6019055/
  4. ‌NHS Choices (2021). Overview – Alcohol-related liver disease. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease-arld/
  5. ‌Wittert, G. (2014). The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men. Asian Journal of Andrology, [online] 16(2), p.262. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955336/
  6. ‌Duke.edu. (2021). Gender Differences in Alcohol Metabolism – The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership. [online] Available at: https://sites.duke.edu/apep/module-1-gender-matters/content/content-gender-differences-in-alcohol-metabolism/
Dara Brewton

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Dara is a full-time freelance writer with experience in several fields including politics, travel, and ophthalmology. When she isn't sitting at her computer, you can find her dabbling in filmmaking and acting.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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