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Stress anger and fear the absorption of alcohol

Absorption Rate Factors

Many factors influence your body’s ability to absorb and tolerate alcohol. For example, consider the factor of biological sex:

Women have less dehydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach, which contributes to higher BACs than men drinking the same amount of alcohol. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol, and women will experience higher BACs drinking their regular amount of alcohol right before menstruation. Women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of water. Additionally, the less you weigh, the more you will be affected by a given amount of alcohol. For people of the same weight, even the same gender, individuals with a lower percentage of body fat will have lower BAC’s than those with a higher percentage of body fat.

Bud = 185 lbs. Ethel = 130 lbs. 2 drinks/ 1 hr. = .025 2 drinks/ 1 hr. 053 3 drinks/ 1 hr. = .045 3 drinks/ 1 hr. 088 5 drinks/ 1 hr. =.085 4 drinks/ 2 hrs. = .106

Factors that Affect Intoxication


Always eat before drinking, especially foods high in protein. Having food in your stomach will help slow the processing of alcohol. A person who has not eaten will hit a peak BAC typically between 1/2 hour to two hours of drinking. A person who has eaten will hit a peak BAC typically between 1 and 6 hours, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.

The digestion process itself plays a large factor. For every person, no matter the size, the liver will only digest one standard drink per hour. This is why one drink per hour is recommended. This keeps the liver from being overloaded; it enables a person to maintain a safe BAC and achieve the social relaxation effect most desire.

Strength of Drink

Stronger drinks will result in a higher BAC. Refer to the drink equivalency page for details on alcohol content of specific drinks. Keep in mind that the higher the alcohol content of the drink, the more the alcohol irritates the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, slowing down the absorption rate of the alcohol.


Mood can affect the way one reacts to alcohol. Slight improvements in mood occur at a BAC of approximately (.02-.05). At about a .07, mood begins to deteriorate. Feelings of depression and anxiety prior to drinking can increase or become exaggerated during and after drinking. Stress emotions such as depression, anxiety, and anger can also cause a change in the enzymes in the stomach, thus affecting how one processes alcohol.

Rate of Consumption

The faster a person consumes drinks, the quicker BAC will rise.

Functional Tolerance

Functional tolerance is a decrease in the body’s sensitivity to alcohol’s effects. In other words, a person exhibiting functional tolerance will not seem to be as intoxicated as a person with little or no functional tolerance. This is a behavioral adaptation to the effects of alcohol, and as long as the liver continues to eliminate alcohol at the rate of one drink per hour, it will have no effect on BAC. Being able to “handle your alcohol” does not have any effect on BAC.

Developing tolerance can be a sign of a developing problem with alcohol.


Because alcohol is a drug, it should be treated no differently than taking any two prescriptions at the same time. It is important to know the drug interactions and to consult with a physician before mixing any medication with alcohol.

Many times students are unaware of the effects of drinking alcohol on medication. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, should not be mixed with alcohol. Another common mistake when students ask a doctor if they can drink on medication is that an amount is not discussed. Doctors often define social use as one to two drinks in an evening. College students often define social use as drinking with a group of people (not necessarily with a limit). Please make sure to discuss specific guidelines with your physician.

An interaction between alcohol and a drug is described as any change in the properties or effects of the drug in the presence of alcohol. Drug interactions may be additive, synergistic or antagonistic. For example, certain pain killers, and cold medicines can have a synergistic effect and can multiply the effects of alcohol.

Since the liver is responsible for metabolizing drugs other than alcohol, potentially dangerous alcohol-drug interactions can occur in both light and heavy drinkers. If you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, ask your healthcare provider for advice about alcohol intake. Recognize that even herbal medicines and supplements can have adverse interactions with alcohol.


If you are sick, there is a good chance you are dehydrated. This can affect how alcohol interacts with your body. You may also be taking medication that can increase the effect of alcohol, leading to problems.


Fatigue causes many of the same symptoms as intoxication, which may magnify the effects of the alcohol. If you are fatigued before drinking, intoxication can intensify the symptoms. 

Alcohol Expectancy

Numerous studies over the past decades have determined that a person’s preconceived expectations of alcohol determines the effect more than the amount of alcohol. For example, people who set out to get “drunk” tend to get drunk even on non alcoholic cocktail-like drinks.

It is important to make the focus of your evening about friends, socializing, and/or the music rather than about the alcohol.

Life can be full of stress. Situations arise in everyday life that cause sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and excitement. Many people who experience stressful situations turn to alcohol to cope with that stress. The problem with that is alcohol itself can cause stress on the body’s physiological balance.

Researchers have found that alcohol takes a psychological and physiological toll on the body and may actually compound the effects of stress.

Drinking alcohol may seem to provide some relief in the short term, but as stressful events continue long-term, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to medical and psychological problems and increase the risk of developing alcohol use disorders.

What Is Stress?

Physiologically, stress is defined as anything that challenges the body to function in its usual fashion. Injury, illness, or exposure to extreme temperatures can cause stress to the body. Grieving, depression, fear, and even sexual activity can cause psychological stress.

The human body has developed a complex and extensive process of adapting to harmful or dangerous situations created by stress to keep a physiological balance, a state known as homeostasis.

When the body experiences stress, or even perceived stress, it mobilizes a variety of physiological and behavioral changes via the nervous and endocrine systems to achieve a goal of maintaining homeostasis and coping with stress.

Alcohol’s Effects on Stress

The body’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis system works hard to maintain a delicate physiological balance, but when alcohol is added to the mixture, it puts the body at even greater risk for harm.

Alcohol causes higher amounts of cortisol to be released altering the brain’s chemistry and resetting what the body considers “normal.” Alcohol shifts the hormonal balance and changes the way the body perceives stress and changes how it responds to stress.

Studies have found that cortisol interacts with the brain’s reward or pleasure systems, which can contribute to alcohol’s reinforcing effects—forcing people to consume greater amounts to achieve the same effect over time. Cortisol also can promote habit-based learning, increasing the risk of becoming a habitual drinker and increasing the risk of relapse.

Additionally, researchers have linked cortisol to the development of metabolic disorders and to the development of psychiatric disorders such as depression.

Alcohol prevents the body from returning to its initial hormonal balance point, forcing it to set a new point of physiological functioning. This is called allostasis. The establishment of a new balance point puts wear and tear on the body and increases the risk of serious diseases, including alcoholism.

Studies have found these factors of how stress relates to alcohol use:

  • Men and women who report high levels of stress drink more
  • Stressed men are 1.5 times more likely to binge drink than women
  • Men are 2.5 times more likely to have alcohol use disorders

Causes of Stress

Researchers have identified four main categories for causes of stress:

  • General life stress
  • Catastrophic events
  • Childhood stress
  • Ethnic minority stress

General-Life Stressors

Some examples of general life stressors include major changes like moving, starting a new job, or getting married or divorced. Illness, a death in the family, or problems at home or work can also be significant causes of stress.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause some general life stress, such as losing a job, causing relationship problems, or causing legal problems.

Catastrophic Events

Studies have found that alcohol consumption increases within 12 months following a major disaster, either man-made or natural. Some studies have found that alcohol use disorders increased after catastrophic events like September 11, Hurricane Katrina, or the Oklahoma City bombing.

However, other studies have found that catastrophe-induced increases in alcohol consumption tend to wane after a year and other studies have found no increases in alcoholism following major disasters.

Childhood Stress

Maltreatment during childhood—emotional, sexual, or physical abuse or neglect—can have long-lasting effects, resulting in a significant percentage of all adult psychopathology.

Abuse during childhood increases the risk for alcohol use disorders in both adolescence and in adulthood. This is particularly true for children who grow up in alcoholic homes, researchers report.

Ethnic Minority Stress

Stress resulting from a person’s minority status can range from mild to severe and can be emotional or physical. Stressors can range from being overlooked for promotion on the job to experiencing a violent hate crime, for example.

Determining how much minority-related stress is linked to increased alcohol consumption has been difficult for researchers to determine due to other risk factors among minority groups—such as drinking patterns and differences in alcohol metabolism.


When the body experiences stress, it quickly shifts its normal metabolic processes into high gear, relying on the intricate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis system to change the levels of hormonal messengers throughout the body.

The HPA axis system targets specific organs to prepare the body to either fight the stress factor or to flee from it—the body’s fight-or-flight response.

The hormone cortisol plays an important role in the body’s response to stress by increasing energy through increasing glucose levels and by increasing nutrient supplies through mobilizing fat and protein metabolism.

A healthy body’s response to stress includes a quick spike in cortisol levels followed by a rapid decrease in those levels when the threat or stress is over.


Resilience is the ability to cope with stress. Someone who is resilient is able to adapt to the psychological and physiological factors involved in the body’s stress response.

Research has found that people who have a positive, optimistic outlook and have good problem-solving and coping skills tend to deal with stress effectively.

People who exhibit impulsivity, novelty seeking, negative emotions, and anxiety—traits also linked to an increased risk for substance use disorders—have difficulty dealing with stress.

People who do not handle stress well and are therefore at risk for developing alcohol use disorders include:

  • Those with a history of family alcoholism
  • Children whose mother drank during pregnancy
  • People who experienced childhood abuse or neglect
  • Those with other mental health issues

Stress and Alcoholism Recovery

Stress can continue to have an effect even after someone stops drinking. The HPA axis, the system that deals with stress response, has been traced to symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Many newly sober people begin drinking again to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal. Therefore researchers are trying to develop medications that will return balance to the body’s stress-response system to alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms and help prevent relapse in recovering alcoholics.

The research into the relationship between stress and alcohol can help healthcare providers by identifying patients who are most at risk of alcohol relapse in early recovery and help patients deal with how stress can motivate them to drink.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.