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The Science Behind Drinking

Each weekend, you stumble down to the cafeteria or a diner to wash away the previous evening’s sins. You order eggs, bacon and some toast. Grease sits in little pools in the ripples of the bacon. You down three sugary coffees. When you’re done, you wipe the oil on your pants. You feel the food coma coming on. This seems the easiest way to overcome the pain you currently feel, but the food’s bad for you and you’re probably eating too much of it.

As students, it’s sometimes tricky to know how to eat well and find the time and money to do so. So every Sunday this semester, nutrition student Anna Richardson will bring you a column on about various issues of nutrition and some simple recipes that you can make for cheap. 


Alcohol is ever-present in university life. Some students drink to relieve stress or escape the daily grind, others use it to let loose on the weekends. Either way, it’s likely that you’re regretting it a little bit in the morning. Alcohol is so pervasive in our society that it seems silly that we don’t really know much about how it works. Don’t worry: We’re not here to lecture. We just want to inform and keep your Friday night going smoothly.

Let’s start by breaking it down into stages of blood alcohol content (BAC):

1. First couple drinks (Blood alcohol content below 0.12%): Euphoria. Your face might get a little flushed, and you’re more confident, daring, and talkative. It’s likely you’re just feeling good at this stage.

2. Next few beers: (BAC between 0.9-0.25): Excitement. Everything is really awesome! Even that fall down the stairs didn’t hurt that much! Walking is a little bit hard! You might also get sleepy at this stage, have poor reflexes and short-term memory.

3. Partying a bit too hard (BAC between 0.18-0.30%) Confusion. This is where people will start getting that glazed look in their eyes and aren’t afraid to dance by themselves. You might also start getting very tired and maybe very emotional or aggressive. You’re also very uncoordinated and, well, you look very drunk.

4. Way too much (BAC 0.25-0.40%) Stupor. This is when it can get a bit scary – your movements are sloppy, you may pass out, or start vomiting. You aren’t very responsive and your senses are dulled. Worried about a friend? Take them home or to the emergency room. Vomiting is a sign of alcohol poisoning that many overlook as a normal part of drinking.

5. Definitely go to the hospital (BAC above 0.35%) Coma/Death. This is the last and severely dangerous stage. You’re unconscious, your body temperature and heart rate are decreasing. Breathing may stop altogether and death can occur. If you see someone nearing this stage, immediately call 911.


How rapidly your blood alcohol content increases will depend on your physiology and alcohol metabolism rate, which will vary with age, sex, body size, and genetics. In general, a person can only process about 1 alcoholic drink an hour (one beer, glass of wine, or shot of liquor). Various medications and conditions, along with when you last ate, can greatly affect how drinking will impact you.

But what is actually happening in your brain when you consume alcohol? Most noticeably, alcohol will inhibit anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which is why you may feel like peeing every 15 minutes. Your brain is affected by alcohol in stages, acting on your nerve transmitters, allowing different feelings and behaviours than when sober.

First, alcohol will slow down information and thought processing in the cerebral cortex, and then with more consumption, it may begin to work on the limbic system. This may cause you to feel more emotional than normal, and is the reason for ‘blacking out’: the limbic system is responsible for short-term memory.

Alcohol also works on other parts of the brain, including muscle coordination, increased sexual arousal, and (unfortunately) decreased sexual performance. Lastly, alcohol will irritate the stomach and intestinal lining, which may cause vomiting if you’ve had too much to drink.

Alcohol is linked to countless diseases as well as its mostly enjoyable-but-harmful short-term effects. So here’s a list of helpful tips to get you through your Friday night!

  • Eat. Eat dinner before you go out, eat during drinking, eat afterwards. Even if it’s McDonald’s, a little food in your stomach can go a long way.
  • Drink water. It’s kind of a no-brainer, but it can get forgotten easily if not on hand.
  • Choose your drinks wisely. It’s way better to sip away at a beer than down a few shots in the same time.
  • Know your limits. The physiology behind drinking isn’t fully understood, so rely on your gut. Some people are fine with mixing drinks, others aren’t, and some people avoid certain types of alcohol for their negative effects. Tequila shots, anyone?





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