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The Effects of Alcohol On Your Body From The Minute You Start Drinking

We know how it makes us feel, but why does it make us feel that way, and what’s going on in the body as we increase our consumption of alcohol?

When you’re new to sobriety (or just browsing), it’s important to take some time to reflect on why you drink in the first place and the effects alcohol has on your body when you do.

Every time I catch myself feeling nostalgic for alcohol and a cigarette on a cool, breezy night, I force myself to remember that the “good” part of those things last MAYBE one hour. From there, it gets a little sketchy and rarely, if ever, ends with me feeling healthy and rested. Plus, I hated the taste of alcohol.

So why did I do it? Why do any of us?

Let’s take a little journey.

woman with big glass of wine waiting for effects of alcohol
exploring the effects of alcohol

The First Minute You Drink Alcohol

Oh, I remember it well. I’d come home from a long day of work, mentally exhausted, happy to be home. As soon as I’d walk in the door, I would light up with anticipation. There, in the kitchen, my chilled bottles of cider and pack of Marlboro Lights waited for me.

Within two minutes, I was out on the balcony lighting up and cracking open my first cider. You know how some people say, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee”? That was me after work, except with booze.

That first sip feels incredible.

And there’s a good reason for that. It only takes one minute for alcohol to reach the brain, and once it gets there, it instantly releases norepinephrine (feel-good chemicals). This is the most sought-after effect of alcohol and the reason we keep coming back.

How does it do this? Small blood vessels in your mouth and tongue are the first recipients of alcohol into the body. From there, alcohol is absorbed fairly rapidly via the stomach and small intestines (which is why drinking on an empty stomach means you get drunk faster).

Within 5-10 minutes, you really start feeling the effects of alcohol. Man, I loved those first few minutes. The head rush of alcohol mixed with nicotine left me feeling like my whole body was exhaling for the first time all day.

It scratched the itch, so to speak. My brain was in desperate need of a dopamine fix, and that first cigarette and bottle hit the spot every time.

man with beer cheers his friends feels the happy effects of alcohol
the first effects of alcohol

The First Hour Of Drinking Alcohol

It never took me very long to finish that first drink, and I would typically chain smoke my way through at least three cigarettes before coming up for air (literally and figurately).

Even though the body is only able to metabolize one drink per hour, I insisted on having 2-3 in that time. Sure, it started off well enough. I generally felt great after a couple of drinks! That’s because alcohol hasn’t had time to wreak too much havoc (unless you’re slamming shots).

Plus, if you’re a moderate to heavy drinker, your brain has come to rely on alcohol for dopamine. It’s why the giddy anticipation of the drink and the relief of finally having one is such a powerful driver.

In your first hour of drinking, your senses are heightened. You feel alert, stimulated, more social. Ever wonder how drunk YOU always acted like the life of the party while sober YOU is more of a wallflower? That’s why.

Assuming you’re not doing keg stands or Jager bombs, the first hour of drinking is relatively euphoric. And if we only had one drink during that time, it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. We could say, “Hey! This is pretty great!” and leave it at that.

But the vast majority of us don’t, myself included.