How Alcohol Works


More than half of the global the population in three regions — the Americas, Europe and Western Pacific — drinks alcohol. Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa/Getty Images

According to the 2016 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.3 billion people are drinkers. And more than half of the global the population in three regions — the Americas, Europe and Western Pacific — consumes alcohol. Beer remains the most popular alcohol choice for American adults, who drank 26.4 gallons (99.9 liters) of it in 2017, but wine, spirits, and more are still popular choices among drinkers. About 31 percent of adults are considered "abstainers" who haven't had drinks in the last 12 months, but the fact is undeniable: Alcohol is an amazingly popular social phenomenon.

If you have ever seen a person who has had too much to drink, you know that alcohol is a drug that has widespread effects on the body, and those vary from person to person. People who drink might be the "life of the party" or they might become sad and weary. Their speech may slur and they may have trouble walking. It all depends on the amount of alcohol consumed, a person's history with alcohol and a person's personality.

Even though you have seen the physical and behavioral changes, you might wonder exactly how alcohol works on the body to produce those effects. What is alcohol? How does the body process it? How does the chemistry of alcohol work on the chemistry of the brain? In this article, we will examine all of the ways in which alcohol affects the human body.