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Here’s what happens under the hood after that cold beer or celebratory margarita. First, the alcohol is absorbed through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. The bloodstream carries it to the liver, where an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase starts to break it down, producing a byproduct called acetaldehyde. (An excess of this chemical compound is the culprit behind hangovers.)

The alcohol and acetaldehyde mixture travels from the liver to the heart and crosses the blood–brain barrier to enter the brain. This gives you a buzz, usually within 10 or 15 minutes of your first sip. Your blood vessels start to expand, possibly making you feel warmer and a little flushed.

Alcohol then activates the calming GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) system in the brain, which relaxes you and lowers your inhibitions; it also stimulates the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine as well as endorphins, your body’s natural opioids. These chemical rewards all contribute to alcohol’s de-stressing effects — as well as its addictive allure.

This was excerpted from “A Toast to Moderation” which was published in the December 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Mo Perry

Mo Perry is a freelance writer and actor in Minneapolis.

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