Feb. 10. 2022
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Let’s chat about the side effects of alcohol, how drinking impacts your health, and how you can develop a healthy relationship with alcohol if it’s part of your life.

After adopting a whole-food diet and practicing a balanced lifestyle, you may still find yourself in situations where you want to drink alcohol. And that’s quite alright! A balanced lifestyle can certainly include an intentional approach to mindful drinking where alcohol is enjoyable. Alcohol doesn’t necessarily have to be something you remove from your lifestyle altogether.

But with that said, it’s important to understand what exactly alcohol does to your body. Additionally, how you can take care of your body while participating in alcohol consumption. 

This article will arm you with the knowledge you need to take care of yourself before, during, and after drinking. You’ll learn about the side effects of alcohol and how your body processes it. That way, you can prioritize your health and wellbeing the next time you choose to partake.

So What’s Happening Inside the Body When You Drink?

Let’s talk about the logistics of what’s actually happening when you drink.

Alcohol is very quickly absorbed through the lining of our stomachs in the small intestine. It then travels directly into the bloodstream in the veins, finally leading it to the liver. After it reaches the liver, it’s exposed to enzymes and metabolized.

After alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, it’s broken down into carbon dioxide and water. At this point, our body determines it to be the highest priority item in the body to take care of. Everything else will then be delayed until it’s cleared (think digestion of other food and the absorption of other nutrients).

As this is happening, blood sugar levels are actually decreased as a result of the liver working hard to clear the alcohol. This causes an increase in hunger levels, think of those ‘drunk munchies’ here. The increase in hunger you experience is one of the first side effects of alcohol you may feel. 

How Do Men and Women Differ?

Men can actually metabolize alcohol quicker than women, thanks to men biologically having more of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) (7). This statistic serves as a credit to the theory that women can drink the same as men and feel alcohol’s effects quicker, along with the fact that men typically weigh more than women and carry more water in their bodies.

Your BAC (blood alcohol content) level determines how much of an effect the alcohol has on the body. It determines how quickly alcohol is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted (8). Many lifestyle factors come into play when considering the rate that our bodies can process a drink, such as when our last meal was, and what we had to eat.

Research has shown that women appear to have more adverse effects as a result of consuming alcohol than men, too (9). Apart from feeling more drunk than men after having the same number of drinks, women may be more susceptible than men to alcohol-related organ damage. More on that next. 

Lastly, women have another factor to consider as well, hormones. The delicate hormonal balance can be affected when our bodies react to alcohol consumption. Drinking increases the hormones cortisol and estrogen while decreasing the hormone progesterone (10).

The Physical Side Effects of Alcohol

Now that we understand what it actually means to drink alcohol, let’s discuss the side effects alcohol can cause when a negative relationship is present. 

Heavy drinking can cause a multitude of physical health problems over time. For context, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking for men to be consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, it’s defined as consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week (2).

People who drink heavily have a greater risk of liver disease, heart disease, sleep disorders, depression, stroke, bleeding from the stomach, sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sex, and several types of cancer. They may also have problems managing diabetes, high blood pressure, and other disease states (3). 

Heavy drinking also has direct toxic effects on the gastrointestinal tract and liver. This runs the risk of impairing your digestion, reducing the absorption of nutrients into the blood, and impairing your body’s use of those nutrients (4).

Lastly, even a light drinker can throw off a healthy metabolism when consuming alcohol (5). Drinking alcohol stimulates your metabolism, which can lead to overeating (6). Your diet, even if it’s full of sufficient proteins, fats, the proper vitamins, and minerals, may not translate into those nutrients being absorbed if alcohol is in the mix.

How To Prevent Negative Side Effects From Alcohol

We now understand the basics of how alcohol is processed in the body, as well as the possible negative side effects. So now, let’s discuss what you can do to enjoy alcohol mindfully and prevent those negative side effects from developing.

Develop A Healthy Relationship with Alcohol 

While alcohol usually gets a bad rap in the health community, it can also be something that’s an enjoyable addition to time spent with friends, family, or a significant other.

The key is to find a balance and recognize its effects on you.

One of the most common ways alcohol is used when an unhealthy relationship is present is to help cope with stress. For example, a study found that men and women who reported higher levels of stress tended to drink more. This supports the opinion that many people turn to alcohol as a source of relief from stress (1). In reality, it unfortunately often creates more stress than it relieves.

It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. A shift in mindset away from the social norm of a glass of wine, for example, as being a form of therapy for stress, to a means of mindful enjoyment, is an important step to developing a healthy relationship.

In addition to removing alcohol as a means of stress management, there are a few additional ways to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol as well. Paying attention to your motivation and intention behind drinking, knowing your limits, and understanding your current health status are a few great places to start.

Ask yourself, are you sick, have you felt run down, or are you feeling stressed or burnt out? These reflection questions can help you gauge whether or not it’s a good thing to partake in, and how to be smart about drinking. When reflection and mindfulness are a part of drinking, we’re able to adequately prevent those adverse side effects from alcohol. 

5 Steps to Drink Mindfully 

Having a balanced, positive relationship with alcohol means that we’re able to intentionally and mindfully enjoy alcohol. 

But what does it mean to mindfully drink alcohol? Here are my top 5 tips for doing so. 

1. Before Drinking: Eat a Nourish Bowl

Eating before you drink can decrease that rate of alcohol absorption. This means your body has more time to slowly digest and take care of the alcohol. Foods that are high in fat and protein are optimal options to eat before consuming alcohol. Because they digest slowly, they also slow down the rate of alcohol absorption and satisfy hunger levels before drinking.

For example, eating a Foundational Five Nourish Bowl is a great way to arm your body with the nutrition it needs to handle mindful drinking. With its balanced combination of protein, starchy carbohydrates, non-starchy vegetables, fats, and a flavor factor.

2. While Drinking: Be Aware of Carbonation

Consuming drinks that have carbonated mixers can increase the rate that your body absorbs the alcohol. In a recent study, bubbly mixers caused the initial rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream to increase by about 50%, on average (11).

Does this mean you should never have carbonation with your alcoholic beverages again? Not necessarily! Just be cognizant of the fact that your body will absorb the alcohol quicker, and you therefore may feel the effects of the alcohol quicker.

What Alcoholic Beverages Should I Reach For?

A great route to take is to enjoy a wine or a high-quality clear liquor like gin or vodka. You can enjoy those clear liquors with a mixer of your choice. Most high-quality liquors will provide a nice finish that usually won’t need to be masked by a mixer.

However, if you do prefer having a mixer, some great options include club soda (when being aware of the carbonation), fresh grapefruit juice, fresh herbs, lemon, and limes.

Non-alcoholic Alternatives

Now if you’re thinking to yourself, what if I don’t want to consume alcohol? Is there another alternative that’s similar in taste? 

Absolutely! We love mocktails here at Nutrition Stripped, and there’s one brand, in particular, we recommend trying for this. 

We love Ritual Zero Proof non-alcoholic spirits for mocktails because they’re delicious, great for all lifestyles, versatile so you can enjoy any cocktail you like without the alcohol, and they use all-natural botanical flavors that really bring a special Flavor Factor to your drink.

Ritual Zero Proof uses plant botanicals to create incredible flavors that taste like the originals. The batches of their zero-proof spirits are distilled individually and micro-filtered to lock in their purest flavor and every bottle is date stamped for freshness. 

Ritual Zero Proof was generous to offer the Nutrition Stripped community 15% off all their products using the code NUTRITIONSTRIPPED upon checkout. 

3. While Drinking: Practice Moderation

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, drinking 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men is considered to be moderate drinking (12).

Enjoying alcohol periodically throughout your week is reasonable and can still be consumed responsibly. So what’s the magic number of drinks? If you’re choosing to drink throughout the week, aim to enjoy no more than 5-7 per week for women. For men, aim closer to anywhere from 10-12 since they’re able to process the alcohol faster.

4. While Drinking And After Drinking: Stay Hydrated

Drinking alcohol is incredibly dehydrating. Dehydration is not the main culprit behind hangovers, but being dehydrated is never fun. It feels terrible and it causes us to lose B vitamins that give us valuable energy.

Alcohol is technically a diuretic, meaning it causes the kidneys to produce more urine. This usually means you’re losing more water than you’re taking in. Try drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage and glass during each alcoholic beverage. This will help supply the body with the water it needs. 

Water helps both the kidneys and liver flush out toxins and any other by-products from metabolism that are no longer needed in the body. The kidneys’ main job is to remove waste, and you can ensure this process continues smoothly by drinking enough water to stay hydrated and leave room for the kidneys to do their job and maintain balance (13). 

5. After Drinking: Replenish

If you’re feeling the side effects of alcohol the next day, reach for a Matcha Tea Latte Elevated, Coffee Elevated, Mint Mocha Steamer, or Turmeric Milk Latte when you wake up.

You’ll be replenishing the healthy fats that your body lost during drinking the night before. For a little something more, blend a Stripped Green Smoothie! The blended mix of whole food ingredients will be easy on your digestion, offering smart protein, fiber, and antioxidants. And of course, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day as well. 

Additional Resources

Want to know more? Here’s a list of helpful resources that strip away the confusion about the effects of drinking alcohol.

  1. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  2. The Effects of Alcohol on Your Body, Healthline
  3. What Drinking Does to Your Body Over Time, TIME
  4. All About Alcoholic Beverages, Precision Nutrition
This is a sponsored post and we’re proud to partner with Ritual Zero Proof, a brand we use and recommend. All opinions are our own.