Dr. Lucian Vasilescu - Director of the Disintoxication Unit of “Alexandru Obregia” Hospital

Alcohol is the most available and culturally accepted abuse substance in the world. At a certain moment in life, 90% of the people from Western societies consume alcohol, while 30% of the drinkers experience alcohol-related problems. The high consumption frequency makes the evaluation of alcohol abuse and addiction an important part of any psychiatric or medical assessment. Almost any health issue may be related to the effects of alcohol abuse, addiction, intoxication or withdrawal.


Considering the overall population of the world:

  • 90% - have drunk at least once;
  • 60-70% - drink at present;
  • over 40% - temporary alcohol-related problems;
  • over 10% of the men and 5% of the women have alcohol abuse problems;
  • 10% of the men and 3-5% of the women are addicted to alcohol.

Pharmacokinetics (alcohol flow in the body)

After being consumed, alcohol goes through the gastrointestinal tract quickly (mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach), moves to the small intestine and is then easily absorbed into the blood stream. Carried by the blood flow, it goes to the liver (a true laboratory, where complex metabolic processes take place) and from there, it moves to the brain, where it will produce the effects that many of us look for. The concentration of alcohol in the blood stream can be measured and is also known as blood alcohol content. Naturally, this content is zero.

After consumption, the concentration peak is reached in 30-90 minutes. The quicker the consumption and the emptier the stomach, the quicker will the alcohol content peak be reached and the more severe the severity of the intoxication.

90% of the ingested alcohol is metabolized (being transformed into by products which can be eliminated later) in the liver by a process called hepatic oxidation; the liver copes successfully, while making a considerable effort. The repetition of this effort every day for a long period of time will end up by exhausting the liver.

The remaining 10% is excreted (eliminated) unchanged through the kidneys and breath.

For those who like biochemistry

There are certain enzymes (biocatalysts) which intervene in the metabolic processes from the body and which have been clearly identified. Alcohol dehydrogenises transforms alcohol into acetic aldehyde, which is then transformed into acetic acid by aldehyde dehydrogenises.

The human body can metabolize around 15 ml of pure alcohol per hour, which equals approximately one drink (one serving) of moderate size, meaning 12 g of ethanol or:

  • 350 ml of light American beer, of 3.6 degrees. Our beer has around 5 degrees, and dark beer 7!;
  • 120 ml of wine;
  • 30-45 ml of spirits of 40 degrees (vodka, whisky, brandy).

Fortunately for heavy drinkers, enzymes can become hyperactive, just like the muscles, and can metabolize alcohol much more quickly, for a longer period of time.