It’s true that people can go their entire lives enjoying something without ever really understanding what it is; for example, you may have needed IVs in the Keys from Hangover Hospital without knowing exactly what you’re putting in your body. That’s largely because it requires some understanding of chemistry in order to answer this question effectively. Suffice it say, alcoholic drinks contain some form of ethanol, which is produced from a process known as fermentation. Fermentation occurs when sugars are broken in the absence of oxygen. The chemical process produces ethanol and carbon dioxide.
Thus, alcohol can be produced from any kind of food that has sugar. Beer is produced from the starch in barley fermentation. Wine is produced from sucrose in grape fermentation. Vodka can be produced from starchy vegetables like potatoes and beets (yes potatoes are vegetables). Whiskey is also made of barley but can likewise be made of rye, corn, and wheat.
All alcohol is produced from the fermentation of yeast. This, of course, only describes the chemistry of alcohol. There’s more to the story.
The Biology of Getting Your Drink On
Now that we know what alcohol is, let’s talk about what it does. When you drink alcohol, you induce a whole body and mental state known as “drunk”. This state actually involves a complex chemical process happening in your brain. Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol, flows its way through your bloodstream and makes its way to your brain where it effectively inhibits a neurotransmitter known as glutamate. Glutamate is involved in almost every excitatory brain function. Here, “excitatory” means that it increases the likelihood that a nerve impulse will “fire”. Alcohol inhibits or reduces that firing response.
Glutamate can be understood as the principal motivator of several major functions of the brain. By inhibiting glutamate, you are inhibiting your entire central nervous system. Alcohol is thusly called a CNS depressant. In other words, glutamate helps keep your brain alert, focused, and helps you concentrate. It also aids in the process of making memories, all of which is significantly depleted when drinking.
Too much or too little glutamate activity and you have a serious problem. Too much activity will cause your neurons to burn out while to too little makes you dumb, bumbling, and unable to remember how dumb you were or the extent of your bumbling.
The more you drink, the more the cognition centers of your brain are prevented from producing glutamate, the more you bumble and the less you remember.
Bad Decision when Drunk
Glutamate is also involved in planning and decision making. In other words, the part of your brain that produces basic sense is greatly inhibited. Since these neurons aren’t firing, the question becomes: What neurons are? The neurons that are firing are the ones involved in pleasure-seeking behavior, leading to bad decisions that you wouldn’t normally make for the intent of chasing a “good” feeling.
Talk to the Hangover Experts
That pounding headache, nausea, and dizziness you feel have a science behind them. Our folks at the Hangover Hospital understand that science. Give us a call and we will rush to your aid with a state-of-the-art hangover cure that will leave you ready to go again tonight.