During our Alcohol&Me workplace workshops, we are often asked why some people are just “better drinkers” than others so this month, we wanted to set a few things straight and explain how and why alcohol affects us all differently.

First things first, it is important to know that a healthy adult liver can only process 10 grams of pure alcohol an hour – also known as one standard drink. This simple fact is the single biggest key to drinking smarter regardless of who you are. This processing time (or metabolisation if you want to use the fancy term) for one standard drink is the same for all of us regardless of size, shape, and age etc and there is no way to speed this processing up. So if you enjoy a couple of cans of 5% cider or beer with a friend after work, it will take 2.6 hours to process that alcohol. Sharing a bottle of wine will be more like 3.6 hours. You can find out more about standard drinks here or here but make sure you always read the label as one standard drink is not necessarily the same as one glass, can or bottle.

This, however, is where the similarities between us all stop. Your liver needs to be supported by the rest of your body to do its processing job effectively and we are all different which is why it only takes some people a couple of drinks before they start feeling the effects versus four or more for others.

Any alcohol that is waiting to be processed by your liver (i.e. if you drink faster than one standard drink per hour) gets carried to other parts of your body, through your blood, while it waits its turn to be processed. Once in the blood stream, there are several factors that can affect how your body reacts to the alcohol and how you feel the effects of alcohol which we will explore in a bit more detail now:


Whilst growing and developing, adolescents have an increased sensitivity to alcohol. The human brain, like all your vital organs, is also not fully developed until you are in your mid to late 20s so regular heavy consumption (i.e. more than 10 std drinks per week for women, 15 std drink per week for men) may result in impaired brain development in adolescents and young adults. The liver is also still growing in adolescents, which means it may be a bit more “sluggish” than the healthy adult liver we refer to with the standard drink guidelines.

As you age, you naturally have less water in your system… yes like me you are shrivelling like a raisin. Water has a dilution effect on the alcohol so with less water in your body there is a higher concentration of alcohol in your blood, and you are likely to feel the effects of the alcohol more.

Older people are also less tolerant to alcohol because as we age, our muscle mass is replaced with fat and we have less of the enzyme (ADH) that helps breaks down alcohol in our system.

Another watch out as we age is our general health as this can have an enormous impact on how we feel the effects of alcohol. People with certain health conditions are at increased risk if they consume alcohol. It’s important to be aware that alcohol can also interact with many different medications, regardless of your age, as medication must also be processed by the liver. Your personal circumstances will determine how effectively your liver can do its job, so you are best to talk to your health professional before you mix alcohol with any medication.


Alcohol is a diuretic which is why you need to go to the toilet a lot when you drink, so keeping yourself hydrated before, during and after drinking is key. Water helps to dilute alcohol so while it won’t stop you from getting drunk, it will help you to reduce the effects of the alcohol on your body and mind (a.k.a – lessening the chances of you doing and saying things you wouldn’t usually do when you are sober.)


Like water, eating will not stop you from getting drunk. If you drink more than one standard drink per hour you will feel the effects of the alcohol. That said, a full belly does help to slow down the absorption of alcohol in your body by slowing the rate at which the alcohol moves to the small intestine and then into your bloodstream so someone with a full stomach is likely to feel the effects of the alcohol less.

Weight & size

Larger and heavier people have more body tissue to absorb alcohol (i.e. there are more places for the alcohol to go), so they typically feel the effects of alcohol less BUT….

Body Fat

Individuals with a higher percentage of body fat will have a higher BAC (blood alcohol concentration) than those with less body fat. If you think about a roasting dish in the sink on a Sunday night – water and fat don’t mix. Neither do alcohol and fat so there are less places for the excess alcohol to go and it centres around our vital organs more which is why those with more body fat with feel the effects of alcohol more.

Good old biology means that women naturally tend to have a higher percentage of body fat than menso typically feel the effects of alcohol more quickly.

On the flip side, muscle has a high-water content which means it can help absorb some of the excess alcohol in your system. This in turn lightens the load on your other vital organs as they babysit the alcohol while you wait for your liver to catch up. So, the more muscly you are, the less you are likely to feel the effects of alcohol. The only watch out here for gym bunnies is – make sure you are not dehydrated when you start drinking otherwise no amount of muscle mass is going to save you from being sent home early and/or that killer headache the next day.


Women have less of the enzyme ADH that breaks down alcohol in the stomach, contributing towards a higher BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) than men drinking the same amount of alcohol.

Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol e.g. women will experience higher BACs from drinking the same amount of alcohol right before menstruation.


All medication needs to be processed by the liver so if you are drinking and taking medication, you are increasing the liver’s workload considerably. Certain pain killers and cold medicine can make you feel the effects of alcohol up to 10 times as much as you normally would so be careful mixing alcohol with any medications.

Mental Health & general mood

Stress emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety, and depression can change the enzymes in the stomach which in turn affect how we process alcohol. Linked to medication above – if you are someone that takes antidepressants or similar, and you haven’t already spoken to your GP about how this medicine works with alcohol then we suggest you do this ASAP.

It is super important to remember that alcohol isn’t a superhero. It can’t make you happy if you are sad and vice versa. If at any time you find yourself using alcohol to cope with day-to-day life, you should seek expert help from your GP or health practitioner as the answer to your problems will not be found in a bottle or can of alcohol.

Functional Tolerance

Commonly described by many as “piss fitness” – functional tolerance is a decrease in the body’s sensitivity to alcohol. It is a behavioural adaptation that happens for some people when they drink lots and quite often. It may appear that your liver is handling the alcohol better but in reality, your liver is just living in a heightened state of “go.” This is fine on occasion but long term it can result in physical dependency and alcohol-related organ damage.


If you are tired before drinking, intoxication will intensify the symptoms. This occurs because when someone is fatigued, the liver is less efficient at processing and eliminating alcohol which leads to a higher BAC than normal. That’s in part why the first wine I have on a Friday night hits me like no other – sound familiar?

As you can see, there is no single answer to the “why can’t I drink like my mate” question. It will be a mixture of several factors that will influence how alcohol affects you on any given day so take some time right now to stop and think about how many drinks it typically takes before you start to feel impacted by what you are drinking. If you want to find out more about what’s going on inside when you drink, click here.

Regardless of who you are, how fit, old, hydrated, or tired you are, the best way to make the good times last longer when you’re drinking alcohol is to remember to eat well, keep count of your standard drinks, give your body time to process them, and have plenty of water to pace yourself and stay hydrated. Remember you don’t have to drink alcohol to have a fun time – #youdrinkyou. Why not try one of the ever-increasing ranges of delicious adult non-alcoholic options some of which we have celebrated here.

Cheers to stopping and thinking before you go drinking!

The Alcohol&Me team