Alcohol MetabolismAlcohol is removed from the bloodstream by a combination of metabolism, excretion, and evaporation. The relative proportion disposed of in each way varies from person to person, but typically about 92 to 98% is metabolized, 1 to 3% is excreted in urine, and 1 to 5% evaporates through the breath. A very small proportion (less than 0.5%) is also excreted in the sweat, tears, etc. Excretion into urine typically begins after about 40 minutes, whereas metabolization commences as soon as the alcohol is absorbed, and even before alcohol levels have risen in the brain. (In fact, in some males, alcohol dehydrogenase levels in the stomach are high enough that some metabolization occurs even before the alcohol is absorbed.)
Metabolism is mainly by the group of six enzymes collectively called alcohol dehydrogenase. These convert the ethanol into acetaldehyde (an intermediate that is actually more toxic than ethanol). The enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase then converts the acetaldehyde into non-toxic acetyl-CoA.
Many physiologically active materials are removed from the bloodstream (whether by metabolism or excretion) at a rate proportional to the current concentration, so that they exhibit exponential decay with a characteristic halflife (see pharmacokinetics). This is not true for alcohol, however. Typical doses of alcohol actually saturate the enzymes' capacity, so that alcohol is removed from the bloodstream at an approximately constant rate. This rate varies considerably between individuals; experienced male drinkers with a high body mass may process up to 30 grams (38 mL) per hour, but a more typical figure is 10 grams (12.7 mL) per hour.
There are currently no known drugs or other ingestible agents which will accelerate alcohol metabolism. Alcohol ingestion can be slowed by ingesting alcohol on a full stomach. Spreading the total absorption of alcohol over a greater period of time decreases the maximum alcohol level, decreasing the hangover effect. Thus, drinking on a full stomach, or drinking while taking aspirin, furfural, or other drugs which slow the release of acetaldehyde, will reduce the maximum blood levels of this substance, and decrease the hangover. Alcohol in non-carbonated beverages is absorbed more slowly than alcohol in carbonated drinks.