Do our bodies absorb things like caffeine and alcohol at a set rate or do we absorb faster if we consume more?

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Do our bodies absorb things like caffeine and alcohol at a set rate or do we absorb faster if we consume more?

In: Biology

The effects of caffeine and alcohol are felt because they connect with certain parts of certain cells in our body, and cause a subsequent reaction. Both chemicals are countered by the body, because they are foreign chemicals that have no business being in the body in such amounts.

The more the body encounters them, the more efficient it becomes at dealing with them – the more cells it creates that counter the alcohol and caffeine. These cells hang around after the encounter in case they’re needed again quickly.

So, the more you drink over an extended period of time, the ‘better’ your body is able to counteract these chemicals at the next encounter.

You’re not actually absorbing them – you’re just kicking off the reaction they cause, and your body is processing them until they have no further effect.

Essentially, we absorb them faster – up to a point.

Think of digestion like pouring water through a funnel. Up to a point, things pass through into the bloodstream faster, but there’s an upper limit on that speed. In a funnel, that’s based on how narrow or wide the opening is – in your body, it’s based on how many cells are doing the work of passing things into the bloodstream. Caffeine and alcohol don’t just seep into the bloodstream, they have to be carried across the gut lining and blood vessel walls before they can make it to the blood.

In pharmacology, this is called the dose-response curve, and it usually looks vaguely S-shaped: at low doses, the absorption (and the response to the drug) is quite slow, and it speeds up quickly as the dose is increased, but then it will usually level out again at high doses, and anything above that level will just stay sitting in your stomach.

Concentration can also have an impact on how fast you absorb a drug (including things like caffeine and alcohol; in this sense, “drug” means anything that has an effect on your body’s metabolism). This is why certain alcoholic drinks (such as poitín) are notorious for getting you drunk *the next day* – because it’s at such a high concentration that your body recognises it as poison and doesn’t absorb very much of it, but when you get up and drink some water, it dilutes the alcohol and a whole lot more alcohol gets into your system.