Alcohol absorption, distribution and elimination


Food intake slows the absorption of alcohol and decreases the maximum BAC but it does not substantially prolong the peak BAC. In tests, regardless of stomach condition, the average time to reach maximum BAC was 41 minutes. In other tests, under realistic social conditions, the average time to maximum BAC was 12 minutes. 

Carbonated drinks tend to cause a more rapid absorption of alcohol and increase the initial BAC.

Gastric bypass surgery can substantially increase the rate of alcohol absorption.

Alcohol is not significantly absorbed by inhalation through the lungs or diffusion through the skin. Only negligible amounts of alcohol are absorbed after excessive use of alcohol based hand sanitiser.

The greater the concentration of alcohol, the more rapidly absorption will take place with a higher and earlier maximum BAC.


The distribution of alcohol throughout the body is:

Stomach/small intestine > Liver > Right side of heart > Lungs > Left side of heart > Body tissue (inc. brain)  > Right side of heart


The rate of alcohol elimination can be increased by the chronic use of alcohol.

Food intake not only slows the absorption of alcohol but increases the elimination rate.

A high protein diet increases the rate of elimination.

Women generally have a higher rate of alcohol elimination than do men.

For healthy individuals who drink occasionally, it is generally accepted that the average elimination rate from blood is 15 ug per hour.

Source: Wigmore on Alcohol, Courtroom Alcohol Toxicology for the Medicolegal Professional. 2011.