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What Happens to Your Body When You Take Shots of Alcohol

Throwing back shots may seem like a good time, but these tiny drinks can make a big impact on your body.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

While taking shots of alcohol can look like a good time, just one round can lead to drastic changes in your body—and those changes only accelerate the more shots you throw back. It's no secret that heavy drinking is detrimental to short and long-term health by increasing your risk of accidents, liver disease, and certain types of cancer, but even just one shot of liquor can start a cascade of effects.

When you drink alcohol, it quickly enters your bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine and then makes its way to your brain, kidneys, lungs, and finally the liver where it's detoxified. However, your liver can only process one standard drink per hour.

Here's what the National Institute of Health recognizes as a standard drink:

  • 12 fl oz of regular beer
  • 5 fl oz of table wine
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of liquor (brandy, cognac, or distilled spirits)
  • 2–3 fl oz of cordial, liqueur, or apéritif

This means that whether your alcoholic drink of choice is a glass of wine, a can of beer, a cocktail, or a shot of liquor, they all take the same amount of time—approximately one hour—for your liver to metabolize and clear the alcohol out of your system.

The most significant difference between each type of alcohol is how fast you drink it. Typically, a glass of wine or beer is something that most sip, and this may take as long as 20–40 minutes to drink. But a shot of liquor is generally taken in a single, swift gulp, so you can theoretically consume multiple within a matter of minutes. Because of this, you'll feel the effects of the alcohol much more quickly than if you were sipping on a different alcoholic beverage.

Here are some effects that taking a shot can have on your body.

You may feel more hungry

snacking with friends

If one shot or drink of alcohol leaves you feeling hungry and reaching for the nearest snack, you're not alone. Even though alcohol is relatively calorie-dense with roughly 7 calories per gram (compared to 9 calories per gram of fat and 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein), drinking it makes you more hungry, not less. Researchers found that alcohol may activate an area of the brain that is usually activated by fasting, leading to an increase in hunger and drive to eat.

You may feel hot and flushed

It's easy to believe that drinking alcohol will warm you up because you may feel warm after taking a shot. But don't let this feeling trick you into thinking you are truly warming your body temperature. When you drink alcohol, your blood vessels dilate, increasing their blood flow. You feel warmer because the blood is rushing to the surface of your skin, but this effect actually lowers your core body temperature.

You'll feel happier

three men holding shot glasses and smiling

While the movies often show someone throwing back a shot, drowning their sorrows alone at a bar, you'll just as often see a group of friends laughing, saying cheers, and tossing back rounds of shots. There's a reason both groups tend to lean on alcohol: It really does make you feel happier—to a point, that is. Even after just one shot of liquor or one drink of alcohol, your brain releases the feel-good chemical dopamine. While this may seem like a good thing, researchers have found that long-term alcohol abuse can actually change the way your brain releases dopamine. It's also a key part of what makes alcohol such an addictive substance.

You'll process medication differently

In many cases, alcohol and medication just don't mix. Even just one liquor shot can change how your body responds to certain medicines. For one, alcohol is broken down and detoxified in the liver, the same organ that breaks down many medications. If your liver is busy clearing your system of alcohol, it can cause some medicines to build up in your system to dangerous levels. Another reason to be extra cautious while mixing medication and alcohol is that alcohol can intensify some side effects of certain medicines like drowsiness or trouble concentrating. If you're taking any medications, you'll want to check with your doctor or pharmacist if it's safe to drink, even just one shot.

You'll have lower inhibitions

people doing body shots

While one drink won't have you dancing on tables or waking up wondering what you did the night before, it can lower your inhibitions to some degree.You may find that you are more talkative, a bit more relaxed, and not as worried in the moment after just one shot. As soon as the alcohol hits your brain, it raises the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA,) a neurotransmitter that helps you feel relaxed and can lower your anxiety levels. It also increases norepinephrine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that acts as a stimulant. People don't usually say or do things they regret after just one drink, but the more you drink, the more GABA and norepinephrine are released, and the more likely you are to do and say things you wouldn't normally do.

Kelsey Kunik, RDN
Kelsey Kunik is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, nutrition consultant, and sustainable food blogger. Read more about Kelsey