Alcohol and Fat Metabolism

After coasting through the holidays, you may not have recognized the number on the electronic scale in your bathroom this morning. Alcohol and fat metabolism affect one another, but alcohol’s effects on these processes depend on many variables. Therefore, does alcohol slow metabolism? Also, is alcohol belly fat truly a thing? Yes, and no. 

Alcohol can both increase and decrease weight gain/fat loss depending upon how much is consumed and the person’s individual alcohol metabolism. Thus, once again showing that alcohol and fat metabolism can affect one another.  Drinking alcohol does not necessarily “clog” or “fool” the body into gaining weight though. People need to consume excess calories for this to occur.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a chemical substance that contains the chemical compound ethanol. In alcohol metabolism, alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde by alcohol dehydrogenase. Alcohol is then further broken down into carbon dioxide and water by aldehyde dehydrogenase.

Other words used to describe alcohol include: 

  • Spirits
  • Liquor
  • Brews (or beers)
  • Ales & stouts (which are dark beers)
  • Wines (typically fermented from fruits)

Alcohol is metabolized in the liver at approximately 5 grams of alcohol per hour, regardless of body weight or gender. The rate at which alcohol leaves the body, though, does also depend on a few other physiological factors. Examples of these other factors include age, the number of years drinking one has been alcohol regularly, general health status, etc.

Sugar in Alcohol

Sugar in alcohol can slow alcohol metabolism because alcohol tends to contain a lot of calories. The body will prioritize alcohol metabolism over fat burning and digestion. So, if you’re consuming alcohol with sugar, the alcohol is going to be burned off first. This means that the fat from your meal isn’t going to metabolize as well. 

So, does alcohol slow metabolism? Well, clearly alcohol and fat metabolism negatively affect one another. Therefore, the more alcohol with sugar you drink, the worse your fat metabolism will likely be.

If you drink alcohol without sugar though, alcohol will still take priority over the food in the metabolic process. This is because alcohol contains more calories than most fatty foods. As a result, alcohol can disrupt normal sleep patterns, which can also interfere with weight loss.

Drinking alcohol regularly even affects circadian rhythms, or our internal biological clock. Circadian rhythms manage when we go to sleep and when we get up due to a chemical called “body temperature rhythm hormone.” There are even studies that show that alcohol interferes with hormones that are recognized for regulating metabolism and appetite.

The liver can metabolize 1 ounce of pure alcohol in an hour which is the amount of alcohol found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits. 

This means that to get rid of the alcohol from your system in a certain period of time, you would need to drink only a specific amount of alcohol. 

Alcohol consumption stimulates appetite and may reduce inhibitions, making it easier to overeat. Additionally, alcohol often makes food taste better so it is easier to eat more when drinking. This, in turn, can cause people to develop alcohol belly fat.

What Are the Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder?

The signs of an alcohol use disorder include increased alcohol tolerance, experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when minimizing or discontinuing drinking, and having a preoccupation with alcohol. A person has a problem with drinking alcohol when he or she exhibits 4 of the below-mentioned signs within a 12 month period.

If you exhibit 3 or more of these signs below, chances are you also suffer from an alcohol use disorder:

  1. Concerned about reducing alcohol intake 
  2. Have tried to stop or cut back on alcohol without success 
  3. Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from its effects 
  4. Cravings for alcohol 
  5. Developing tolerance to alcohol 
  6. Withdrawal in response to stopping or cutting down how much you drink 
  7. Unable to limit your drinking 
  8. Continued alcohol use despite it causing problems 
  9. Neglecting other activities in favor of drinking 
  10. High potential for alcohol-related consequences, especially personally

What’s the Relationship between Alcohol and Obesity?

The relationship between alcohol and obesity is a complex one. There are many studies showing alcohol to be both fattening and thinning. Ultimately, alcohol’s effect on your weight and body will depend on whether you are consuming that alcohol in a chronic or acute manner. 

In 2020, 16 states had adult obesity rates at or above 35 percent, up from 12 states the previous year. Consequently, obesity is a complex health condition resulting from a combination of causes and individual factors such as behavior and genetics. Behaviors can include physical activity, inactivity, dietary patterns, medication use, and other exposures. 

BMI and Obesity Rates Based on Age and Race

BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can indicate high body fatness:

  • If your BMI is less than 18.5, it falls within the underweight range.
  • For people with a BMI that is 18.5 to <25, it falls within the healthy weight range.
  • If your BMI is 25.0 to <30, it falls within the overweight range.
  • For people with a BMI that is 30.0 or higher, it falls within the obesity range.

Non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6%) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity. Then Hispanic adults (44.8%) had the second highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by non-Hispanic White adults (42.2%), and non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4%). The obesity prevalence was 40.0% among adults aged 20 to 39 years, 44.8% among adults aged 40 to 59 years, and 42.8% among adults aged 60 and older.

However, as shown in a study, if alcohol is consumed acutely before or after exercise, alcohol actually protects against these diseases. In general, though, alcohol impedes weight loss because its caloric content takes priority over food intake and inhibits fat metabolism even when ingested following a fatty meal. 

So, does alcohol slow metabolism? Yes. Is alcohol belly fat a thing? Yes. Alcohol and fat metabolism affect one another. The more alcohol one consumes, the slower one’s fat metabolism seems to be.  

What Are the Risk Factors for Suffering from Alcoholism and Obesity?

The risk factors of alcohol dependence and obesity are often seen together, which is why some people think alcohol belly fat is a thing. According to one meta-analysis of 32 studies on alcohol consumption and body weight, the risk of becoming obese is 50% higher for alcohol drinkers than for non-drinkers. 

Also, alcoholics tend to be malnourished because alcohol blocks the absorption of folic acid. Alcohol itself contains 7 kcal per gram (more calories than protein or carbohydrates) but it doesn’t make you as full as food does. When alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it produces acetate, which inhibits an enzyme called AMPK that turns off fat-building pathways in muscle cells.

Negative Effects of Suffering from Alcoholism and Obesity

The negative effects of suffering from alcoholism and obesity can be serious and life-threatening. 25.8% of people aged 18 years and older report binge drinking in the past 30 days. Every day, 261 Americans die as a result of excessive alcohol use. 

Men are 3 times as likely as women to die as a consequence of alcohol abuse. People that suffer from alcoholism also have a greater chance of experiencing suicidal behavior than those that don’t have any alcohol use issues. 

Alcohol poisoning can be deadly. Alcohol poisoning is a condition caused by drinking more alcohol than the body can handle, resulting in damaging effects on various parts of the body, including many internal organs.  

Alcoholism increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, which can result in vomiting and severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Seizures and delirium tremens
  • Alcohol-related brain damage
  • Alcohol-induced pancreatitis (which is a leading cause of both digestive organ failure and death from alcoholism). 

Alcohol is highly fattening, and excessive alcohol intake leads to insulin resistance and pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction. This causes an increase in appetite and may contribute to weight gain and the development of alcohol belly fat. 

Approximately 35% of adults that drink excessively are obese. Even short-term alcohol consumption leads to an average 1.7 kg body mass increase over 30 days. 

Obesity is a serious chronic disease, and the prevalence of obesity continues to increase in the United States. As a result of obesity, these conditions are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death. 

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer

Overall, men and women with college degrees had lower obesity prevalence compared with those with less education. Among men, obesity prevalence was lower in the lowest and highest income groups compared with the middle-income group. 

What Does Alcohol Addiction Treatment Look Like?

The continuum of care is designed to treat individuals that suffer from addiction to substances at different severity levels. When it comes to people that suffer from alcohol use issues, alcohol and fat metabolism may affect one another. In fact, alcoholism can cause increased alcohol intolerance and can result in a variety of problems associated with alcohol intoxication and overconsumption including:

  • Physical illness
  • Mental disorders
  • Drug abuse
  • Accidents
  • Violence
  • Potential death

It has also been shown that heavy drinkers have an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes mellitus compared to non-drinkers or occasional drinkers. Such information denotes the negative relationship between alcohol and fat metabolism.

Treatment Length

The initial length of alcohol treatment programs ranges from 30-90 days for adults and 10-12 weeks for adolescents. Extended care programs consisting of less rigorous daily therapeutic groups lasting 3 months or longer are recommended after rehab release. This is because aftercare can give recovering alcoholics tools for preventing relapse. U.S. federal guidelines also recommend that all individuals who receive disulfiram as part of an alcohol treatment program return to medical supervision monthly during treatment.


Detoxification is conducted by medically supervised alcohol addiction treatment specialists. Alcohol detoxification should not be attempted at home without professional medical assistance. 

Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be life-threatening. Thus, alcohol rehab patients who attempt to undergo the detoxification process at home face a high risk of fatality. 

Acute alcohol detoxification typically lasts less than 30 days and can be administered either in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Several medications such as benzodiazepines may help ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms during this stage. Recommended benzodiazepine medications include: chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, oxazepam, lorazepam, and clonazepine.

Medication-Assisted Detox

Medication-Assisted Detoxification is a medically assisted alcohol detox program for people with alcohol addiction. In the alcohol detox process, alcohol-dependent people are medicated with alcohol withdrawal medications. This is to alleviate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal during the early stages of alcohol recovery. 

The benzodiazepines and barbiturates medications used for this alcohol detox are sedative-hypnotic drugs. These drugs work by acting on the GABA neurotransmitter system. These medications also produce pharmacological effects such as anticonvulsant activity, muscle relaxant activity, anxiolytic effect, subjective effects of euphoria or dysphoria, sedation, and respiratory depression.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is considered when alcohol abuse has caused serious problems in the alcohol abuser’s life. When alcohol abusers cannot control their alcohol intake while in treatment, they’ll likely be admitted into an inpatient or residential treatment facility. Inpatient treatment can last from 30 to 90 days or longer. It all depends on the severity of the patient’s addiction and coexisting conditions.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a more flexible alcohol addiction treatment option. This is because it allows individuals to live in their own homes and spend time in the real world in-between treatment sessions. There are various levels of outpatient alcohol treatment. 

The most intensive form of outpatient alcohol treatment is partial hospitalization program (PHP) treatment. This is because PHP treatment requires rehab patients to receive treatment five to eight hours a day, five to seven days a week. 

The second most intensive form of outpatient treatment is intensive outpatient program (IOP) treatment. This is because IOP treatment requires patients to attend rehab for around three to four hours a day, a few days a week. 

Standard outpatient program (OP) treatment is the least intensive of the outpatient treatment programs. This is because OP treatment only requires its patients to attend rehab for around a couple of hours a day, once or twice a week. 

The level of outpatient treatment for alcoholism that a person with an alcohol use disorder should attend depends on the severity of his or her addiction. Individuals with moderate to severe level alcohol addictions that still want the flexibility of being able to spend time at home during the period of time that they are attending rehab should look into PHP treatment. People looking to receive PHP treatment must also be able to manage not drinking in the evenings while at home during the period of time that they are in treatment. 

Individuals with moderate level alcohol use disorders that can manage not drinking while left alone during the period of time that they are in treatment may be best suited for IOP treatment. Individuals with mild level alcohol use issues can receive OP treatment. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is an effective alcohol rehab program for individuals who are simultaneously struggling with alcohol use issues and mental health issues. Some mental health disorders that people with alcohol use disorders often simultaneously suffer from include: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders

Aftercare Treatment

Aftercare programs are often vital for individuals to maintain their recovery. If not provided with aftercare support, alcohol relapse rates are high.

Enter A New Phase of Health at Owl’s Nest Recovery

Alcohol and fat metabolism can introduce long-term negative health effects that can change the course of your life. The repercussions of heavy drinking, and in turn, poor health and weight, can also lead to a slew of other physical and mental health disorders. That’s why it’s so important for individuals with alcohol use disorders to attend alcohol detox and addiction treatment immediately and start living healthier lifestyles. 

Luckily, Owl’s Nest Recovery offers various levels of outpatient, evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment programs. Here at Owl’s Nest Recovery, we know that in order for one to achieve and maintain recovery, one must focus on all aspects of health while in treatment for addiction. That’s why we make sure to provide our patients with clinical psychotherapy along with their addiction treatment. 

That’s also why we provide our patients with holistic services that help them care for their bodies, minds, and souls. We even offer our rehab patients supportive housing during and after treatment. That way our patients can increase their chances of completing treatment and making a successful transition back into society. 

Look, there is no single cure for alcoholism. To maintain sobriety long-term one must be determined to do so and embrace the recovery process. Owl’s Nest Recovery will be there along the road to recovery to guide you on the right routes. Your health is our priority. If you or someone you love is looking to overcome alcoholism, please contact us today. Help is on the way. 


The Owls Nest


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