This system is where food is broken down, or digested. Its organs include the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus. The mouth, stomach, and the lining of the small intestine contain tiny glands that produce juices to help digest food. The liver and the pancreas also produce digestive juices that reach the intestine and help the process of digestion.
Alcohol is not digested like other foods. Once alcohol is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus into the stomach and the small intestine. It avoids the normal digestive process and goes right into the bloodstream. About 20 percent of the alcohol consumed is absorbed in the stomach, and about 80 percent is absorbed in the small intestine.
One organ that is particularly affected by alcohol is the liver because it is the main organ that processes alcohol. The liver weighs more than three pounds and is the largest organ in the body. One of the liver’s main jobs is to get rid of poisons—like alcohol—that enter the body. Without the liver, you could not live.
Heavy drinking over a period of years can damage the liver. Some of this damage comes from free radicals, a group of molecules that are highly reactive. These molecules can attack the nearest stable molecule, leading to a dangerous chain reaction that can result in a disease called cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue and the liver, which needs unrestricted blood flow, doesn’t work as it should.
Alcohol increases acid in the stomach, which in alcohol abusers can lead to severe stomach pain or sores in the intestines. One way to help prevent the increase of acid is by eating while drinking. Food slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed by the body.