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Binge Drinking

Taking Shots of Alcohol: What Are the Risks?

July 19, 2023
11 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 19, 2023
11 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 19, 2023
11 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 19, 2023
11 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 19, 2023
11 min read

You’re at a bar with friends enjoying a drink and having a good time. Someone offers to go get the next round, and you don’t think twice about it. The next thing you know, they’re coming back with a tray full of shots. Many of us have been there: taking shots seems to have become synonymous with fun and partying. There’s even a whole song about them (“Shots” by LMFAO).

While it might appear that taking shots is harmless fun, even just one shot can negatively affect our health and well-being. How many shots is too many? Let’s find out!

Understanding How Our Body Processes Alcohol 

When we consume alcohol, it’s quickly absorbed into our bloodstream through our stomach lining and small intestine. It’s then transported to our brain, kidney, and lungs — and to our liver, which is responsible for processing it. However, our liver can only process one standard drink per hour

A standard drink is defined as 12 fl oz of regular beer; 5 fl oz of table wine; 2-3 fl oz of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif; and 1.5 fl oz shot of liquor. In other words, whether we drink a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, a cocktail, or a shot of liquor, they all take roughly an hour for our liver to clear alcohol out of our system

The amount of liquor that qualifies as a standard drink is smaller than other types of alcohol because spirits — such as vodka, gin, rum, whisky and brandy — are incredibly strong. They typically range in strength from 37.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) to above 50% ABV. Compare this with beer, which averages 5% ABV, and wine, which averages around 12%.

While drinking any amount of alcohol rapidly is harmful, shots of liquor can be particularly dangerous given their strength and how quickly we consume them. For instance, a glass of beer or wine is something we typically sip slowly over the course of 20-40 minutes. A shot of liquor, however, is generally downed in a single gulp, within a matter of seconds. Given this, we’re likely to feel the effects of a shot much more quickly and for a longer period of time than if we were sipping a different drink

Besides causing us to feel the effects of alcohol more quickly, taking shots can also lead to drastic bodily changes. And the more shots we take, the more accelerated these changes become. 

Diagram about alcohol’s effects after taking shots of alcohol

We’ll Feel Hungrier, Even if We’re Full

Alcohol is calorie-dense. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories: more than a gram of sugar and a little less than a gram of fat. Given this, we might assume that taking a shot would make us full, or at least less hungry. However, it’s actually the opposite: we become hungrier the more alcohol we drink

Part of this has to do with how our body processes alcohol. Unlike with other carbohydrates, alcohol doesn’t turn to sugar in our body. Instead, it actually makes our blood sugar levels drop, causing us to feel hungry. 

This is because alcohol is a toxin, causing our liver to prioritize getting rid of the harmful substance over its other functions. Even when we eat foods high in sugar or carbohydrates while drinking, our blood sugar levels still drop. This is why we often get the munchies while drinking. 

Furthermore, researchers have found that alcohol may activate an area of the brain that is activated by fasting, ultimately leading to an increase in hunger.  

We’ll Feel Warm, But Our Body Temperature Is Decreasing

We tend to think that taking shots of alcohol can warm us up, as we might experience warm, tingly sensations once we start drinking. But the physical sensation of being warm is actually caused by our blood vessels expanding and dilating in a process called vasodilation. This essentially increases blood flow away from our core and to the surface of the skin. We feel warmer, but this effect actually lowers our core body temperature regardless of the temperature around us. Even just one shot of alcohol can reverse the reflexes that control our body temperature. 

As for those warm fuzzy emotions, they come from an increased release of serotonin and endorphins in our brain, which can help boost our mood. Just like body temperature rushing from the core and dissipating through our skin, those warm emotions also go away pretty quickly. 

We’ll Feel Happier, But Only For a Fleeting Moment

We usually associate drinking and taking shots with feelings of happiness and pleasure. There's a good reason for this: even one shot of liquor causes our brain to release a large amount of dopamine, the “feel good” chemical that keeps us coming back for more. 

However, these feelings usually only last a short while. In fact, that rapid dopamine release can actually cause us to feel worse later on. If we were already feeling upset or depressed when we started drinking, these feelings will likely become exaggerated the next day. Alcohol is a depressant and disrupts the natural production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which play an important role in our mood. So while we might experience a temporary mood boost from taking a shot, it can be incredibly fleeting. 

We’ll Put Ourselves at Greater Risk for Alcohol Poisoning 

Taking shots can be particularly dangerous because it can put us at a greater risk for alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can happen when we drink more quickly than our body can process it, which is typically what occurs when taking shots. Since we can take multiple shots within a short time, our body struggles to filter it out. This large concentration of alcohol in our blood can be extremely dangerous, causing the part of our brain that controls bodily functions to shut down. Alcohol poisoning can be fatal: it kills roughly 2,200 people each year. 

We might find ourselves wondering how many shots of alcohol is lethal. Maybe after throwing back a few we stop and think, “How many shots of whiskey can kill you?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straightforward. It depends on individual body chemistry, what we’ve eaten that day, what medications we might be on, and many other factors. It’s always best to steer on the safe side and remember that our liver can only process one drink per hour.

Furthermore, some people experience memory lapses or “blackouts” after taking shots. Blackouts can range from spotty memory where we forget pieces of events to complete amnesia where we have no memory of what happened. Blackouts typically occur at high blood alcohol content (BAC) levels and are often the result of taking shots, which can raise our BAC to .08 or higher (for reference, a BAC of .08 is the legal limit for driving and is often considered the defining line of being “drunk.”). 

The Bottom Line

Doing shots might seem like harmless fun, but their effects on our body and mind can be detrimental. Liquor is incredibly strong, and consuming it in one fell swoop can be dangerous, causing a significant spike in our blood alcohol content levels. Taking more than one shot in a short amount of time can put us at risk of alcohol poisoning.

If you’re looking to change your drinking habits, Reframe can help. We’ve helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and feel good about themselves in the process.

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