General interest question / alcohol metabolism

Paul Schlosser SCHLOSSER at
Sat Feb 19 11:04:29 EST 1994

In <Pine.3.05.9402182232.A9203-9100000 at>
Antonio Guia <guia at CC.UManitoba.CA> writes:

>On 18 Feb 1994, Paul Schlosser wrote:
>> Drinking alcohol causes induction of cytochrome P450 2E1 (in the liver),
>> a principle enzyme in alcohol metabolism.  So as your average consumption
>> goes up, so does your metabolism.
>That being the case, why do alcoholics get drunk on less alcohol than the
>first time drinkers?

To repeat Bernard Murray's question: is this so?  While I'm aware of 2E1's
induction and role in metabolism, I'm no expert on alcoholism.  However, 
in anecdotal fasion, I've observed that "tea-totelers" (sp?) respond 
to very little alcohol ("One drink knocks me out,") while non-alcoholic, 
regular drinkers have a greater "capacity", or at least they have learned 
to function, and stay awake, after greater doses.  I suspect that there are 
some psychological factors here too -- e.g., if you tell someone that a drink 
is alcoholic when it is not, will alcoholics respond differently than non-

A lot (most??) of alcohol is exhaled, so differences in 2E1 levels may not
make that much difference in blood levels.  Also, for many compounds, the
rate of metabolism is limited by the rate of liver perfusion, so changes in
2E1 levels probably does not give a proportionate change in blood levels.

Also, while as Bernard Murray noted, 2E1 exists in other tissues, the bulk
of the metabolizing capacity is in the liver.

Paul Schlosser
Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology
schlosser at

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