What is Alcohol?
Alcohol found in beverages is a clear liquid that causes intoxication in users. Ethyl alcohol also referred to as ethanol, is considered to be a depressant as well as a psychoactive substance. Stimulating effects can be felt in smaller doses, which is the reason many people choose to consume beverages that contain alcohol. The depressant effects of alcohol use become more apparent in larger doses that depend on an individual’s metabolic rate and other circumstances.
How Is Alcohol Made?
Alcohol is created through a process of fermentation. Grains, fruits, or even vegetables are combined with yeast and often extra sugars. The yeast feeds on sugars and carbohydrates found naturally in certain foods, and excess sugars when used. Alcohol is one of the by-products excreted by yeast during the fermentation process. Certain types of alcoholic beverages are then distilled to remove excess water to create a stronger drink.
Alcohol Use through Time
Ancient civilizations created fermented alcohol products as far back as the early Egyptians before 7000 B.C. There is evidence of ancient alcohol use in China, India, Babylonia, and Native American cultures. The early Greeks gave warnings about drinking too much alcohol. Alcoholic beverages were frequently used in celebrations and later were used for medicinal purposes. However, it wasn’t until the early twentieth century that the United States took serious note of the dangers of alcohol and began promoting the idea of moderation.
Why Do People Drink?
The reasons people choose to drink alcoholic beverages are as varied and unique as the people themselves, though there are some common reasons why many people opt to drink. The mot common reason people choose to drink is for the stimulating effect that can be obtained in lower doses. This might help users to loosen up and have a good time. Others choose to drink as they think it makes them feel better, as a way to help them feel happier, more relaxed, less stressed, and to feel more confident. Some people drink when they experience problems, as it helps them to avoid dealing with the issue for a period. Other people choose to drink out of peer pressure, or because many of their friends drink, and they wish to fit in. Whatever the reason, drinking is a personal choice, but it is important to remember than drinking alcoholic beverages cannot cure problems and can be harmful to a person’s health.
Laws on Drinking
Due to the adverse effects of alcohol on the brain and body, there are laws and regulations in the United States that regulate its consumption, distribution, and sale. Alcohol beverages can only be purchased by persons who are 21 years of age and older. By law, the purchaser is required to show proof of age with a legitimate form of identification. Retailers who fail to obtain the proper proof of age can be subject to fines and legal action. People who provide alcohol to underage users may also be subject to penalties that could include sanctions by the criminal justice system. There are also laws regarding the public consumption of alcoholic beverages, as well as those that involve driving and riding in a motor vehicle.
How Much Alcohol Is too Much?
The effects of consumption of alcoholic beverages vary by individual. This depends on how much alcohol is taken over a period, a person’s own metabolism, and even environmental factors. Generally speaking, it takes the body about an hour to metabolize about one drink. This would be a shot of liquor, one beer, or a glass of wine. Also, men should consume no more than four drinks per day, while women should consume no more than three such drinks. Any more than that can lead to serious risks to health. Even those amounts are considered high for those who have risk factors for developing certain diseases and conditions.
What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is when people consume a significant amount of alcohol in a short period. Individuals who engage in binge drinking might do so on purpose to get drunk. Others don’t pay close enough attention to their drinking or make excuses as to why they should have just one more drink. This significant amount of alcohol is defined as more than four drinks for men and more than three drinks for women in a short period. Binge drinkers might take more risks, engage in risky behaviors, push aside responsibilities, lose short term memory, and might even experience blackouts. A blackout is a period that the drinker cannot remember, sort of a temporary amnesia. This blackout period can last for a few minutes to a few weeks in very rare cases.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Alcohol stimulates the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, causing the stimulating effects first experienced when drinking. These neurotransmitters affect the pleasure centers and reward centers in the brain, making the user want more. Larger amounts of alcohol will cause depressant effects. This results in clumsiness that is often apparent when alcohol drinkers walk. Speech may also become slurred. Blurred vision, slow reaction times, and memory problems are all effects that alcohol has on the brain. When alcohol is consumed in large amount on a regular basis, some individuals may develop an addiction, often referred to as alcoholism. This occurs in certain people when the brain changes its reward pathways due to excess alcohol consumption.
How Alcohol Affects the Body
Excessive or long term use of alcoholic beverages can cause damage to different areas of the body. Brain damage may occur from the death of brain cells and changes in the neuropathways caused by alcohol use. Alcohol can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Alcohol use causes direct damage to the liver, resulting in an increase in the risk of liver disease and liver cancer. The throat, stomach, and pancreas are also affected by long-term alcohol use, leading to ulcers, cancers, and difficulties with metabolism and insulin.
Drinking too much alcohol over a period can lead to an overdose called alcohol poisoning. Many signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning can vary by individual and amount of alcohol in the body. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning should be taken very seriously and require immediate medical attention. Some of the signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Mental confusion or stupor
- Depressed respiration
- Irregular breathing
- Bluish tint to lips or skin
- Unconsciousness with inability to awaken
- Low body temperature
Without proper medical intervention, severe alcohol poisoning can be a critical condition and even lead to death.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is the continued and intentional misuse of alcohol. Those who abuse alcohol continue to use despite negative consequences. There are several signs and symptoms that determine if a person is abusing alcohol. These include:
- Avoiding responsibilities due to drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
- Engaging in risky behaviors while drinking
- Continued use despite repeated legal problems
- Continued use despite problems with family, friends, and social networks
- Drinking to reduce stress and mood issues
Those who abuse alcohol are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol addiction, or alcoholism.
What Is Alcohol Addiction or Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is considered to be a disease in which those who use alcoholic beverages no longer have control over their drinking and continue to drink regardless of the problems it causes. They may have tried quitting many times without success. Alcoholics have given up previously enjoyable activities, as most of their time and effort is involved in obtaining, using, and recovering from alcohol. Two of the telltale signs that someone has become dependent on alcohol are increased tolerance, needing more alcohol to obtain the same effects, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit or going without alcohol after a period.
Getting Help from Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction
It is important for those who experience alcohol abuse or alcoholism to seek out professional help to overcome their issues with alcohol. This is because addiction is a complex disease requiring a person to learn ways to cope with the stresses of daily life while working around the issues associated with addiction. Those who wish to quit using alcohol should consider a supervised detoxification process as well. Withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely painful, as well as a dangerous situation for those who have drank for long periods of time.