What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol contains the organic compound ethanol and is created by fermenting grains, sugar, and fruits. Consuming alcohol makes people experience psychoactive effects and drinking too much alcohol for an extended period can have long-term negative consequences, like the development of adverse physical side-effects and alcohol use disorders (AUDs).
What Is A Standard Drink?
There are three main groups of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, and liquor), and what constitutes a standard drink of each depends on the varying alcohol content. A standard drink is often defined as:
- 12 fluid ounces of beer (contains 5% alcohol)
- 8 to 10 fluid ounces of malt liquor (contains 7% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of wine (contains 12% alcohol)
- 5 fluid ounces of brandy, gin, whiskey, rum, tequila, and vodka (contains 40% alcohol)
It’s important to remember that one glass or bottle of any type of alcohol may not equal one standard drink. Depending on the size of the container, it may contain two or three standard drinks. A misunderstanding like this can lead to drinking more than intended.
What Is Excessive Drinking?
The term excessive drinking encompasses four dangerous drinking patterns, including:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in six Americans binge drink, with many reporting binging up to four times a month.
Binge drinking can contribute to heavy drinking, which entails drinking eight or more drinks per week for women and fifteen or more for men.
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What Are The Effects Of Alcohol?
Common short-term effects a person might experience after consuming alcohol include:
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of judgment
The intensity of these side effects can vary from person to person and, if experienced frequently, can be a sign of alcohol misuse and AUDs.
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Factors That Affect Intoxication
Two or more people can consume the same amount of alcohol but have very different experiences. Many factors influence the effects of alcohol, including:
- Weight: People with higher weights metabolize alcohol more slowly.
- Gender: Females tend to metabolize alcohol slower than men.
- Food consumption: Having food in the stomach can slow alcohol metabolism.
- Type of alcohol: Liquors and wines have higher alcohol content than beer.
- Amount of alcohol: Consuming more drinks produces more effects.
- Mixing alcohol with other substances: Medications, illicit drugs, and vitamins can all change the effects of alcohol.
- Emotional state: Mood and attitude can influence the effects of drinking alcohol.
- Tolerance: Drinking alcohol for long periods builds tolerance, where someone needs more alcohol to feel the same effects.
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Why Is Alcohol Dangerous?
Alcohol harms the brain and body, and drinking too much can cause fatal and nonfatal consequences.
- Approximately 400 alcohol-related deaths occur every day.
- Emergency room visits list alcohol as the reason for treatment in more than 1.7 million cases.
- Out of all the substance-related overdoses, alcohol was the cause in one in six cases.
- One in four suicides involves alcohol.
- More than 13,000 traffic-related deaths involve alcohol.
Statistics like these show the many hazards of alcohol misuse, but not all of them. There are unreported injuries, accidents, and assaults involving alcohol that occur daily. While they may not lead to death, they can harm a person’s physical and psychological health.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Brain?
As alcohol enters the body and the bloodstream, it travels to the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain helps with decision making and thought processing, which becomes hindered by alcohol.
Alcohol then affects the nucleus accumbens, which play a role in feeling pleasure and reward. Drinking alcohol stimulates the nucleus accumbens, releasing dopamine chemicals that make a person feel good. However, since alcohol is a depressant, long-term use eventually leads to dulled senses and symptoms of depression.
Alcohol also increases impulsivity, risky behaviors, and sexual motivation by affecting the amygdala, the area of the brain that monitors the ability to assess danger. Alcohol also effects the hippocampus, the area of the brain that deals with memory, so drinking alcohol makes it difficult to form and retain memories. This is why some people experience blackouts that prevent them from remembering what they did while drinking.
Lastly, the cerebellum is the area of the brain that helps a person balance themselves, walk, run, and perform other motor skills. Alcohol also affects this area, making it harder to do any of these actions, leading to accidents and injuries.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Body?
Alcohol alters how the brain communicates with the rest of the body, and this miscommunication can lead to poor long-term health outcomes. Below are common effects alcohol has on various parts of the body.
Drinking small amounts of alcohol can benefit heart health, as it raises the good cholesterol the body needs and provides antioxidants. However, drinking too much alcohol can cause serious damage to the heart. The effects may include irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy that harms the heart muscle.
Liver And Pancreas
Alcohol increases inflammation in the liver. Too much inflammation can lead to fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fibrosis. Inflammation in the pancreas can lead to acute and chronic pancreatitis, preventing the body from digesting foods properly.
Misusing alcohol can weaken the immune system, allowing pathogens to survive and thrive in the body. Even the occasional night of binge drinking can weaken the immune system for a day or two after alcohol leaves the body. A weakened immune system means a person may struggle to fight off colds, flu, and viruses.
Other Effects On The Body
Too much alcohol over a long time can lead to bone loss, muscle weakness, and respiratory issues. It can also encourage various cancers, such as oral, rectum, breast, and colon.
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Who Should Avoid Alcohol?
Though risk factors do not guarantee someone will develop an AUD, they do make it more likely. Therefore, the following are signs to take into consideration:
- Genetics: Having a close relative with an AUD can be a sign that you may be predisposed to develop an addiction to alcohol.
- Past trauma: There is a direct link between past trauma and AUD. Traumas may include emotional or sexual abuse, natural disasters, death, or divorce within a family.
- Age of first use: Drinking as a youth is associated with a higher risk of alcohol misuse as an adult.
- Having a physical or mental health disorder: Up to 40% of people with depression or anxiety also have an AUD.
Get The Help You Need For Alcohol Addiction
Seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder is the first essential step towards a life free from addiction.
Treatment can provide the support and resources necessary to get your life back on track. Contact a treatment provider today to discuss and explore the treatment options available to you.