What is Alcohol

Alcohol is a Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressant and slows down brain’s functioning. Some people think that alcohol is a stimulant because it makes people feel more energetic and lowers inhibitions.
 

Types of alcohol:

Ethanol (Ethyl alcohol)  is a chemical name used for the alcohol present in beer, wine, spirits and liqueurs. It is produced by fermenting or distilling various fruits, vegetables, or grains. Pure ethyl alcohol is a clear and  colorless liquid. Products such as rubbing alcohol, vanilla extract, some mouthwashes, aftershave lotions, and cooking wines all contain high concentrations of ethyl alcohol. Despite the danger of overdose and toxic effects, alcoholics who cannot afford beverage alcohol often drink these products because they are potent and readily available. In beverages, pure ethyl alcohol is diluted with various ingredients that affect the colour and consistency. Spirits such as whisky and gin usually contain 40% pure alcohol, table wine 12%, regular beer 5%, and spirit and wine-based coolers 5%. The usual serving (standard drink) contains 0.6 oz. (17 ml) of pure alcohol in the form of 1.5 oz. (45 ml) of spirits, 5 oz. (150 ml) of table wine, or 12 oz. (355 ml) of regular Canadian beer. The effect of alcohol does not depend on the alcoholic beverage but, rather, on the amount of pure ethyl alcohol consumed.

Methanol (Methyl alcohol) is found in solvents, paint removers, antifreeze, liquid fuel, lacquer thinner, industrial cleaning solutions, and other household and industrial products.  It is another clear, colorless liquid. It is highly poisonous and should never be consumed. It cannot be made non-poisonous. As little as 1/2 oz. (15 ml) can cause blindness and 2 to 3 oz. (59 to 89 ml) can be fatal.

Short-term effects of alcohol use:

  • a sense of well-being
  • drowsiness, dizziness and flushing
  • gradual loss of coordination skills
  • speech, balance and vision affected
  • hangover the morning after

Long-term effects of alcohol use:

  • serious health problems such as ulcers, brain damage, liver disease, sexual problems, seizures, strokes, kidney failure, and cancer
  • one or more life area affected by drinking, including: physical health, mental and emotional health; relationships; work, school performance,  financial and/or legal situation.

Drinking patterns

Some people are social drinkers, some binge drinkers, or some “problem drinkers”. Some may be physically addicted to alcohol and not able to function without it. Binge drinkers are people who go days, or weeks without alcohol, but drink a lot at one time (more than 4 drinks per occasion for men; and 3 drinks per occasion for women). Both heavy drinking and binge drinking are examples of problem drinking, especially if a person is experiencing some of the difficulties mentioned above.

Alcohol and addiction

People who use alcohol may find that they need more and more to get the same effect. They may experience withdrawal symptoms. These may vary from insomnia, nervousness and sweating to more severe symptoms such as tremors, hallucinations, DT’s and convulsions.

 

Alcohol: How does it work?

Alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine. The effects of alcohol depend on how much of it entered the bloodstream. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) determines how much the nervous system becomes affected and/or depressed.

The drinker’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) depends on many factors, including: the amount of alcohol consumed, the time elapsed, food, the drinker’s size, gender, age, and metabolism.  Food delays the feeling of intoxication by slowing down  the absorption of alcohol in the stomach, and delaying  the  passage of alcohol into the small intestine. The absorption rate depends on the amount and type of food in your stomach. For example, high- carbohydrate and high- fat foods lessen the absorption rates, and the feeling of intoxication reduced.  Another factor affecting blood-alcohol concentration in the body is water. Our bodies are 2/3 water; Since alcohol dilutes in water,  big people feel the effects of alcohol less than those of us who are smaller (and have less water).

Generally, the effects of alcohol may appear within 10 minutes and peak at approximately 40 – 60 minutes. Alcohol stays in the bloodstream until it is broken down by the liver. If a person consumes alcohol at a faster rate than the liver can break it down, the blood alcohol concentration level rises.

Alcohol depresses breathing rate, heart rate, and the control mechanisms in the brain, and some of the effects of alcohol use include:

  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Less ability to drive and perform complex tasks
  • Prolonged reaction time
  • Reduced attention span
  • Reduced inhibitions, which may lead to embarrassing behavior
  • Slower thought processes

In the body, alcohol is broken down (metabolized) by enzymes present in the liver and stomach. This usually occurs at a constant rate of about one standard drink per (safely speaking) 2 hours. Women consuming the same amount of alcohol as men have a higher alcohol concentration in their blood because they have lower body water.   Alcohol use affects most organs, and the way the bodily systems function; For example, alcohol increases stomach secretions, dilates blood vessels in the skin (causing loss of body heat despite a feeling of warmth), increases urine production, and even in small amounts can lead to accumulations of fat in liver cells. The most obvious & immediate effects of alcohol result from depression of the nervous system.

Equally, the initial apparent stimulant effect results from depression of the center in the brain that inhibits action and restrain behavior. After one drink most people feel relaxed, and after two or three people feel outgoing and more confident. At four,  thinking, judgment, and ability to estimate distances can be impaired and reaction times increased. Significant impairment occurs at levels greater than 0.10 (four or five drinks in an hour for a male). BACs above the range of 0.40 to 0.60 are usually fatal from respiratory depression. Death from alcohol overdose is often associated with heavy consumption over a short period of time at. Unconsciousness is one sign of possible alcohol overdose. Death may also occur when moderate amounts of alcohol are combined with other depressant drugs such as sleeping pills and tranquillizers.

(It is important to note that just as some people feel more social and outgoing after a couple of drinks, others report feeling more hostile, depressed and withdrawn.)

Different BAC Levels may have different effects, for example:

  • 0.05 — reduced inhibitions
  • 0.10 — slurred speech
  • 0.20 — euphoria and motor impairment
  • 0.30 — confusion
  • 0.40 — stupor
  • 0.50 — coma
  • 0.60 — respiratory paralysis and death

Hangover is the syndrome of weariness, headache, nausea, and sometimes vomiting and shakiness occur 8  to 12 hrs after a period of heavy drinking. The hangover is in  part a mild alcohol withdrawal, and can be somewhat suppressed by additional alcohol. The symptoms usually disappear within 24 hours as body systems return to normal, and  in spite of the myths circulating in some of the social circles, there aren’t any remedies that can speed this up.

Blackouts are periods of memory loss that occur while a person is drinking heavily. In a blackout, the person presents as conscious and functioning, but is later unable to recall what they did or said. Blackouts are indicators that there may be a drinking problem.

With continued exposure to excess alcohol, the nervous system adapts to the constant presence of depressant and physical dependence develops. Due to a  build -up in tolerance, many drinkers don’t appear intoxicated even with increased consumption; hence their deteriorating physical condition may go unrecognized for quite some time. Tolerance is the need to consume more alcohol to obtain a desired effect, consistent with the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms when drinking stops.

Withdrawal symptoms often develop in three stages. The initial phase, which begins within a few hours after drinking stops, includes “the shakes”, irritability, nausea and vomiting, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms reach peak intensity within 24 to 48 hours, and subside in two or three days. Alcoholic hallucinosis—very real nightmares,or seeing/hearing things that are not there—can occur during this phase. In the second phase, convulsions can develop , this may happen 24 to 48 hours post drinking periods. Seizures have been reported to occur as long as 5 to 15, or even 20 days later. Delirium tremens (DTs) are the third and most serious stage of alcohol withdrawal. They occur four or five days after prolonged, heavy drinking stops, at which time the person becomes severely agitated, extremely confused and disoriented, and has dilated pupils, fever, and a very rapid heart rate. Frightening hallucinations and bizarre delusions can also occur.

Psychological withdrawal symptoms:

  • Jumpiness or nervousness
  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or easy excitability
  • Rapid emotional changes/ mood swings/ mood extremes
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Bad dreams

Physical withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headache — general, pulsating
  • Sweating — especially the palms of the hands or the face
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paleness
  • Insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Eye pupils enlarged(dilated pupils)
  • Clammy skin
  • Tremor of the hands
  • Involuntary, abnormal movements of the eyelids

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms include:

  • Delirium tremens — a state of confusion and visual hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Convulsions
  • Black outs — when the person forgets what happened during the drinking episode

It is also important to mention that our mood and situation can also affect how alcohol makes us feel. Good mood combined with moderate amounts of alcohol may make us happier, but if we are tired, angry or depressed, alcohol can deepen or worsen these emotions.

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