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How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

Alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world. It is part of family gatherings and friendly get-togethers, events, restaurants, sporting events, and vacations. It has been a prevalent part of our civilizations for thousands of years. 

The most common forms of alcoholic beverages are beer and rum with coke, which can be obtained easily in the U.S. if you are age 21 or older. The social drink has very strong effects on the body, especially if drinking is moderated. Excessive drinking can lead to deadly consequences, such as alcohol poisoning. 

What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is technically a broad category of chemicals that all have a chemical structure that involves hydroxyl bonded to carbon. There are many different types of chemical alcohols, and all but one are toxic to humans. Ethanol is what most people mean when they refer to drinking alcohol, and it can be found in all beer, wine, and liquor. 

Alcohol is one of the oldest known recreational psychoactive substances in the world. Some believe that humans developed the ability to consume alcohol to digest fruit that had fallen and fermented. Alcohol is produced naturally as enzymes break down sugars in fruit, wheat, barley, and other plant materials that are rich in carbohydrates.

When you drink ethanol, it enters your bloodstream through your metabolism. Once it’s in your blood, your liver filters out a certain amount. If you moderate your drinking, ethanol may be all by completely filtered out by your liver. But when you drink in excess, it’s more than what your liver can handle. Excess alcohol makes its way to your brain and starts to have psychoactive effects. 

Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant in your brain. That means it works by suppressing the nervous system, causing sedation, hypnosis, a loss of motor control, and it generally slows down cognition and muscle movement. High doses can cause intoxication, which is characterized by slurred speech, unsteady gait, impaired decision-making, and lowered inhibitions. Alcohol can also lead to tolerance, dependence, addiction, overdose, and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. 

How Much Alcohol Should You Drink?

Although alcohol is not important for a healthy diet, it can be taken semi-frequently without any issues. In the United States, a standard drink contains around 6 oz (ounces). This can be found in a 12-ounce beer which contains 5 percent alcohol. One to two drinks is considered to be a safe amount for adults over age 21. 

Usually, during social events while drinking, people are eating, such as in cookouts or sporting events. Drinking more than one or two bottles that are 5 percent to 12 percent alcohol without ingesting any solids can have undesirable effects. For an adult man, anything more than five to six drinks is considered to be an excessive amount. This is known as binge drinking. For adult females, drinking four to five bottles is excessive. Staying within the boundaries of drinking is likely safe and won’t cause significant harm in the body. 

When Shouldn’t You Drink?

People shouldn’t drink when they are:

  • Younger than the legal age (which is 21 in the U.S.)
  • When they are driving or doing activities that require alertness or coordination
  • Pregnant
  • Taking over-the-counter or prescribed medications
  • Addicted to alcohol

By staying away from alcohol during these particular instances, it will help you stay away from any negative manifestations that arise from alcohol. It can cause mental side effects and physical illnesses. 

The Dangers of Excessive Alcohol

Drinking too much can lead to serious consequences, not only for yourself but also for those around you. Because this drug is a mind-altering substance or depressant, it can change the way someone acts or perceives things. Each case is different. 

Some people become docile, while others become aggressive. Some people begin to experience sexual urges while another person may want to fall asleep. The common effect it has on everyone is that it manipulates the way you interact with your surroundings. 

For some reason, many people have taken up driving while under the influence. This is a yearly issue the United States faces. Every year, an estimated 10,000 people in the U.S. are killed in alcohol-related accidents. In many cases, innocent people are fatally impacted because of careless drivers who are under the influence. Although driving drunk is illegal in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, this phenomenon is still prominent.

Alcohol on the Brain

Excessive drinking causes people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t even think of. Alcohol raises GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) levels in the brain, which is a chemical neurotransmitter that makes you feel relaxed and calm. For this reason, many people turn to alcohol to lower their anxiety and stress in their lives. Another relevant effect it has on the brain is that it can increase levels of dopamine in the brain. This chemical is known for sending signals of pleasure. 

As mentioned previously, some people become sexually stimulated under the influence. This is because the drug is capable of elevating norepinephrine transmitters in the brain. This stimulant on the brain causes arousal and excitement at high levels. 

Now, specifically, the reason people make ill choices when under the influence is because alcohol has the power to decrease activities in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for helping you make rational and logical decisions. The blurred effect caused by alcohol is making it harder for the brain to process rational decisions. 

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How Excessive Drinking Harms the Body

Aside from the immediate actions of alcohol, there are other long-term, harmful effects that can be deadly for many. People who drink alcohol excessively over time can begin to experience high blood pressure and irregularities in their heartbeat. The heart muscle begins to stretch and find itself uncoordinated (cardiomyopathy). 

Another common organ affected by alcohol is the liver. Those who drink daily and excessively over time can begin to develop liver inflammation. Due to this inflammation, a slew of illnesses can manifest, such as alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, and fatty liver (steatosis). The liver is also highly affected by the excessive amounts of alcohol it takes in daily. 

Cancer from Alcohol

There have been many studies over the past decade or so that have validated the fact that excessive alcohol can produce various forms of cancer in the body. Elevating the levels of alcohol over time can lead to this problematic conclusion.

Different types of cancer are related to head and neck cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer. Each serves as consequences of excessive levels of alcohol. For example, breast cancer can develop if a woman drinks 45 grams of alcohol per day for a long time. 

Adding to this is the fact that alcohol weakens your immune system, which is easier for viruses or diseases to overpower the body. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are more likely to affect a heavy drinker than the average person.

Detox and Treatments 

Alcohol is possibly the most problematic drug in the country and has many people battling addiction than any other substance. Its availability adds to the issues people face, especially middle-aged men and women. The only way to secure help is by seeking a medical detox program. 

Detox can ease the withdrawal phase and much more bearable manner. Millions of Americans never achieve full recovery from alcohol addiction because of the neglect of professional treatment. Detox alongside therapy can really steer a person’s life in a new direction.

Sources

“Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body

“CDC – Fact Sheets-Alcohol Use And Health – Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, July 8). Alcohol and Cancer | CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/index.htm

“The Most 10 Of Everything.” The Most 10 Of Everything, 14 June 2014. Retrieved from http://www.themost10.com/10-most-popular-alcohol-drinks/

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/alcohol

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2004, September 16). Ethanol. Retrieved from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Ethanol

“What Is Alcohol Made from? Ingredients, Chemicals and Manufacture.” Drinkaware. Retrieved from https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/alcoholic-drinks-and-units/what-is-alcohol-ingredients-chemicals-and-manufacture

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