Alcohol

Overview

Alcohol, specifically Ethanol, is the ingredient found in beer, wine, and spirits. It is produced from the fermentation process of grain, fruit, or other sources of sugar. When consumed in excess it causes drunkenness and, because it is a depressant, it also slows down the messages between the brain and the rest of the body.

Appearance

Alcohol comes in a variety of forms, the most common being beer, wine, and spirits. It is served in various sized glassware and can come in cans, bottles, and kegs. Although alcoholic beverages have a wide range os smells depending on the type of drink and ingredients, the underlying smell, especially in higher alcoholic content drinks, is ethanol.

Symptoms and Behavior

Short Term Effects

It only takes minutes after drinking alcohol for it to be absorbed into the bloodstream in the stomach and small intestine. After it begins absorbing into the bloodstream it travels to the brain where the effects of alcohol begin to show. The degree to which someone is affected by alcohol depends on a number of factors including the height, age, and sex of the person consuming alcohol as well as the quantity and time of consumption and how much food is present in the stomach.

Initially, individuals may feel more relaxed and uninhibited. As they become intoxicated the short term effects can include:

  • slurred speech
  • clumsiness and unsteady gait
  • drowsiness
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • distortion of senses and perception
  • loss of consciousness
  • lapses in memory
  • and more.

The short term effects often continue into the next day as a hangover resulting in some or all of these symptoms:

  • headache
  • diarrhea and nausea
  • tiredness and trembling
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • dry mouth
  • trouble concentrating
  • anxiety
  • poor or decreased sleep.

Long Term Effects

Regular alcohol consumption can cause long term effects on both the body and the brain, because alcohol is a depressant it is common to feel depressed after drinking. Other long term effects include:

  • difficulty getting an erection
  • depression
  • poor memory and brain damage
  • difficulty having children
  • high blood pressure and heart disease
  • needing to drink more to get the same effect
  • physical dependence on alcohol.

Medical complications

Excessive alcohol consumption over the long term is partially responsible for more than 200 diseases and health conditions such as:

  • Alcoholism
  • Alcoholic polyneuropathy (disease of the peripheral nerves)
  • Alcoholic myopathy (disease of muscle tissue)
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
  • Alcoholic gastritis (stomach inflammation)
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Alcohol-induced pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (birth defects)
  • Cancer
  • Depressive disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke.

Additionally regular and excessive alcohol consumption can have drastic effects on the brain. Beyond depression, people who heavily drink can have short term memory loss and decreased gray cell counts, which are responsible for spatial processing, and decreased white cell counts, which are responsible for processing visual cues.

Relationships (Family/Friends/etc.)

Alcohol abuse not only affects the person who drinks but also can negatively impact the world around them. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence describes how problem drinking cause issues at work and in relationships. Heavy drinking affects people in these ways:

  • Neglect of important duties: Alcohol impairs one’s cognitive functions and physical capabilities, and this, at some point, will likely result in neglect of responsibilities associated with work, home life, and/or school.
  • Needing time to nurse hangovers: Alcohol has various short-term side effects, such as hangovers. The physical state of a hangover may be temporary, but it can significantly disrupt a person’s ability to meet commitments as well as invite unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating and a lack of exercise.
  • Encountering legal problems: Drinking can increase a person’s likelihood of getting into fights, displaying disorderly conduct in public, driving under the influence, and becoming involved in domestic disputes or violence.
  • The inability to stop at will: Alcohol is an addictive substance and can lead to physical dependence. Although a person who is physically dependent (i.e., has an increased tolerance among other side effects) is not necessarily addicted, ongoing drinking is a slippery slope that can lead to addiction.

Overdose

Risk Factor

When an individual drinks excessive amounts of alcohol in a short time they are at risk of alcohol poisoning. This happens when blood alcohol levels become so high that brain processes are slowed to the point that the person is at risk of dying without even being aware they are in danger. Warning signs include extreme confusion, loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizures, slowed, irregular, or stopped breathing, hypothermia, and cold, clammy skin.

What to do (include 911 emergency)

Immediate action is necessary if someone has overdosed on alcohol. Many people wrongly assume that if a person is a passed out that their symptoms will improve with sleep. Calling 9-1-1 immediately is vital to save a person who has alcohol poisoning. Do not wait to call 9-1-1 if someone exhibits the symptoms of overdosing.

Withdrawal

Symptoms

When heavy drinking has been the norm for a long time the body becomes conditioned to needing alcohol so it is challenging to give it up. Withdrawal symptoms can last up to 7 days and include:

  • sweating
  • tremors
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • seizures
  • hallucinations
  • death.

Remedies

Getting over the effects of alcohol in the short and long term include abstaining from alcohol. Common myths like having another drink to relieve withdrawal symptoms will only exacerbate the problem. Only hydration with water, rest, and time can begin to help recover.

For those seeking long term help from severe alcohol abuse and abstaining from alcohol altogether it may be necessary to enter into a detox treatment center where it can take anywhere from a few days to a week to get all of the alcohol and withdrawal symptoms out of the system. During this time individuals are monitored by doctors and given help to cope with their symptoms.

How to help someone going through withdrawal

Many times those who have moved from recreational drinking into alcohol abuse and dependence either cannot see they have a problem or are unwilling to admit it. It may take intervention from family and friends to help someone break the cycle of addiction.

Recovery from withdrawal can take a long time so continued support and acceptance are important when helping someone who is trying to quit.