Alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, is a major health concern globally. Alcohol has significant cultural and societal importance around the world. Whether it be parties, different celebrations, happy gatherings, or a post funeral reception, alcohol is always the star of the event. But, with being such a prevalent part of society comes with some negativity. So, what is alcohol and why is it so deadly?
What Is Alcohol?
Also referred to as ethanol, alcohol is a psychoactive drug. Ethanol is an active ingredient in alcoholic beverages like beer, whiskey, vodka, wine, and hard liquor. Alcohol is one of the oldest recreational substances produced and consumed by humans. Its production dates back to approximately 10,000 years. Alcoholic beverages are legalized in most countries. However, there is a certain age restriction for its consumption in each country. For instance, most common legal drinking age in majority of countries is 21 years old. The purpose of age restriction is because of harmful effects of alcohol on the brain of younger individuals debilitating them in the long run.
Uses Of Alcohol and BAC
Alcohol is most commonly used recreationally in the form of beverages. In addition to this, alcohol is used as a disinfectant, an antiseptic, and an antidote.
The amount of alcohol in a user’s body can be quantified by the so-called body alcohol content, or BAC. BAC has importance medically and legally. BAC is given as weight of ethanol per unit volume of blood. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram of its consumption. This means, as shown in the chart below, that intoxication can be determined by levels of BAC.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a very powerful central nervous system depressant. It is a major mood lifter. In fact, a very vast majority of people opt to drink whenever they are stressed out.
Alcohol produces euphoria, sedation, decreased anxiety and increased confidence making the person more social. Alcohol impairs the cognitive functions making the person have a poor memory and short attention span.
Alcohol causes classic characteristics of drunkenness (alcohol intoxication). A drunk person is likely to get injured owing to lack of coordination caused by alcohol. How quickly a person gets drunk depends on the persons age, gender, body mass index (BMI), etc. As you keep consuming more and more alcohol (increasing the blood alcohol content), the symptoms of alcohol intoxication progress ultimately leading to death. There are six stages of alcohol intoxication:
On The Brain
Alcohol almost affects every single organ of the body. Too much alcohol over a long period of time can have detrimental effects on the heart causing pathologies such as cardiomyopathies, arrythmias, stroke and high blood pressure. The most commonly affected organ by alcohol is the liver. Alcohol consumption causes a fatty liver which progresses through various stages if alcohol consumption is not ceased. Fatty liver progress to alcoholic steatohepatitis, which then over the years leads to fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver means that liver can no longer perform its normal functions. This is associated with a very poor prognosis unless a liver transplant is done. The reason liver is most commonly affected is because liver is the major organ responsible to metabolize alcohol.
Alcohol can also cause acute pancreatitis and stomach problems like bloating and formation of painful ulcers. Chronic alcohol use is more likely to depress the body’s immune function making the body more prone to contracting diseases. A vast majority of researches also suggest that persistent alcohol use is associated with an increased likelihood of cancer.
On The Body
Alcohol extensively affects the brain and can cause certain disorders. These include peripheral neuropathies, cerebellar degeneration, dementia and less commonly it can affect the optic nerve and corpus callosum (bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two hemispheres of the brain).
Alcohol can also cause malnutrition because of its tendency to interfere with the absorption of various nutrients and also due to poor diet of alcoholics.
Alcohol has deleterious effects on the growing fetus and this is the reason why pregnant mothers are advised to avoid alcohol at all costs during their pregnancy. Heavy alcohol drinking can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, associated with facial abnormality, growth retardation, muscular in-coordination, low intelligence and hyperactivity.
Other Effects From Alcohol
Other physical and harmful effects of alcohol include:
- Episodic hypoglycemia (drop in blood glucose levels every now and then)
- Osteoporosis and osteomalacia
- Obesity or emaciation
- Gout and much more.
Why Is Alcohol So Addictive?
Alcohol primarily affects the brain by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Increasing the levels of this, alcohol depresses the activity of the brain producing its effects. This widely used drug also affects a lot of neurotransmitter systems like glutamate, glycine, acetylcholine and serotonin. Serotonin makes the person elated compelling people to consume it more and more frequently. The euphoric effects of alcohol are related to the release of dopamine in the reward pathways of the brain. All this contributes to make a person addicted.
Tolerance and dependence
Alcohol has a very high tolerance. This means the person requires more and more of the booze to feel the same desired effect. Alcohol dependence is when a person is physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol dependence syndrome: (ICD-10) this is a chronic condition in which the person continuously craves alcoholic beverages and is unable to withdraw from them. This causes impairment for that individual socially and occupationally.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal: this occurs when you cut down on your drinks. Symptoms can be very mild or very severe and include:
- Shaky hands
Treating alcohol addiction or alcoholism can be extremely demanding but with professional help and massive support from friends and family, it can be done. Finding a drug rehab center near you is the first step to getting better.
Social Damages of Alcoholism
Chronic alcoholism can lead to significant consequences for the society. A few of these include:
- Below par work performance
- Harsh and violent behavior of individuals towards family or friends. Including, domestic violence, martial rape, etc.
- Accidental damage
- Road accidents, because of driving while drunk. In fact, drunk driving is a major cause of road accidents worldwide.
- Crime, mainly petty offenses. Also, sexual offenses and violent ones like murder.
- Emotional and conduct problem in the alcoholic’s children.
- Expensive healthcare. Alcohol is a cause of lot of physical illnesses and therefore is a major cause of hospital admissions in alcohol legal countries.
Finding help from alcoholism may require you to enter an alcohol rehab program. However, with the right motivation, you can do anything you wish to. But, finding help and maintaining sobriety is not always easy. It’s important that you are honest with yourself, and make the simple decision to reach out to a rehab center.