The alcohol commonly found in beer, wine, liquor and other alcoholic beverages is ethanol. It is the product of the fermentation of fruit, berries and malted grain. In fermentation, yeast, which is a fungus, converts the sugar in these substances to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Liquor is produced differently through a process known as distillation.
Although alcohol can initially have a euphoric effect on the human brain, it is classified as a depressant because it ultimately has a slowing effect on the central nervous system. Depending on the amount, alcohol consumption can cause drowsiness or even unconsciousness or death. Alcohol can be legally purchased and consumed by adults over the age of 21 in most states. It is illegal for minors to purchase or consume alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages have been common since ancient times, when fermentation was one of the primary means of preserving harvests. Moderate consumption of alcohol can actually have some positive health benefits – notably a reduced risk of heart disease. When alcohol is consumed with moderation and without compulsiveness, it is known as alcohol use. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), alcohol use is the consumption of alcohol for social or religious purposes without demonstrating the characteristics of alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
Alcohol abuse occurs when someone continues to drink even when to do so has negative physical, emotional, mental or social consequences. Any alcohol use by minors is considered alcohol abuse, since their brains are not fully developed and their bodies are unable to eliminate the alcohol in the same way as adult bodies. Many individuals abuse alcohol routinely and yet never develop the disease of alcoholism.
Alcoholism, according to the NIH, is a chronic disease involving a strong need to drink, the inability to stop drinking, the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, and tolerance. A person’s susceptibility to alcoholism – also known as alcohol addiction – can be influenced by genetic, environmental and psychosocial factors.
When alcohol enters the body, it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and the small intestine. It is treated by the body as a toxin, which is processed by the liver. The liver contains an enzyme known as ADH which converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is in turn converted into carbon dioxide and water and released from the body through exhalation and urination. The liver, depending on the size, weight and gender of the person in question, can normally eliminate approximately one serving of alcohol per hour. (A serving of alcohol can be a 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or a 1.5 oz. shot of 80 proof liquor.) When a person consumes alcohol at a faster rate than the body can eliminate it, that person’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) increases.
Alcohol has short-term and long-term effects. In the short-term, moderate alcohol use causes a feeling of euphoria accompanied by reduced inhibitions, focus and coordination and slower reflexes and reaction time. Medium alcohol usage involves more severe short-term consequences including slurred speech, sleepiness, blurred vision and emotional fluctuation. Heavy usage can cause vomiting, black out, uncontrollable defecation or urination, passing out, coma or even death.
Long-term effects of alcohol abuse are even more severe, affecting the heart, brain and liver. Chronic alcohol abuse has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke and increased hypertension. It can also cause arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. It can lead to a variety of liver inflammations including steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. It can also lead to pancreatitis and can increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast. Chronic alcohol abuse can also depress the immune system, leading to a higher rate of sickness and infectious disease. Use of alcohol by pregnant women can result in fetal alcohol syndrome in their children. Those are just the physical effects. Chronic alcohol abuse and alcoholism can also reek havoc on a person’s relationships with family and friends, career, emotional stability, education, and virtually every area of a person’s life.
When a person who has become dependent on alcoholic suddenly stops using it, it can result in severe withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, shakiness, sweating, nausea, irritability, loss of appetite, fatigue and headaches. Severe withdrawal can cause hallucinations, seizure and even death.
If you struggle with alcohol abuse or feel you may have the disease of alcoholism, Serenity House can help. We offer safe, medically-supervised detoxification, which can help mitigate the worst effects of alcohol withdrawal. Our residential treatment program gives you the tools you need to forge a true and lasting recovery.