What is alcohol? Alcohol is the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced via fermentation and can be legally purchased and consumed in the United States by anyone over the age of 21. Other than tobacco, alcohol is the single most commonly abused drug in the world.
Alcohol is consumed by drinking beer, wine, liquor, or other alcoholic drinks. The amount of intoxication is directly proportional to the amount consumed. A person’s body can metabolize a certain amount of alcohol at a time; consuming more than that leaves the substance free to circulate throughout the body and produce its effects, inducing intoxication and drunkenness. Unlike many other drugs, alcohol affects every organ in the body at once.
In most users, alcohol produces a warm, pleasant “buzz” that can leave a person feeling more confident and sociable. It enjoys regular use as a so-called social lubricant. At higher doses, alcohol use can cause impaired decision making abilities, loss of coordination, memory loss, aggression, and unconsciousness.
The standard teaching in the United States is that one unit of alcohol, or “drink,” is equivalent to consuming one 12oz beer, one 5oz glass of wine, or one 1.5oz shot of liquor. The amount of alcohol required to get a person drunk depends on their body mass and tolerance. To get drunk is essentially to intentionally produce a minor overdose on alcohol.
Alcohol overdose occurs when a person consumes enough alcohol over one short period of time to produce dangerous negative consequences. The amount of alcohol required to induce an overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, depends on a person’s bodily and chemical makeup. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:
The typical rule for alcohol overdose relates to a user’s breathing: if it has slowed to fewer than eight breaths per minute, they require immediate medical help. Additionally, a user who has passed out and cannot be rewoken also needs help and must not be left alone. They may vomit, choke, and die, or stop breathing entirely due to slowed respiratory function.
Even if a person doesn’t drink enough to induce alcohol poisoning or overdose, they can still pose a danger to themselves and to others. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for about 95,000 deaths each year in the United States, accounting for 1 in 10 deaths among adults.
Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking and heavy drinking. The CDC defines these terms as follows:
Binge drinking: Consuming 5 (for men) or 4 (for women) or more drinks at once.
Heavy drinking: Consuming 15 (for men) or 8 (for women) or more drinks in a week.
Both forms of excessive drinking are associated with increased risks for numerous health problems, including liver disease, multiple types of cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, mental illness, cirrhosis, and alcohol-related accidental injury, such as motor vehicle crashes. Alcohol use is also tied to violence, child neglect, fire injuries, and falls.
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Even short-term alcohol use is tied to a number of negative effects. As a person consumes more alcohol than their body can process, they begin to experience effects including:
Drinking even a moderate amount of alcohol greatly increases a user’s risk for numerous harmful conditions. Alcohol users are in particular danger of motor vehicle accidents, drownings, burns, and other forms of accidental deaths; violence, including partner violence, sexual assault, homicide, and suicide; risky sexual behavior; and miscarriage, sudden infant death syndrome, and fetal alcohol syndrome among pregnant women. These are further increased by engaging in binge drinking.
Prolonged alcohol abuse produces long-term and sometimes irreversible effects. Alcohol damages the heart, blood vessels, and vital organs, leading to chronic high blood pressure, liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancers in the mouth, throat, liver, colon, and breast tissue. Long-term alcohol use also damages a user’s immune system and affects the brain, leading to dementia, memory loss, depression, mental illness, antisocial behavior, isolation, and chemical dependency. Alcohol use is also statistically tied to problems like unemployment, familial violence, and financial neglect.
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Most people who consume alcohol do not struggle with severe alcohol use disorder, also known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism. This disease is marked by an inability to stop or limit one’s drinking, even despite negative consequences, and needing an increasing amount of alcohol to produce the same effects.
Even if you don’t have an alcohol use disorder, if your body and brain are accustomed to the presence of alcohol in your system, suddenly cutting off your supply will result in withdrawal symptoms. The intensity of these symptoms will depend on your individual body and depth of habit, but are likely to include:
Users with heavier habits can also experience seizures and intense hallucinations, beginning as soon as 12 hours after their last drink and lasting for 1-3 days. Hallucinations can be vivid, prolonged occurrences in which a person sees, hears, and feels detailed things that aren’t there.
A smaller subset of people withdrawing from alcohol use will experience delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Delirium tremens begins around 2-3 days after a user’s last drink and can include:
The symptoms of delirium tremens are relatively rare, but if experienced, a person should seek immediate medical help.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol use, don’t think that you have to go through it on your own. Treating alcohol dependency and the damage it can wreak is a difficult process and can be made easier by receiving professional treatment.
Warner Park Recovery offers a safe, non-judgmental facility to help you break free of destructive behavior, repair the damage it’s done to your life, and get back on track to living the way you want to live. Reach out today to speak with somebody about building a recovery plan that addresses your unique needs. Don’t wait–your future is in your hands.
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