People drink to socialize, celebrate, and relax. Alcohol often has a strong effect on people - and throughout history, we've struggled to understand and manage alcohol's power. Why does alcohol cause us to act and feel differently? How much is too much? Why do some people become addicted while others do not?
Alcohol's effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:
- How much you drink
- How often you drink
- Your age
- Your health status
- Your family history
While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem - drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.
Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol's immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol's effects. These effects can include:
- Reduced inhibitions
- Slurred speech
- Motor impairment
- Memory problems
- Concentration problems
- Breathing problems
- Other risks of drinking can include:
- Car crashes and other accidents
- Risky behavior
- Violent behavior
- Suicide and homicide
Alcohol use disorders are medical conditions that doctors can diagnose when a patient's drinking causes distress or harm. In the United States, about 18 million people have an alcohol use disorder, classified as either alcohol dependence-perhaps better known as alcoholism-or alcohol abuse.
Alcoholism, the more serious of the disorders, is a disease that includes symptoms such as:
- Craving - A strong need, or urge, to drink.
- Loss of control - Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
- Physical dependence - Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.
- Tolerance - The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel the same effect.
- People who are alcoholic often will spend a great deal of their time drinking, making sure they can get alcohol, and recovering from alcohol's effects, often at the expense of other activities and responsibilities.
Although people who abuse alcohol are not physically dependent, they still have a serious disorder. They may not fulfill responsibilities at home, work, or school because of their drinking. They may also put themselves in dangerous situations (like driving under the influence) or have legal or social problems (such as arrests or arguments with family members) due to their drinking.*
Like many other diseases, alcoholism is typically considered chronic, meaning that it lasts a person's lifetime. However, we continue to learn more and more about alcohol abuse and alcoholism; and what we're learning is changing our perceptions of the disease. For instance, data from NIAAA's National Epidemiological Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions has shown that more than 70 percent of people who develop alcohol dependence have a single episode that lasts on average 3 or 4 years. Data from the same survey also show that many people who seek formal treatment are able to remain alcohol free, and many others recover without formal treatment.
However severe the problem may seem, many people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from treatment.
Drinking too much - on a single occasion or over time - can take a serious toll on your health. Here's how alcohol can affect your body:
Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:
- Cardiomyopathy - Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
- Arrhythmias - Irregular heart beat
- High blood pressure
Research also shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body's ability to ward off infections - even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Above information is directly from the NIH.
Alcohol poisoning is an overdose of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning is deadly. The brain begins to shut down involuntary functions that regulate breathing and heart rate, sometimes resulting in death. The amount of alcohol that causes alcohol poisoning is different for every person. It is not possible to accurately predict for each person what amount will cause an overdose. Alcohol poisoning is not pretty - it involves crude, bodily functions, bad smell, and messes. It typically involves one of two things:
- The person stopped breathing. The depressant level of the alcohol was so high that the drinker simply stopped breathing and the heart stopped beating.
- The person choked on vomit. The drinker passed out, was laying on his/her back, threw up, and choked on the vomit.
Alcohol poisoning deaths can happen to people of any age. Alcohol poisoning has happened to people who never drank before, some who typically drink moderately but for a variety of reasons drank heavily on that one occasion (spring break, hard semester, break up, family issue, 21st birthday, big football game, pre‐partying,...), and some who were heavy drinkers.