From the mead-halls of ancient Scandinavia to the bottle of champagne opened at a wedding, humans have an ancient relationship with alcohol. It plays a part in social gatherings, rituals, and customs, and people drink it recreationally. Alcohol has a relaxing effect on many of the body’s processes and also relaxes the mind. It does have a dark side. Knowing the full extent of alcohol’s effects can help you decide whether partaking is right for you–or whether you need help in kicking the habit.
Alcohol travels through your bloodstream from the moment you take a sip. It begins interfering with the communication pathways of the brain that control movement, speech, judgement, and emotional processing. At first, the effects are mild: slowed reaction time, slightly slurred speech, warming or tingling of the hands, and other mild effects.
Dehydration is another common symptom, especially when drinking too much. Alcohol influences antidiuretic hormones in the bloodstream, causing excessive sweating and urination to remove more liquid than the body is taking in.
Alcohol acts as a depressant and muscle relaxant. This also extends to surface blood vessels, which causes the telltale flushed cheeks and skin. When too much alcohol is in the bloodstream, this also extends to the heart and lungs with sometimes fatal results.
Another of alcohol’s effects is decreased inhibitions. In other words, you are more likely to do or say things that you would not while sober. This behavior is where the Latin saying “In vino veritas,” originates. Translated, it means, “In wine, there is truth.” Lack of inhibition can cause problems with relationships and legal issues.
Aggressive tendencies also increase with more alcohol consumption. Getting into fights or arguments, especially when law enforcement becomes involved, leads to life-altering decisions.
Drinking more than one drink–8 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 3 ounces of hard liquor–per hour is known as binge drinking. This is because it takes the liver that long to process alcohol fully. As it builds up in the bloodstream, the depressive effects on the body increase. At extreme levels, it can lead to unconsciousness and the heart or lungs stopping.
The body treats alcohol as a poison and will induce vomiting if too much is consumed. This poses a serious danger to someone who is unconscious; he could choke on his own vomit. Learning to recognize the symptoms of alcohol poisoning could save a life. If the person is not responsive and has cold/clammy skin, immediately get medical help. Alcohol poisoning is a serious risk.
Drinking too much alcohol over a long period can lead to chronic weakening of the heart muscle and lung tissue. Its most known long-term effect is cirrhosis of the liver. The liver plays a critical role of removing toxins from the body, and alcohol damages the liver with overconsumption. Without the liver, the body cannot properly remove toxins. Excessive drinking can lead to cardiovascular problems like a weakened heart muscle, high blood pressure or strokes.
It also affects the stomach lining. The human stomach has a lining of mucus that normally protects the stomach walls from the corrosive effects of stomach acid. When this lining is eaten away by reaction with alcohol, it creates painful ulcers and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
The most insidious and dangerous effect of alcohol is addiction. Like many other drugs, alcohol can create a state of dependence, wherein the user needs a constant source of alcohol and to drink more to get the same effect. He may be led to drink at unacceptable times, such as at work or school, which negatively affects performance. The most dangerous, though, is someone who drinks before driving and does not realize their level of impairment. Because alcohol affects judgement, reaction time, and visual acuity, it makes driving under the influence a potential cause of death for the driver and others on the road. Getting arrested for drunk driving leads to imprisonment and often a revocation of the driver’s license.
Addiction leads drinkers to put the desire and need to drink above all else, which harms professional and personal relationships. Financial well-being suffers; the drinker often spends excessive amounts of money on alcohol. Severe addiction can cause a person to go to dangerous or illegal lengths to obtain alcohol, including criminal activity.
If you or someone you know displays signs of addiction, such as a preoccupation with having a drink, a need to drink regularly or at unorthodox times of the day, you should seek help. Stage an intervention and help him get the moral support he may need. One component of early addiction is the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. Developing healthy coping mechanisms and a support network can mitigate or reverse the damage of alcohol addiction.