WHAT IS ALCOHOL?
Alcohol is a drug.
It is classed as a depressant, meaning that it slows down vital functions—resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, disturbed perceptions and an inability to react quickly.
As for how it affects the mind, it is best understood as a drug that reduces a person’s ability to think rationally and distorts his or her judgment.
Although classified as a depressant, the amount of alcohol consumed determines the type of effect. Most people drink for the stimulant effect, such as a beer or glass of wine taken to “loosen up.” But if a person consumes more than the body can handle, they then experience alcohol’s depressant effect. They start to feel “stupid” or lose coordination and control.
Alcohol overdose causes even more severe depressant effects (inability to feel pain, toxicity where the body vomits the poison, and finally unconsciousness or, worse, coma or death from severe toxic overdose). These reactions depend on how much is consumed and how quickly.
There are different kinds of alcohol. Ethyl alcohol (ethanol), the only alcohol used in beverages, is produced by the fermentation of grains and fruits. Fermenting is a chemical process whereby yeast acts upon certain ingredients in the food, creating alcohol.
Fermented drinks, such as beer and wine, contain from 2% alcohol to 20% alcohol. Distilled drinks, or liquor, contain from 40% to 50% or more alcohol. The usual alcohol content for each is:
Beer 2–6% alcoholCider 4–8% alcohol
Wine 8–20% alcohol
Tequila 40% alcohol
Rum 40% or more alcohol
Brandy 40% or more alcohol
Gin 40–47% alcohol
Whiskey 40–50% alcohol
Vodka 40–50% alcohol
Liqueurs 15–60% alcohol
SHORT-TERM EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
Depending on how much is taken and the physical condition of the individual, alcohol can cause:
- Slurred speech
- Upset stomach
- Breathing difficulties
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Impaired judgment
- Decreased perception and coordination
- Anemia (loss of red blood cells)
- Blackouts (memory lapses, where the drinker cannot remember events that occurred while under the influence)
LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL
Binge drinking and continued alcohol use in large amounts are associated with many health problems, including:
- Unintentional injuries such as car crash, falls, burns, drowning
- Intentional injuries such as firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence
- Increased on-the-job injuries and loss of productivity
- Increased family problems, broken relationships
- Alcohol poisoning
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases
- Liver disease
- Nerve damage
- Sexual problems
- Permanent damage to the brain
- Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a disorder characterized by amnesia, apathy and disorientation
- Gastritis (inflammation of stomach walls)
- Cancer of the mouth and throat