Alcohol is one of the oldest substances discovered in search for substances that alter human perception and thought process. Today, alcohol (alcoholism) is a drug of choice for the most of the Western civilization.
Concentration of alcohol in the blood
Effects of alcohol vary from person to person. Additionally, the effects depend on the person’s body, age, gender, health and psychological condition. And especially on the ingested amount of alcohol.
When drank, the drink enters the stomach, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. The bloodstream distributes the alcohol throughout the body. However, the effects are felt mostly in the brain. What influences the rate of alcohol absorption is whether there is food in the stomach at the time of ingestion.
Blood alcohol concentration can be up to three times greater in individuals that consumed alcohol on an empty stomach, then when that same amount was taken on a full stomach.
While drinking, the person experiences pleasure and increasing feeling of relaxation. Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine (neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and pleasure). But that is only while blood alcohol concentration is rising. It usually lasts for a shorter period of time during which the person becomes chatty and sociable.
When the body begins to eliminate alcohol from the body, the initial effects are replaced with sedative ones, rendering the person quieter and withdrawn. To avoid the onset of sedative effects, most people continue drinking to remain in the initial state of happiness. That prevents alcohol from leaving the bloodstream, leading to adverse effects, and further increase in blood alcohol concentration.
Effects of alcohol
Alcohol disrupts certain neurotransmitter functions by inhibiting formation of new memories and critical thinking.
Loss of memory isn’t as big of a problem as the behavior usually exhibited during that time. Most people asked in a survey admitted to subsequently finding out they participated in sexual behavior, fights and other activities with serious and long-term consequences.
Body of a fully grown person can process around one glass of whiskey per hour (40% of alcohol). If more is consumed, the system becomes saturated, and additional alcohol accumulates in the blood and tissues until the liver can metabolize them.
Metabolic rate is increased to allow the faster absorption of alcohol, leading to faster absorption of other potentially ingested medication causing more damage (effectiveness of medication is reduced, since the body removes them more rapidly from the system).
Tolerance is developed when same amounts of alcohol don’t produce the same desired effects as before, encouraging us to increase alcohol intake to achieve initial effects.
Developing tolerance implies that alcohol lead to certain changes in the brain.
Increasing tolerance leads to addiction,.
Even though we need more alcohol to achieve the same effects of happiness and relaxation, brain, liver and other organs are exposed to increased amounts of alcohol, which leads to their degradation.
When it comes to alcohol, the line between occasional drinking (without harmful side effects, enjoying the effects of alcohol) and chronic use with permanent consequences is very thin.
It’s questionable if alcohol can be consumed in larger quantities without causing permanent brain damage. A large number of people that drink a lot don’t exhibit signs of dysfunctional behavior. However, that doesn’t mean that none exist.
5 mental abilities prone to degradation from alcohol use
Forming new memories, while preserving the old ones.
Ability to interpret meaning, geometry, algebra, comprehend non-physical concepts and ideas.
Attention span and focus
It doesn’t have to be obvious, but it usually shows when executing tasks requiring these mental functions.
Problem solving requires being able to change approach to solving problems and mental flexibility. Chronic drinking disables the ability to change approach in one’s thought process, crucial for efficient problem solving.
Part of the brain responsible for reading other people’s emotions turned out to be sensitive to alcohol, loosing completely this ability in cases of chronic use.
How much and how often?
Most people would agree that the desired effect of alcohol is up to the point of reduced motor skills, nausea and other unpleasant sensations. Expressed in ml units, the amount of alcohol per hour shouldn’t exceed 4 (two fingers) drinks.
“How much” is directly related to “how often”.
One half or one drink per day, though not every day, is allowed. However, research unambiguously shows that 2 drinks per day already significantly increase the risk of heart attack or cancer.
Usually, by acceptable alcohol use is considered if the person does drink regularly, but doesn’t become drunk, nor exhibits signs of addiction. The principle is quite simple, but not so easily applied in practice. The more alcohol a person ingests, the more likely is that brain damage will occur.
If two people that each drink 5 drinks per week are compared – one drinking a drink a day and the other drinking all 5 on a Saturday night out. The conclusion is that the other person will be in greater risk of brain damage than the first one. This is especially important for young people whose brains are still developing.
Weekend alcoholism can lead to diseases, even though is socially accepted as something not so dangerous, nor punishable by law.
Am I an alcoholic?
The difference should be made between alcohol use, alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction.
Alcohol abuse is defined as use of alcohol that poses a health risk for the person drinking and leads to behavioral and social problems.
Addiction also includes the uncontrolled desire for alcohol, as well as physical symptoms including withdrawal when there is no alcohol in the body. After an hour without drinking, symptoms like tremor (trembling), anxiety, sleeping disorders occur and, in more severe cases, hallucinations and epileptic seizures.
It is considered that someone is an alcoholic if he/she drinks a lot. But that isn’t quite true. Alcoholism is characterized by loss of control over drinking and not just the amount of drink consumed. Very often, alcoholics are able to drink without getting drunk.
Everyone can become and alcoholic.
Prolonged use of alcohol affects the brain, modifying it and creating addiction. Even though it can be theorized what types of individuals are more prone to becoming alcoholics, point is that every person can develop alcohol addiction by drinking alcohol over a longer period of time.
Every person drinking more than 3 drinks per day is on the verge of alcoholism.
People at greatest risk are those that drink to calm down, forget about problems and stabilize emotions.
I think I have a problem. What should I do?
Many people think that solving problems like alcoholism, drug use and other “mischievous behaviors” is a matter of “getting a grip” or being strong willed. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases and as other diseases, they require to be adequately treated (read more about FAST Recovery program).