Alcohol (ethanol) is made through the process of fermentation. Yeast breaks down sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Throughout the process, no air is present. Carbon dioxide gas bubbles out into the air, which leaves behind ethanol and water. (Alcohol and Nutrition, 2004) Different sources of sugar are used in the processes listed above, which results in the different forms of alcohol. (Alcohol and Nutrition, 2004) The sugar from crushed grapes is used in the process of making wine. Malted barley is the sugar used when making beer. For rum, sugar cane or molasses is used. When making vodka, grain, potatoes, beets, molasses, and other plants are used. (Alcohol and Nutrition, 2004)There are four “categories” of standard drinks: regular beer, malt liquor, table wine, and distilled spirits. (What Is A Standard Drink, n.d.) Alcohol is also present in certain medications, sanitizers, and other household items.
There is evidence that fermented drugs have existed at least as early as the Neolithic period, circa 10,000 B.C. However, no one truly knows when the first beverage alcohol was first consumed.(Hanson, n.d.) Alcohol has played a vital role in religion, sources of nutrients, medicinal, antiseptic, and analgesic (pain relief) properties over time. (Hanson, n.d.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGl8LLTkVtk (watch up until about 1:44)
Alcohol is commonly misused in the United States. As of 2012, the rates of current alcohol use for different age groups were as follows: 2.2 % among 12 and 13 year olds, 11.1% among 14 and 15 year olds, 24.8% of 16 and 17 year olds, 45.8% of 18 through 20 year olds, and 69.2% of those 21 through 25 years old. Following the age group of 21 through 25 years old, it remained fairly consistent but slowly declined down to 53% for those aged 60 through 64. A drastic decrease then occurs for 65+ years old, with a percentage of 41.2%. (Results from, n.d.) In summary, it peaks around the ages of 21 through 25 and slowly decreases after. Patterns are very similar for those who binge use alcohol and heavy use of alcohol. For binge use by age, it peaks about the age of 21 through 25 with a percentage of 45.1. It decreases down to 8.2% by the age of 65+. For heavy alcohol use, it also peaks at the age of 21 through 25 with a percentage of 14.4%. It decreases down to 2.0% by the age of 65+. (Results from, n.d.) Recent trends from 2002 and 2012 include a decrease of underage drinking. When comparing genders, binge and heavy drinking are more prevalent among men that it is among women. Also, driving under the influence has declined slightly. (DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends, n.d.) “Alcohol is the third leading cause of death among Americans and leads to a ﬁnancial burden of about $185 billion each year.” (Lewis, 2012) “Everyday in the United States, 4,750 young people younger than 16 years have their ﬁrst full drink of alcohol.” (Lewis, 2012)
This link has more information on alcohol in the United States: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/mlda.htm
Alcohol is typically taken orally through drinks/liquids. Sometimes people soak certain foods (candy, fruit, etc.) in alcohol and then eat them. People can also inhale alcohol using a vaporizer, as well as anally/vaginally, although these ways are less common. (Stogner, 2014, pg. 3)
Alcohol alters neuron membranes, ion channels, enzymes and receptors. It binds to receptors of acetylcholine, serotonin, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), and glutamate. (Brodhead, n.d.) It’s biggest effect is on the neurotransmitter GABA, which is responsible for inhibitory effects. (Brodhead, n.d.) Alcohol binds to GABA receptors which diminishes the neuron activity; this accounts for some of the sedative effects of alcohol. Watch this video for a better understanding of how alcohol affects your brain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6QP_aOmnfs
Psychologically over the long-term, alcohol can cause or increase feelings of depression because it lowers the levels of serotonin in the brain. (Alcohol and Mental Health. 2014.) Alcohol increases anxiety and stress rather than reducing it by affecting neurotransmitters.(Alcohol and Mental Health. 2014.) Alcohol can also be linked to suicide, self-harm and psychosis, a mental illness that consists of hallucinations and delusions of persecution. (Alcohol and Mental Health. 2014.) It causes impulsive actions which leads to decisions that would otherwise not be made. (Alcohol and Mental Health. 2014.) Alcohol can also damage memory because the processes of the brain are slowed down when drinking. (Alcohol and Mental Health. 2014.)
Physiologically, alcohol affects the heart and circulatory systems by increasing heart rate and blood pressure. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.) At higher concentrations, alcohol can reduce the pumping power of the heart. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.) Rapid heat loss from the skin occurs; alcohol impairs the body’s ability to regulate heat. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.)
Alcohol also affects the endocrine system. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.) When drinking, the pancreas overreacts, which produces high levels of insulin and can result in temporary hypoglycemia. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.) There is also increased urination when a person’s BAC is rising. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.)
The nervous system is affected by alcohol, as well. Motor skills such as talking and walking become impaired. It takes a person longer to react to visual or auditory stimulus. (Physiological Effects of Alcohol. 2002.)
When it comes to acute toxicity, alcohol impairs motor skills which can lead to traffic accidents, as well as many other machinery operating accidents. Often times people become physically ill or experience hangovers after a night of drinking. High blood alcohol levels can lead to accidental alcohol poisoning. Nausea and upset stomach are common side effects. “Black outs” or not being able to remember events while drinking are also side effects of acute toxicity.
With chronic toxicity, drinking can lead to stroke or high blood pressure. (Alcohol’s Effects, n.d.) It can affect the liver by leading to steatosis (fatty liver), hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. (Alcohol’s Effects, n.d.) It can also affect the pancreas by increasing the production of toxic substances which can lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels which prevents proper digestion. (Alcohol’s Effects, n.d.) You can increase your risk of developing certain cancers such as mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast from drinking too much alcohol. (Alcohol’s Effects, n.d.) Your immune system can also be weakened by too much drinking. (Alcohol’s Effects, n.d.) This can cause you to contract diseases easier such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. (Alcohol’s Effects, n.d.)
Dependence of alcohol is revealed when the intake of alcohol has been stopped. Withdrawal from alcohol can be more severe and even more likely to cause death than the withdrawal from opioid drugs. There are four stages of withdrawal from alcohol. In stage one tremors, heavy sweating, loss of appetite, insomnia, hypertension and rapid heartbeat are present. During stage two, hallucinations occur. During stage three, delusions, disorientation, delirium and amnesia are present. During the fourth and final stage of withdrawal, seizures can occur. There are no single factors or multiple factors that can predict dependence potential in people so far. Genetics have not been proven to be a huge factor in alcohol dependence, either.
Often times marriages are destroyed due to alcohol use, emotionally and financially. (Social Problems, n.d.) Guilt depression, and relationship issues are sometimes present in children of alcoholics. (Social Problems, n.d.) Insurance costs, decreased productivity, workplace injuries, and work-related grievances are just a few of many problems associated with alcohol in the community. (Social Problems, n.d.) Falls, fires, drownings, and suicides are also frequently associated with alcohol. (Social Problems, n.d.) There tends to be a high correlation between crime and violence as well, such as homicide, assault, and other crimes of violence. (Social Problems, n.d.)
However, alcohol can be beneficial. Moderate drinkers tend to have better health as well as live longer than those who do not drink any alcohol or those who are heavy alcohol users. (Health, n.d.) In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, those who consume moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages are generally less likely to suffer strokes, diabetes, arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), as well as several major cancers. (Health, n.d.) “To a greater degree than either abstainers or heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers have been found to experience a sense of psychological, physical, and social well-being; elevated mood; reduced stress (under some circumstances); reduced psychopathology, particularly depression; enhanced sociability and social participation; and higher incomes and less work absence or disability.” (Peele, S., & Brodsky, A., 2000)
Although there are many social issues, physiological and psychological effects, as well as acute and chronic toxicities involved with the consumption of alcohol, there are still beneficial uses. Most of the issues and side effects previously discussed are present when alcohol is being abused or consumed in heavy amounts. If those who decide to drink alcohol control the amounts that they consume and the frequency of consumption, the positives will outweigh the negatives. Not everyone will be able to practice control over alcohol, however.
I have had personal experiences with the toxicity of alcohol. A girl that I graduated with lost her mother last September due to an alcohol-involved accident. Her parents were out celebrating their anniversary on their three-wheeler and had been hopping bars all night. On the way back to their house, they veered off of the road and collided with a telephone pole – her mother had died upon impact. Her dad is now facing jail-time. At this point in the case, the exact cause of the accident is unknown, but alcohol was most likely a factor in it. Some factors of acute toxicity can be life threatening, like in this situation.
To prevent similar situations or to lessen the effects of alcohol, follow these tips. Avoid partaking in binge drinking and using illicit drugs/prescription medication when drinking alcohol. Avoid driving after drinking. In your own home, keep alcohol away from minors and do not supply alcohol to minors. The MLDA of 21 needs to be maintained and enforced. When needed, vehicles should have ignition interlocks to prevent repeat offenders. (National Prevention, 2010) Do not drink on an empty stomach. Overall, be responsible about your drinking – binge drinking will lead to more impairment/side effects. Pace yourself to one standard drink per hour. Be careful when drinking while on medications – often times it can effect the medication or cause you to become sicker. (Responsible drinking, n.d.)
Our government has laws in place regarding the sale and use of alcohol. The individual states have control over various areas of alcohol sales and manufacturing. This includes: whether to allow sale of alcohol in the state, whether to allow importing alcohol in the state, how to distribute alcohol throughout the state, and possession of alcohol in the state. Congress generally has the power to regulate importing and taxing alcoholic beverages. Congress also is in charge of the minimum legal drinking age, which is 21. (Alcohol Policy, n.d.) In the state of Wisconsin, the legal BAC for driving is 0.08. If you would like more information on regulations and laws regarding alcohol, please see this link: http://alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/
By all means, partake in alcohol consumption. However, respect the laws and wait until you are 21 years of age. Drink in moderation – binge drinking is unhealthy and can be life threatening. Please, do not operate a vehicle or other machinery after drinking. When drinking, have a plan: have someone lined up to be the designated driver or call a taxi to give you a ride home. Also, refrain from combining illicit drugs and prescription drugs when consuming alcohol. If you are suffering from alcoholism, seek the proper help. If you are underage drinking and a friend needs medical attention, call for an ambulance rather than ignoring the problem to prevent yourself from getting in trouble – you can save a life. In general, be smart when consuming alcohol and know your limitations.
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