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Who is an alcoholic?

Myths/facts | Types | Causes | Effects


There are a number of factors which determine the effect of alcohol. These include amount consumed, rate of consumption, rate of absorption, mood and setting and tolerance level of the individual.

Physical damage

Alcohol consumption may affect the body in many ways. The more someone drinks, the more difficulty he or she will have in performing physical tasks like walking, running, or driving. Naturally, this loss of physical control greatly increases the risk of bodily injury.
Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate. Although the person feels warmer, actually body heat is being lost.
Alcohol consumption increases the flow of gastric juices in the stomach. Thus without enough food, gastric juices may easily irritate the stomach lining and cause an ulcer.
Alcohol permanently destroys brain cells. We have already mentioned how the liver changes the composition of alcohol so it may be eliminated. Large amounts of alcohol interfere with the other functions of the liver. When this happens, scarring of the liver or cirrhosis of the liver may result, often causing liver failure and death.
Alcohol consumption causes changes in the cells that line the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus. Cancers of these organs are much more common in persons who drink alcohol excessively than in persons who do not drink.
Nutritional deficiencies are linked to excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking interferes with appetite, digestion, and the absorption of vitamins.
Women who drink alcohol when pregnant, risk having babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. FAS is characterised by mental retardation, slow growth, and physical defects.
In addition to these specific physical effects, alcohol can cause serious after effects. A hangover is a feeling of nausea, tiredness, extreme thirst, and headache that a person experiences after drinking too much. A hangover occurs after alcohol has left the body. No one knows exactly what causes a hangover, though we do know that it does not follow a certain number of drinks. A person may get a hangover from one drink or from many drinks.
A blackout is the period of time when someone who has been drinking cannot remember what has happened even though he or she is conscious, and may be speaking and behaving quite normally. A person may blackout after several drinks or after only one. This symptom is also an early warning sign of alcoholism.
Alcohol is a depressant. The more alcohol in the blood, the greater the depressant effect on the brain.
Alcohol is particularly dangerous when combined with other drugs.
Alcohol taken before or after cold medications or antihistamines may make you very sleepy.
Alcohol taken with barbiturates can cause death.
Alcohol taken with a tranquilizer may cause dizziness, clumsiness, or can prove very dangerous.
Alcohol and aspirin combine to destroy stomach tissues.
Alcohol and narcotics depress the brain and respiration centre and may cause coma or death.
Alcohol taken with any of your prescription medications may seriously interfere with the positive benefits of the medication you are taking.

Drinking will make your psychiatric symptoms much worse. If you are depressed, drinking will make you more depressed, and may hasten potential hospitalizations.

Amount consumed:
The greater the amount consumed, the stronger the effect. The type of alcohol a person drinks is much less important than the amount a person drinks.
Rate of Consumption:
The rate, or speed, at which alcohol is consumed also determines its effects. Therefore, the faster you drink that drink, the higher the level of alcohol concentration in your blood.
Rate of Absorption:
We have all heard the old saying, ''don't drink on an empty stomach". Food slows down the passage of alcohol from the stomach into the small intestine. This is where most of the alcohol is absorbed. Thus, alcohol that is consumed after a heavy meal will be absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly.
Tolerance level:
For most people, frequent or everyday use of alcohol may result in tolerance. They may begin to need to drink more and more to get the same high

How the body absorbs alcohol:

Alcohol is quickly and directly absorbed into the bloodstream. A small amount is absorbed through the tongue, 20% is absorbed through the stomach walls while the balance is absorbed through the walls of the intestine. Once alcohol enters the bloodstream, it goes to all body tissues before leaving the body. It is the liver that does 95% of the work when it comes to breaking the alcohol in the system. The liver can break down only one half ounce of alcohol per hour. Thus it takes one hour to break down, or oxidize the amount of alcohol in one drink
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