Published on May 20th, 2013 | by Joe Starks0
Know Your Substances: Alcohol
Everybody knows alcohol. We usually take our first forbidden sip as curious teenagers and many of us move on to full alcohol consumption later in life. It is part of our college parties, our weddings, our holidays and our funeral receptions, making it one of those constant things in life, giving us a feeling of familiarity. Consuming alcohol is legal in most countries after a certain age, giving us a feeling of safety and propriety if we are consumers. But what is alcohol really? Is it safer than most illegal drugs out there? How much should someone consume and how much is too much?
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxyl functional group is tied to a carbon atom. The type of alcohol we care about usually is ethanol, which you can find in alcoholic beverages. When consumed in its pure form (100% distilled alcohol) it causes nausea, vomiting and intoxication. It is also very irritable for the skin and eyes. Alcohol is one of the few substances that can be absorbed directly through the lining of the stomach. Most other substances are absorbed through the intestine. The result of being so easily absorbed early on is that more alcohol reaches your bloodstream faster than other substances could. Since alcohol is a poison to your system, your liver immediately breaks it down to remove it from your body.
If you only drink a tiny amount, your liver will break it down quickly and you won’t feel any ill effects. Of course, mo alcoholic beverage contains such tiny amounts of alcohol or else the whole point of drinking a drug would be lost. We’d drink grape juice instead! So what happens when we drink an alcoholic beverage? The answer is simple: Your liver can’t break the alcohol fast enough, which means that it will go to your other organs and change their functionality.
When alcohol reaches the heart it makes it beat slower. This means that you feel more relaxed. This is why people believe alcohol is good for high blood pressure. The side effects of alcohol are so much direr than high blood pressure that using alcohol as a medicine is just plain crazy! Having low blood pressure has its own very nasty side effects. Blood flows slower through the body, meaning you might get slightly deprived of oxygen. This makes you prone to fall asleep at low dosages, or to faint at higher ones.
When alcohol reaches your brain it causes neurons to fire less frequently. In other words it makes you “slow” in the head. Your reactions get slower, making it extremely dangerous to drive and sometimes even to simply walk home without assistance. Having slower reactions and a lowered ability to compute information, you become suggestible to things you would not consider doing before. Alcohol thus can make you take part in behaviors you would not approve of as a sober person. Depending on the amount you drink your actions may vary in the severity of the consequences they bring for you later on. Anything from having sex with someone you would not otherwise touch with a 10 ft pole, to accepting to consume other drugs is known to happen.
Is alcohol safe?
No, it is not. You can get severely addicted to alcohol fairly easily. Even without being addicted, the side-effects of simple alcohol consumption are comparable and sometimes worse than those of illegal drugs. Because alcohol has been around since our earliest civilizations people are far too used to its consumption to allow any government to illegalize it. So the fact that alcohol is legal only means that nobody dares to take it away from an angry addicted population. Addiction is not just physical. With alcohol the addiction is often psychological as well.
After having drunk alcohol every time something nice happened to you, for instance on weekends, in parties and during celebrations, you don’t enjoy a celebration as much anymore if the component of alcohol is missing. This means that alcohol has become an integral part of your happiness and sadly this also means that you are emotionally addicted to it to a certain degree. If you don’t believe it try living three years without drinking a sip of alcohol, not even during any celebration. This anxiety (often coming from peer pressure) is caused from emotional, not the physical addiction.
Alcohol is one of the very few things (among obesity and smocking) of which we are sure of that they cause cancer. Stomach, breast and liver cancer are among the most common types of cancer aggravated or even directly caused by alcohol consumption!
When you get physically addicted to alcohol, a whole new world of pain and suffering awaits you. It is very easy to become an alcoholic and most of us have one in our family. Contrary to common belief (and Hollywood stereotypes!) not all alcoholics are street bums that lurk outside liquor stores. You can be a seemingly functional parent, boss or teenager and still be addicted to liquor. Like most drugs, not everyone goes from hero to zero at the same speed. For some, the effects of alcoholism might take a very slow downward path while others might die only from one session of extreme drinking. If you are drinking anything above four units a day as a man and two units of alcohol per day as a woman, you should seriously consider cutting it down. One large glass of wine is enough to put a woman over her limit and a man at his limit.
There are people who can be addicted to alcohol, but only drink during weekends, due to mid-week responsibilities. This is also a form of alcoholism and it is in no way good for your health. Drinking more than 26 units of alcohol as a man or 14 as a woman per week, no matter when and how is just too much regardless o ANY other parameter.
If you feel that you can’t cut down, regardless of reason, be it emotional stubbornness or physical need, you should quickly get a doctor to help you, because you might already be in the grip of alcoholism without you knowing.