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Alcohol is classified as a sedative / hypnotic drug (a depressant) because it depresses the central nervous system of the drinker. Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is the main type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is produced naturally by fermentation of fruits, vegetables, or grains. Most regular beers contain about 5% alcohol by volume, and light beers on average 3.5%. Most table wines contain 10%-14% alcohol, but fortified wines such as sherry, port, and vermouth contain 14%-20%. Distilled spirits (Liquor) - whisky, rum, gin, vodka, etc. - contain 40% alcohol. Synthetic alcohol is poison.
A Standard Drink
A 340 mL (12 oz) bottle of regular beer contains approximately the same amount of alcohol as a drink made with 45 mL (1 1/2 oz) of spirits (Liquor), a 140 mL (5 oz) glass of wine, or a 85 mL (3 oz) glass of fortified wine. All of these are considered a standard drink.
Effects of Drinking Alcohol
The effects of any drug on a person depend on: 1) the amount taken at one time, 2) the past drug experience of the user, 3) the circumstances in which the drug is taken (the place, the feelings and activities of the user, the presence of other people, 4) the simultaneous use of other drugs, etc.), and 5) the manner in which the drug is taken.
Short-term effects are those that appear rapidly after a single dose and disappear within a few hours or days. Alcohol, in proportion to its concentration in the bloodstream, decreases the activity of parts of the brain and spinal cord.
Blood Alcohol Levels
The drinker's Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) depends primarily on: 1) the amount consumed, 2) the rate of consumption, 3) the amount and kind of food in the stomach, and 4) the drinker's size, sex, and body build. For example, a 100 kg (220 lb) man would have a lower BAL than a 70 kg (154 lb) man if both consumed an equal amount of alcohol and both had the same proportions of lean and fatty tissue in their bodies. A 54 kg (120 lb) woman with an average amount of body fat would have a higher BAL than a lean, athletic woman of the same weight if both drank the same amount. To the extent that a woman has more body fat than a man of the same weight, her BAL would be higher.
Death by Alcohol
Although extremely large doses of alcohol can kill by "knocking out" the brain's control over breathing, this rarely happens because a drinker usually passes out before a lethal dose can be taken or vomits before all of the ingested alcohol can be absorbed. The lethal BAL for humans is approximately 0.5% (six times the legal limit for driving), although heavy drinkers have been known to survive higher levels. When people do die from alcohol poisoning it is usually because they drank “too much too fast.”
Drinking heavily over a short period of time may produce a hangover (headache, nausea, shakiness, and possibly vomiting) beginning 8 to 12 hours later. A hangover is the body's reaction to too much alcohol. In part it is related to poisoning by alcohol and other components of the drink, and in part it is the body's response to withdrawal from alcohol. Drinking lots of water may help prevent severe dehydration.
Alcohol & other Drugs
Combining alcohol with antihistamines (cold, cough, and allergy remedies), marijuana, tranquilizers, or barbiturates or other "sleeping pills" can intensify the effects of these drugs to a dangerous degree. This is called synergy when the effects of two things are greater than that of either thing by itself. Even a small amount of alcohol in combination with any of the above drugs impairs ability to drive, operate machinery, and perform other similar activities. Many accidental deaths have been attributed to the combined use of alcohol and other drugs.
Long-term effects are those that appear following repeated use over a long period of time. Many heavy drinkers suffer blackouts, loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach inflammation, infections, skin problems, and sexual impotence. Some also develop damage to the liver (Cirrhosis) and central nervous system, as well as disorders of the heart and blood vessels. In severe cases, there may be confusion and even permanent loss of memory. The risk of cancer is enhanced when drinking is combined with tobacco smoking. Higher Death Rates: Death rates are much higher for heavy drinkers than for light drinkers or abstainers, particularly from diseases of the heart and liver; pneumonia; cancer of the lung; throat, gullet, and mouth; acute alcohol poisoning; accidents; and suicide.
Drinking and Driving
Many traffic accidents are related to drinking. Under the federal Criminal Code (Canada), it is an offense to drive with a BAL greater than .08%. It is also illegal for a driver to refuse to take a breath test or to drive while impaired, even if his or her BAL is lower than.08%. Accidents resulting from drinking and driving are the number one preventable cause of death among teenagers.
Alcohol & Pregnancy
Pregnant women who drink have the added risk of producing babies with some or all of the abnormalities associated with the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The most serious of these include mental retardation, growth deficiency, head and facial deformities, joint and limb abnormalities, and cardiac defects. Although it is known that the risk of bearing an FAS-afflicted child increases with the amount of alcohol consumed, a safe level of consumption has not been established. Babies born with FAS are said to have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Tolerance to Alcohol
Regular use of alcohol induces tolerance, making increased doses necessary to produce the same effects. When tolerance develops, alcohol dependent people may drink steadily throughout the day without appearing to be intoxicated. Because they may continue to work reasonably well, their condition may go unrecognized by others until severe physical damage develops or until they are hospitalized for other reasons and experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological & Physical Dependence
Consistently heavy drinkers are likely to become both psychologically and physically dependent on alcohol. Psychological dependence exists when alcohol is so central to a person's thoughts, emotions, and activities that the need to continue its use amounts to a craving or compulsion. Physical dependence is a state wherein the body has adapted to the presence of alcohol and withdrawal symptoms occur if its use is stopped abruptly. The symptoms range from jumpiness, sleeplessness, sweating, and poor appetite, to tremors, convulsions, and hallucinations, and (rarely) death.
Why people use Alcohol
Many people drink to make a social gathering more enjoyable, or as part of a social or religious ritual. They also drink to relax and promote sleep, to relieve social or physical discomforts, or along with a meal. Other reasons include curiosity or boredom. Young people often use alcohol to imitate their parents or their own friends, perhaps in an attempt to seem more sophisticated. Some people drink because they are attempting to manage serious personality problems such as feelings of inferiority, shyness, or difficulty in interrelating with others. Alcohol may give them a temporary feeling of "normality." Evidence suggests that a number of factors, both genetic and environmental, render certain people particularly likely to use alcohol in this manner. Do we have a right to get intoxicated? Why do you personally drink? Could you live your life without alcohol?
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