The World Health Organization states that 5% of all deaths across the globe are due to alcohol use. It’s a common but preventable cause of death. This alcohol profile provides answers to your questions about alcohol, how it impacts you, and why it can be bad for you.
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a beverage made from fermented grains. It can include seasonings of all types and fruit. What changes it from a traditional drink you would serve children to an adult beverage is the presence of ethyl alcohol (ethanol).
Ethanol is a substance your body can’t break down and use in a normal manner. It works as a depressant and, as such, changes the way the brain operates. When this happens, we call it intoxication.
That means there is so much ethanol in the bloodstream that your brain is challenged to operate normally. You may experience it as being drunk or having a buzz, but it’s a drug reaction in the brain. For that reason, alcohol can be dangerous.
Alcohol as a Drug
It’s not illegal to use alcohol or to sell it, although there are restrictions on who can make it and who can consume it. It’s a dangerous substance and a true drug because of the impact it has on brain function. Enough alcohol in the bloodstream makes it difficult for you to think clearly and to react quickly.
The impairment can make walking and talking challenging. It makes it hard to control your motor skills, creating risks for those who decide to drive drunk. For these reasons, it’s important to think of alcohol as a drug.
The Chemistry of Alcohol
Alcohol is an organic molecule that includes carbon (C), oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) atoms. Each form of alcohol has a slightly different chemical structure.
- Methyl alcohol (methanol) is most often used to clean substances, such as removing paint from surfaces. It’s used in industrial applications as a solvent.
- Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) is powerful enough to kill microorganisms, making it beneficial for sterilizing surfaces.
- Ethyl alcohol is the form of alcohol that’s dangerous to brain chemistry. It’s what’s found in the alcoholic beverages you drink.
All types of alcohol are toxic to the body in some way. However, for this alcohol profile, let’s focus on how ethyl alcohol creates high risks, including substance abuse risks.
Common Forms of Alcohol and How It’s Consumed
Alcohol for consumption is available in a variety of types. These are defined based on how they’re made and their alcohol content. Ethanol is found in liquor, beer and wine. It’s also present in hard ciders, mead, spirits and some energy drinks.
Beer: Though there are variations, most beer contains between 2% and 6% alcohol.
Wine: Most wine contains between 8% and 20% alcohol.
Liquor: A more potent option, and with the largest range, liquors such as rum, tequila, brandy and vodka have an alcohol concentration of between 15% and 60%, with whiskeys and gins on the high side, usually above 50% alcohol.
The extensive range of concentration in all these forms of alcohol impacts how many drinks a person can have before they’re intoxicated. The higher the concentration is, the fewer the drinks necessary to reach a state of drunkenness.
Identifying Signs of Alcohol Use
A drinker may or may not display signs of alcohol consumption because many people develop a tolerance. Over time, the more a person consumes, the more they become desensitized to its effects. As a result, it takes more alcohol to create the same buzz.
Alcohol consumption can be challenging to spot. Because it looks like any other drink, it’s hard to know if someone is drinking. However, alcohol does have a distinctive smell that’s present in the drink itself and on people who consume it.
It’s also possible to find paraphernalia. This may include shot glasses, flasks and other items used for drinking. Some people may have a large number of liquor bottles or beer cans around.
Alcohol, as a drug, creates changes in a person that are also obvious. For example, because alcohol is a depressant, it can make a person sleepy, less coherent and less in control of their feelings.
It can illicit varying moods from people, it might be mellowing for some, and to others cause them to become more belligerent. As anyone becomes more intoxicated they begin to lose inhibitions and increase their poor decision making.
Some people display self-destructive behavior, while others have a lack of restraint. They may exhibit physical symptoms of alcohol use as well, such as being dizzy, unable to walk straight, sweating significantly or shaking. It can cause blackouts and loss of consciousness.
Slang Terms for Alcohol Consumption
Because alcohol is so common in today’s society, it’s not always hidden through slang terms. Yet, there are many terms used to describe it, including:
The Effects of Alcohol Consumption
The National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides a clear link between the consumption of alcohol and the changes in a person’s mood and behavior. It’s very common for a person using alcohol to exhibit signs of their use. Drinking too much can cause a person to display significant behavior and health changes, such as:
- More reckless behavior and reduced inhibitions
- Slurred speech and difficulty understanding what people say
- Motor impairment, including walking
- Memory problems such as often forgetting where they are
- Concentration problems
- Breathing difficulties
When a person consumes too much alcohol, they also increase the risk of consequences related to their actions. Car crashes and other dangerous outcomes are very common.
Some people also become violent and may engage in physical fights or more aggressive behavior. Because alcohol is a depressant, it can also increase the risk of suicide or homicide in those who use it, especially when combined with other mental illness.
How Dangerous Is Alcohol Among Other Abused Drugs?
A few things make alcohol very dangerous. First, it’s widely available and accessible. Anyone old enough to buy it can have as much as they want on hand.
In some people, it can lead to sudden and unexpected interactions with medications or allergic reactions. It’s also possible to suffer alcohol poisoning, making it potentially lethal. Drinking alcohol excessively or consistently can make it just as risky as other drug abuse.
Mixing Alcohol with Other Substances
A glass of wine with medication for allergies can become life-threatening. Mixing alcohol with hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin can also lead to sudden overdose and death.
Because alcohol interacts with many types of drugs, most people taking common over-the-counter medications are warned not to mix alcohol with them. It’s not uncommon for people to combine them, though, which can lead to significant side effects or enhanced or limited reactions to the drugs.
How Is Alcohol Addictive?
Alcohol is a very addictive substance. Most people require some amount of use before an addiction develops, while others take to it’s effects very quickly and begin to rely on it.
Because alcohol creates endorphin responses in the brain, it feels good to have a drink, encouraging people to use it more often to get the same results. It’s also possible to develop a tolerance for it. This leads to more drinking or drinking harder liquor with a higher concentration of alcohol.
Alcohol dependency occurs when the brain adjusts to the heightened levels of endorphins present. When this happens, the brain craves and even demands more.
As a result, it becomes nearly impossible for a person to simply stop using alcohol. They want more to keep their brain functioning normally.
Do You Have an Alcohol Addiction?
It’s clear that alcohol consumption can cause life-changing circumstances. For those with a dependency on alcohol, there is help.
Our trusted, experienced counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call us now at (833) 596-3502 for fast, reliable help.