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Alcohol is a beverage made by fermenting grains, fruit or even honey. The main ingredient that causes the symptoms and side effects of alcohol is ethanol. In the body, ethanol acts as a depressant that alters brain chemistry. Ethanol consumption leads to decreased activity and brain function, causing side effects such as slurred speech, difficulty walking, impaired motor skills and a greater willingness to participate in risky behavior. This intoxication is commonly described as being drunk or buzzed. Although it is legal to manufacture and consume alcohol, the drug is still a dangerous substance that can lead to addiction and severe health conditions.

Different Types of Alcohol

There are many different types of alcohol, depending upon how the alcohol is manufactured and what it is mixed with. The three primary types of alcohol are:

  • Isopropyl alcohol, which is used for sterilization, like rubbing alcohol
  • Methyl alcohol, which is used in industrial solvents, like paint remover
  • Ethyl alcohol, or grain alcohol, the form of alcohol that people drink

Each type of alcohol is toxic to the human body. While it is toxic, ethyl alcohol is the only form of alcohol that people can drink. Ethyl alcohol, or drinking alcohol, comes in many forms, including:

  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Spirits, such as vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, and gin
  • Cider
  • Mead
  • Alcoholic energy drinks
  • Liqueurs

It is important to keep in mind that how much alcohol is in an alcoholic beverage can vary significantly, which impacts how the number of drinks used is calculated. For example, twelve ounces of beer will be roughly equal to five ounces of wine. Both of these are considered a single drink when used in the context of the amount of alcohol used. By this definition, someone who drinks more than ten ounces of wine a day is a heavy drinker, while someone who drinks ten ounces of beer is not.

How Much Alcohol Is In Each Drink?

  • Beer has roughly 2–6% alcohol
  • Wine can have 8–20% alcohol
  • Liqueurs can have 15–60% alcohol
  • Tequila, gin, rum, brandy, whiskey, and vodka typically contain up to 40–50% alcohol

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

  • Excessive drinking, despite resulting social, legal or interpersonal problems
  • Harmful use of alcohol that results in mental or physical damage
  • Alcohol consumption to cope with psychological or interpersonal problems
  • Choosing to continue drinking, despite alcohol-related illnesses or other physical problems
  • Anger when confronted about alcohol use
  • Feelings of guilt about alcohol use
  • Drinking in the morning to treat hangovers
  • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption ceases

Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Immune System: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Cancer: Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. In its Report on Carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. The research evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing the following:

  • Head and Neck Cancer
  • Esophageal Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer

Alcohol Overdose – Recognizing & Responding to an Alcohol Overdose

Signs of an Alcohol Overdose:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)
  • Pale or blue tinged skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Unconsciousness or passing out

How to Respond to an Alcohol Overdose

  • Check for danger
  • Call 911 and stay on the line
  • Reassure the person and make sure they are comfortable. If they are cold keep them warm
  • If they are unconscious, put them in the recovery position and check that they are breathing(don’t leave them on their back)
  • If they are awake, try to keep them in a sitting position and awake
  • Give CPR if they stop breathing before first responders arrive

Information provided above is courtesy of: https://www.samhsa.gov & https://www.niaaa.nih.gov

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