Alcoholic beverages are made from various recipes that all contain the chemical compound known as ethanol, or ethyl alcohol. They are typically made by fermentation or distillation of various grains, fruits or vegetables, and are popularly classified as beer, wine, liquor, spirits, whiskey, brandy, and vodka, among other distinct classes. Alcohol is a drug and a toxic substance, and people who drink alcohol get intoxicated when the substance enters the bloodstream at a greater rate than the liver can metabolize it. Despite its toxic nature, however, it is one of the most popular and oldest known recreational drugs in human history. This is because alcohol intoxication is seen as a desirable effect due to the feel-good sensations (euphoria) and reduction of social inhibitions that come with it. The desire for these positive side effects of intoxication, however, can lead to excessive drinking or alcohol abuse and addiction.
Alcohol, especially the excessive consumption thereof, presents a large number of potential health risks. Excessive drinking can trigger asthma attacks for people who have asthma, and it may cause a high increase in blood pressure. The caloric intake associated with drinking alcohol can lead to weight gain, which contributes to the risk of obesity, which can lead to heart problems. It also contributes to or can cause cancer, including cancer of the esophagus, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. Other potential health consequences that can come with alcohol over-consumption include alcohol-related liver diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholic hepatitis. Alcohol can weaken the immune system and leave the body vulnerable to many different kinds of diseases. It can also aggravate diseases that a person already has, such as diabetes. If a person is taking insulin, alcohol interacts with the drug and can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia. However, alcohol also contains carbohydrates, which may in some cases raise one’s blood sugar levels. Alcohol abuse can lead to addiction, or alcoholism, which is also considered a disease.
Alcohol abuse has seriously adverse effects not only on a personal level but also a societal level. According to the University of California at Chico, 18 million people over the age of 18 have serious problems with alcohol abuse or addiction, and this figure does not include minors. One-fifth of men and one-tenth of women are thought to be heavy drinkers of alcohol, and 36,000 new cases of fetal alcohol syndrome occur every year due to alcohol consumption by pregnant women. Alcohol is responsible for between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths annually in the United States, and alcohol is known to be involved in one out of every two traffic accident fatalities in the country. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control show that alcohol abuse and addiction cost the country over $223 billion in 2006, mostly due to the problems associated with binge drinking. The examples of costs that society incurs from excessive consumption of alcohol include loss of productivity, health care expenditures, crime control, and traffic accident related costs. Each and every person in the United States is estimated to pay $746 per year, some way or another, to cover the harmful effects upon society due to alcohol abuse and addiction. Studies show that Caucasian males are at the greatest risk for binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse. Alcoholic women, meanwhile, suffer greater health risks than men, and they suffer more fatalities at lower levels of consumption.
While alcohol intoxication is potentially dangerous and carries with it the risk of dependency, there are choices and options available to people interested in recovery. One of the most important choices a person can make is avoiding the abuse of alcohol altogether. This means not engaging in drinking contests, or having more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Party goers should keep their drinks down to one an hour, or perhaps avoid parties where excessive alcohol consumption is encouraged. Recovery from alcohol dependency requires not only avoiding alcohol, but also examining the causes behind why one became addicted in the first place. Peer pressure and a culture of excess alcohol consumption are to blame in some cases. There are also other factors, including psychological issues stemming from abuse or depression, for example. Addiction cannot be overcome simply by sheer willpower alone, because it is a physiological problem, which means addiction alters the brain and body to react negatively to the absence of the substance. People who suffer from alcohol dependency will need to seek out programs that specialize in recovery. These programs provide therapy and sometimes medication to help rewire the brain to overcome dependence on the drug.
How Alcohol Works and the Effects of Alcohol
- A Toxic Substance – Alcohol
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Alcoholism
- Alcohol and Your Body
- How Alcohol Effects Us: The Biphasic Curve
- Alcohol Effects on the Liver
- Gender and Ethnic Differences
- Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits
- The Dangers of Binge Drinking
- Health Consequences of Alcohol and Other Drug Use
Alcoholism’s Effects on Society
- Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. $223.5 Billion
- Harmful Alcohol Use
- What Social And Economic Problems Are Linked To Alcohol Use?
- World Health Organization: Alcohol
- Impact On Society
- Impact of Alcoholism and Alcohol Induced Disease on America (PDF)
Diseases Affected By Alcoholism
- American Diabetes Association: Alcohol
- Understand Your Risk For High Blood Pressure
- Alcoholism: Complications
- Asthma UK: Alcohol
- Alcohol-Induced Liver Disease
- National Cancer Institute: Alcohol and Cancer Risk
Prevention And Treatments
- Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption
- Alcohol Use Disorder
- Alcohol Abuse And Dependence: Treatment
- Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center
- Party Positive