Alcohol Information and the Effects of Alcohol
Most people use alcohol socially to change how they feel because they want to feel better or different. Alcohol is a psychoactive drug with a depressant effect. Alcohol acts primarily upon the central nervous system altering brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior. It also acts as a depressant, diminishing the functions of many specific body parts.
Alcohol addiction or dependency can be influenced by a number of factors. It is often used for the perceived benefits, or the benefits experienced. People use alcohol to relax, reduce inhibitions, and to escape from physical and/or psychological pain. Alcohol has a biphasic effect on the body, in that its effects change over time and correspondingly with the amount consumed. Initially, alcohol can produce feelings of relaxation and cheerfulness, but continued consumption leads to blurred vision, lack of coordination and diminished cognitive abilities.
The chemical reaction of the body to alcohol stimulates brain systems, producing the dependency and reducing the importance of social and psychological factors, resulting in the individual’s uncharacteristic behavior. When the effects of alcohol dominate the individual’s behavior and normal psychological and social control over behavior is diminished, the addiction is fully developed. Alcoholism is progressive, meaning that a tolerance is developed with continued use and greater amounts are necessary for the alcoholic to obtain the same effect.
Physical dependency or addiction occurs in consistently heavy drinkers. Since their bodies have adapted to the presence of alcohol, they suffer alcohol withdrawal if they suddenly stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include jumpiness, sleeplessness, sweating, loss of appetite, tremors, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, convulsions, illusions and hallucinations, Grand Mal Seizures and sometimes death.
Psychological dependency or alcohol addiction may occur with regular use of even relatively moderate daily amounts. It may also occur in people who consume alcohol only under certain conditions, such as before and during social occasions. This form of dependency refers to a craving for alcohol's psychological effects, although not necessarily in amounts that produce serious intoxication. For psychologically dependent drinkers, the lack of alcohol tends to make them anxious and, in some cases, panicky.
Alcohol and the Body
The liver breaks down alcohols into acetaldehyde by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, and then into acetic acid by the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Next, the acetate is converted into fats or carbon dioxide and water. The fats are deposited locally which, leads to the characteristic "beer belly". Chronic drinkers however, tax this metabolic pathway resulting in fatty acids build up as plaques in the capillaries around liver cells. As these cells begin to die, the liver disease cirrhosis develops.
The liver metabolizes alcohol in the body and is therefore the primary site of alcohol damage. Liver damage occurs in three stages. During the first stage, fatty liver, liver cells are infiltrated with abnormal fatty tissue, enlarging the liver. The second stage is alcoholic hepatitis. When this stage occurs, liver cells swell, become inflamed, and die, causing blockage and impaired function. Cirrhosis is the final and irreversible stage. Fibrous scar tissue forms in place of healthy cells, obstructing the flow of blood through the liver. Various functions of the liver deteriorate at the cirrhotic stage, with fatal results.
When the liver becomes diseased, it cannot convert stored glycogen into glucose, thus lowering blood sugar and producing hypoglycemia. It inefficiently detoxifies the bloodstream and inadequately eliminates drugs, alcohol, and dead red blood cells. The diseased liver ceases the manufacture of components used for fat digestion, blood clotting, bruise prevention and others used for maintaining healthy cells.
Livers that become diseased as a result of alcohol abuse also cease the production of digestive enzymes, preventing the absorption of fats and proteins and decreasing the absorption of the vitamins A, D, E, and K. The decreased production of enzymes also often causes diarrhea.
Large amounts of alcohol inflame the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. It increases the stomach's digestive enzymes, which can irritate the stomach wall, producing heartburn, nausea, gastritis, reflux and ulcers. Irritation caused by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol combined with excessive gastric acids produced in the stomach can also cause ulcerations and potentially fatal ruptures of the esophagus.
Alcohol inhibits the brain receptors that are responsible for pleasure stimulation. Receptors start to become unresponsive, slowing thought. It also stimulates the production of the neurotransmitters that inhibit activity in the brain and produce signals that interfere with the stages of memory formation. These neurotransmitters are responsible for the memory impairment that many alcoholics experience.
Blurred vision is another common side effect of alcoholism. Alcohol suppresses the metabolism of glucose in the brain. The section of the brain that processes visual inputs has been found to become especially impaired, consuming significantly less glucose than it should. With less glucose metabolism, the cells improperly process images.
Another common attribute of alcohol addiction or abuse is vertigo, more commonly referred to as “The Spins”. This is associated with abnormal eye movements. Alcohol affects the system in the ears responsible for balance. Abnormal nerve impulses tell the brain that the body is rotating, causing disorientation and making the brain compensate. When this wears off the brain has adjusted to the spinning, and interprets not spinning as spinning in the opposite direction causing further disorientation.
Alcohol addiction and abuse also causes the dysfunction of parts of the nervous system and brain that coordinate movement, resulting in jerky, uncoordinated movements of the limbs. This dysfunctional condition is responsible for staggering, clumsiness, swaying and frequent falls.
Alcohol permeates every cell and organ of the body and the physical effects of chronic alcohol dependency are wide-ranging and complex. Large doses of alcohol invade the body's fluids and interfere with metabolism in every cell.
Alcohol addicted people finally grow obsessed with alcohol to the exclusion of almost everything else. They drink despite the pleading of family and friends and often against medical advice. Although relationships with family and work may become severely damaged or completely severed, nothing, not even severe health problems, is enough to deter their drinking.
The late-stage alcoholic typically suffers a host mental disorders. Constant remorse and guilt is alleviated with more drinking. Late stage alcohol addiction is characterized by cirrhosis and severe withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is withheld.
People suffering alcohol addiction or dependencies do not have to reach the extreme late stages of alcoholism to get help.