Ingested as a liquid substance, alcohol depresses the central nervous system and lowers inhibitions and reduces anxiety.
Despite being legal and socially acceptable, all types of alcohol are considered toxic substances because alcohol is metabolized by most tissues and affects most organs, especially the liver. Excessive alcohol use can cause serious health problems.
Alcohol is the most frequently used and misused substance in the United States, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
If a person suffers from a substance use disorder, even moderate drinking can be dangerous as the compulsion to drink to excess takes over.
Types of Alcohol
There are three basic types of alcohol: beer, wine, and liquor.
Beer is typically made from water, hops, barley, and yeast. It usually has the lowest alcohol content by volume (ABV) compared to wine or hard liquor. It is one of the oldest drinks with historical proof of consumption dating back 6,000 years.
Wine comes from fermented grapes or other fruits, such as berries or pomegranates. It is most commonly sold as red or white with a variety of flavors. Drinking wine also has a long history and its consumption has religious significance in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures.
Liquor is a broad term for distilled alcoholic beverages with a higher alcohol content than wine or beer. The most common types of liquor include vodka, rum, gin, tequila, or whiskey. They are made by distilling grains, fruits, or vegetables following alcoholic fermentation.
What Happens When You Drink Alcohol?
The body does not digest alcohol. It passes quickly into the bloodstream and then throughout the body where it is metabolized by tissues. Alcohol affects the organs, especially the liver, but also the heart, brain, kidneys, and lungs.
As a central nervous system depressant, drinking alcohol slows reflexes, impairs judgement, and causes drowsiness, symptoms that can appear after having just one standard drink. The definition of standard drinks for each type of alcohol is:
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of liquor or distilled spirits (40% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
The effects of alcohol are different from one person to the next based on:
- Size, weight and health
- Strength of the alcoholic drink
- Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
- Medical conditions
- The amount ingested
Common Alcohol Affects:
People who drink may experience:
- Feeling relaxed
- Increased confidence
- Slurred speech
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling happier or sadder, depending on their mood
- Slower reflexes
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol or drug abuse is different from alcohol or drug addiction. Someone can suffer from alcohol abuse but not be addicted to alcohol. The first sign of alcohol abuse may be a dependence or that you experience withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking.
Common signs of drinking too much or alcohol-related abuse include:
- Having legal problems because of alcohol use
- Problems with family and friends because of drinking
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
Alcohol abuse usually has consequences that effect work, school, or family relationships. Alcohol problems are often are downplayed as no big deal by the drinker and sometimes by those around them denying an issue exists.
What is Blood Alcohol Concentration?
Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream expressed as the weight of ethanol, in grams per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath. It can be measured by breath, blood, or urine tests.
BAC is what law enforcement officers measure when give a breathalyzer test to drivers suspected of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The device checks the amount of alcohol in the person’s exhaled breath to determine BAC.
What is Considered Excessive Drinking?
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking and heavy alcohol use:
- Binge drinkers drink too much alcohol at one time. Their blood alcohol concentration level will be 0.08% or more. For men, this typically will happen after having five or more drinks within a few hours. For women, it is typically after having about four or more alcohol beverages within a few hours.
- Heavy alcohol use is having more than four drinks over a 24-hour period for men or more than three drinks over 24 hours for women
About 90% of people who drink excessively would not meet the American Psychiatric Association clinical diagnostic criteria for severe alcohol use disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heavy drinking or drinking too much at one time can also lead to: bloating, gassiness, diarrhea or painful stools, a feeling of fullness in your abdomen, and in severe cases liver disease.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction (alcohol use disorder) is when you have strong cravings for alcohol and have a difficult time stopping. These alcohol cravings will be intense, and it may be a challenge to do other things because you are so focused on drinking.
Alcohol consumption becomes a problem when you start to miss social events, you neglect important responsibilities, or you are having a difficult home life.
Not everyone who drinks alcohol ends up having a severe alcohol use disorder. You can develop an alcohol dependence without being addicted to alcohol.
Who is At Risk for Alcohol Addiction?
People who drink alcohol frequently and whose alcohol consumption is high when they drink, may be at a higher risk for developing an alcohol related substance abuse disorder. You may also be at an increased risk for alcohol use disorder if you:
- Have a close relative with alcohol use disorder
- Have low self-esteem
- Live in a family or culture where alcohol use is common and accepted
- Experience an elevated level of stress
What Does Drinking Alcohol do to Your Health?
Drinking excessively or binge drinking can be harmful to your health. Typically, long-term alcohol abuse and alcohol consumption causes the most damage to your body.
According to the Center for Disease Control “Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 95,000 deaths in the United States each year, including 1 in 10 total deaths among working-age adults” (CDC.gov, 2020).
Heavy alcohol use over a long period of time may cause health problems such as:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Increased risk for certain cancers
- Cirrhosis or fatty liver disease
- Increased risk of injuries
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
What does Alcohol do to the Digestive System?
Alcohol consumption can damage the tissues of the digestive tract, preventing the intestines from properly digesting food, resulting in a lack of absorption of important nutrients and vitamins.
This can cause malnutrition which leads to weight loss, fatigue and mood changes, or vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
How does Alcohol Affect the Circulatory System?
Alcohol consumption can damage the lungs and heart.
Drinking alcohol causes a short-term increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Excessive drinking can lead to ongoing increased heart rate, high blood pressure, weakened heart muscle, and irregular heartbeat. These put people at higher risk for developing heart disease or heart-related health issues.
Women are more likely to suffer negative effects of alcohol such as heart disease, than men.
Alcohol abuse has a negative effect on the lungs because it decreases the body’s ability to prevent infection. The effects of alcohol can cause lung inflammation and weaken a person’s gag and cough reflexes, increasing the chances for them to develop pneumonia.
What does Alcohol do to the Immune System?
Heavy alcohol abuse can reduce the body’s natural immune system, making it more difficult for you to fight off disease. People who drink heavily are more likely to develop harmful diseases such as tuberculosis or pneumonia.
According to the National Institute on Health, about 10 percent of all tuberculosis cases worldwide can be connected to alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk for several types of cancer, including breast, colon, and mouth.
Does Alcohol Abuse Increase the Chance of Suicide?
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says several recent national surveys show a relationship between alcohol use and suicidal behavior.
One found a correlation between lower minimum-age drinking laws and higher youth suicide rates.
Another study of non-traffic injury deaths associated with alcohol intoxication, found that more than 20 percent were suicides.
If you feel you or a person you know are having problems with alcohol, it’s best to get counseling and treatment from medical professionals.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus webpage provides trustworthy health information on alcohol abuse and other medical issues.
Get Help at La Hacienda Treatment Center
For 50 years La Hacienda Treatment Center has been dedicated to serving the needs of alcohol- or drug- dependent individuals and their families.
Our onsite board-certified addiction treatment physicians provide medical advice and trustworthy health information daily to patients to help them along to a successful recovery. Throughout the admission process, we collect information which the staff uses to prepare a unique treatment plan for each patient.
Following a medically monitored detox (if needed), patients meet individually with an assigned case manager who facilitates the recovery process which includes lectures, group meetings, a family program, and activities therapy.
The 40-acre residential treatment campus in the Texas Hill Country provides a healing atmosphere for men and women putting their lives back together.
If you or someone you know is looking for someone to help with an addiction problem, please phone (800) 749-6160 and talk with one of our helpful onsite admission specialists who will assist in initiating the recovery process.
Alcohol and Diabetes
Alcohol consumption combined with medications used to treat diabetes—particularly insulin and sulfonylureas—can result in low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Diabetics should consult their physician regarding drinking alcohol.
Chronic alcoholism can cause a scarring (fibrosis) of the liver. Eventually this reaches a late stage called cirrhosis when the scarring makes it hard for the liver to function. Cirrhosis can be treated in early stages but is usually irreversible.
Stomach Ulcers and Alcohol
Alcohol consumption is not compatible with stomach ulcers. It increases the amount of acid the stomach produces, irritating and wearing down the stomach’s mucous lining.
Prolonged, chronic alcohol use can cause an attack of pancreatitis featuring inflammation of the pancreas and acute abdominal pain.