Habits and Behaviors - Alcohol and alcoholism

Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant like barbiturates and tranquilizers. Although it is legal for those of a certain age in the United States to use, it is still very much a drug. It is, however, a socially acceptable drug, unlike some of the drugs already discussed. After tobacco use, alcohol is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world.

Drinking alcohol, whether beer, wine, or liquor, causes a vast array of effects. Even small amounts of alcohol impair drinkers so much that they cannot perform simple motor tasks. Every tissue in the human body is affected by alcohol consumption. Individual effects of drinking vary. Body weight and size, gender, metabolism, the amount of alcohol consumed at the time, and the type and amount of food in the stomach determine the blood alcohol level. Mild intoxication

can cause feelings of warmth, flushed skin, impaired judgment, and decreased inhibitions. Deeper intoxication can cause a slowing of reflexes and more obvious lessening of judgment and inhibitions. Slurred speech, double vision, and memory and comprehension loss can follow.

Eventually drinkers can experience vomiting, incontinence (losing bladder or bowel control), and the inability to stand on their own. Many people pass out when they've had too much to drink. Blackouts are not uncommon. In a blackout, drinkers will not remember large segments of their experiences, even when the story is relayed to them. Coma and death are possible results of excessive drinking. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can result in a hangover. Hangovers can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, shakiness, and extreme thirst. (For those who insist on drinking, consuming plenty of water before, during and after will prevent the dehydration that is a consequence of alcohol consumption.)

The dangers of short- and long-term abuse of alcohol are numerous.

Short-term abuse can cause the physical reactions described above, plus the possibility of serious hazards incurred by loss of faculties. Drunk driving is the most serious and immediate consequence. Drunk people make impaired decisions that very often cost them their lives and the lives of those they love. The decision to get behind the wheel after drinking can result in drivers having to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Death is the most serious result of driving drunk. People who have been drinking, even those who do not think they are drunk, should never drive no matter the circumstances.

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse are liver diseases, such as cirrhosis and cancer. These are usually fatal. Alcoholics have higher rates of peptic ulcers, pneumonia, cancer of the upper digestive and respiratory tracts, heart and artery disease, tuberculosis and suicide than the rest of the population. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition that drinking mothers pass on to their infants. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol at all. FAS is the leading cause of birth defects.

Warning labels are placed on all tobacco products informing users of the dangers of nicotine and smoking. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Warning labels are placed on all tobacco products informing users of the dangers of nicotine and smoking. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

Withdrawal from Alcohol

Six to twelve hours after the last drink, an alcoholic can begin to feel the affects of withdrawal from alcohol. The stage one symptoms are psychomotor agitation, anxiety, insomnia, appetite suppression, stomach problems, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, sweating and tremors. Within twenty-four hours, stage two withdrawal symptoms begin. They include the symptoms of stage one, plus hallucinations and seizures.

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