Alcohol is a drug which alters a person's mental and physical state, reducing tension and anxiety, and facilitating social interaction, but it may also cause loss of control over behaviour. Although moderate alcohol consumption may promote a temporary feeling of relaxation, typically excessive use of alcohol over a long period can result in a wide range of serious physical, psychological, and social problems.
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American article on the effects of Alcohol Use.
Excessive long-term drinking severely reduces life expectancy and is a significant cause of preventable death. In the UK, excessive consumption of alcohol is thought to cause about 33,000 deaths each year from disease and preventible accidents. About 1 in 5 deaths on the road is alcohol-related.
When you drink alcohol, it is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and small intestine. It is carried to the liver, where it is broken down by enzymes and stored as fat. A small amount is eliminated unchanged in urine and in exhaled breath.
Alcohol reaches its maximum concentration in the blood about 35 to 45 minutes after intake. The actual concentration depends on various factors, such as the weight of the individual and whether the alcohol has been drunk with food or on an empty stomach. The rate at which alcohol is broken down (metabolized) in the liver also varies between individuals, and heavy drinkers can metabolize it more quickly.
Alcohol consumption can be an enjoyable part of your social life, but you should keep your consumption within safe limits. The average rate is about 1 unit per hour. On any occasion, your body cannot alter the rate at which it breaks down alcohol, so that the more you drink, the longer it will take for your blood alcohol concentration to return to normal.
If you drink heavily at night, you will still be dangerously intoxicated the next morning.
SAFE ALCOHOL LIMITS
Current UK guidelines set by the medical profession state that, in general, men should drink no more than 3 or 4 units a day and women no more than 2 or 3 units of alcohol each day. You should try to keep within these limits and have at least one or two days each week when you do not consume any alcohol.
1 UNIT OF ALCOHOL is only:-
Half a pint of beer (250ml/10fl oz; ABV 3.5%)
Small glass of wine (100ml/4floz; ABV 10%)
Small glass of sherry (50ml/2floz; ABV 20%)
Single measure of spirits (25ml/1floz; ABV 40%)
Alcohol is a sedative, depressing the action of the central nervous system. In particular, it affects the part of the brain that controls movement, impairing reaction times and coordination. Your inhibitions are suppressed, and, although you may feel more confident, your judgment will be impaired for several hours after drinking. Just one drink is enough to have this effect, making it dangerous for you to drive or operate machinery.
Alcohol causes blood vessels in the skin to dilate. Although this effect may make you feel warm and can cause excessive sweating, you are actually losing heat. Therefore, alcohol should not be given to anyone chilled from exposure to the cold.
Alcohol causes increased urine production, and you may feel dehydrated if you have several drinks in quick succession.
Heavy drinking leads to hangovers, with headache, nausea, dizziness, and a dry mouth. Hangovers are the result of adverse reactions to alcohol itself and to chemical additives, which are found particularly in dark coloured drinks such as red wine and whisky. You can slow the absorption of alcohol by eating when you drink.
Drinking excessive quantities of alcohol may cause confusion and loss of memory, loss of consciousness, coma, or, in extreme cases, death.
Some people are protected by a gene that causes an immediate adverse reaction to alcohol. Affected people have reactions such as nausea and facial flushing.
Drinking alcohol in small amounts is reputed to protect against coronary heart disease and stroke. Men over the age of 40 and postmenopausal women are most likely to benefit. However,when safe limits are exceeded, the risks outweigh the benefits. Since alcohol has a high calorie content, regular drinkers will often put on weight. Each gram of alcohol contains 7 calories.
Alcohol damages most body systems and is a major cause of liver disease . In the brain, cells that control learning and memory may be killed. Drinking more than the safe alcohol limit increases the risk of cardiovascular disorders such as dilated cardiomyopathy, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of several kinds of cancer, especially cancer of the nasopharynx, cancer of the larynx, mouth cancer, and cancer of the oesophagus.
Drinking too much alcohol reduces fertility. There is no safe level of consumption in pregnancy, and excess alcohol is known to harm the foetus, so many women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should drink only occasionally or not at all.
Excessive drinking on a regular basis can lead to alcohol dependence and is a major cause of social problems. In the UK, 65 per cent of the offenders and victims involved in murder, and 65 per cent of suicide victims, have been drinking, and alcohol is associated with 4 in 10 incidents of domestic violence.
Regular drinking can damage relationships and lead to considerable stress to a drinker's family and friends.
ASSESSING YOUR CONSUMPTION
If you think you may be drinking too much, consult your doctor, who might ask you to keep a diary for several weeks to record each drink you have. Some people drink to relieve stress or painful emotions. Stress-related consumption may lead to the development of a drinking problem.
Warning signs include drinking more than you intended on any occasion, severe hangovers, and being involved in accidents or arguments after drinking. Try to assess if you have a problem and the degree to which drinking is affecting your lifestyle.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
To enjoy alcohol safely, limit your intake. At social events, eat first, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and finish each drink before refilling so that you know how many units you have had.
Never drive if you intend to drink; try to go with a designated driver who will not drink.
Set a good example to children. In addition, discuss the effects of alcohol with them and reinforce the message of any alcohol awareness programmes run by their school. To relieve emotional problems, try approaches such as counselling.
based on Dorling Kindersley Complete Family Health Guide
Link to Alcohol Abuse site recovery.org.uk.