Alcohol: What You Need to Know


What is alcohol?

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Because it is a depressant, it ultimately slows down activity in the central nervous system, resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, distorted perception, and slowed reaction time. It also impairs judgment and reduces a person's ability to think rationally.

It should be noted that although alcohol is classified as a depressant, it can act as a stimulant in small doses. The ethanol content in alcohol causes the body to release dopamine, and this in turn causes a person's blood pressure and heart rate to increase initially. This is the rush that many people seek when they drink alcohol. After this initial rush begins to wear off, the depressant effects of alcohol begin to set in. The higher the quantity of alcohol consumed, the stronger the sedative effects.

It should also be noted that alcohol comes in many forms, each containing a different amount of alcohol. Beer is perhaps the most common form of alcohol, and it contains anywhere from 2 percent to 6 percent alcohol. Wine, meanwhile, contains anywhere from 8 to 20 percent. Other forms of alcohol such as tequila, rum, brandy, gin, whiskey, and vodka contain 40 percent or more of alcohol. Liquors, meanwhile, contain anywhere from 15 to 60 percent.

Short-term effects of alcohol use

Alcohol use has many short-term effects. These effects will vary depending on the amount consumed and on the biological makeup of the person consuming the alcohol. Moderate to heavier consumption of alcohol can result in drowsiness, slurred speech, impaired judgment, distorted vision and hearing, upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. It may also cause breathing difficulties, blackouts (lapses in memory), unconsciousness, or coma. Alcohol overdose or binge drinking might even lead to death. Because heavy alcohol use also impairs judgment, heavy alcohol users are more susceptible to unintentional injuries and accidents as well.

Long-term effects of alcohol use

Chronic alcohol use and abuse can have significant long-term effects as well. Long-term consumption, for one, can cause death of brain cells, and this, in turn, can lead to a variety of brain disorders as well as impaired cognitive function. It can also cause severe liver damage and even cirrhosis, which may require a liver transplant to treat. A heavy user may also develop very dangerous inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis. Heavy alcohol use over an extended period of time has been linked to several types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, breast, and liver.

What are common signs of alcohol abuse?

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a loved one is abusing alcohol—especially due to the social acceptance surrounding drinking. Learning some of the most common signs of alcohol abuse can help you better identify when there might be a problem. Here are some of the most common signs of alcohol abuse you may identify in a loved one:

  • • Frequent absence from work, school, or other activities due to being hung over
  • • Drinking despite knowing that they will be driving later
  • • Drinking despite there being physical conditions that could be worsened by drinking
  • • Inability to control when they drink or how much they drink
  • • Increase in the amount of alcohol needed to get the same effects as before
  • • Giving up once pleasurable activities to drink instead
  • • Drinking in unusual circumstances, such as in the morning, alone, etc.
  • • Drinking is used as a form to self-medication, such as to relieve stress
  • • Withdrawal symptoms upon quitting drinking, such as shaking, nervousness, or nausea

How much of a problem is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol remains the most commonly abused drug in the United States. This is probably due in large part to the legality and social acceptance of drinking alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014. (Of this 16.3 million, 10.6 million were men and 5.7 million were women.) In addition, an estimated 679,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had an AUD that same year. It is estimated that nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes each year. This makes alcohol the fourth most common preventable cause of death in the United States.

How do you stop using alcohol?

Ceasing use of alcohol can be difficult, as withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and may even put someone's health in extreme danger. With the right help and the right treatment approach, however, it is definitely possible to stop using alcohol. If you are a heavy alcohol user, you should know that treatment is available. Here at Renaissance Ranch, our professionals are prepared to help you through detox, diagnose any coexisting mental health issues, and arm you with a comprehensive set of much-needed tools for your recovery. Call us at 1-855-736-7262 to get started on your journey to recovery.