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What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug, with the technical name-ethanol.  Medically it is classified as a depressant, which slows down the Central Nervous System, especially the brain.  When a person drinks, the alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the body.  Some of the alcohol is absorbed directly through the tongue and throat.  Unlike most foods, alcohol requires no digestion.  As alcohol enters the stomach, it is absorbed directly into the blood stream.  Once alcohol enters the blood, it begins to penetrate all major organs of the body.  It usually takes the liver an hour to eliminate .5 ounces of alcohol.  When a person drinks faster than this, the alcohol begins to accumulate and intoxication begins.  Alcohol dependence is a disease that is progressive and chronic.  It is a treatable disease that can be arrested making recovery possible.

What are the warning signs?

The more people drink, the more intoxicated they become.  The higher a person's blood alcohol level is, the more severe the effects.  Stages of intoxication are as follows:

Happy: in this initial stage, the person becomes more talkative and social, inhibitions become lower, and some loss of judgment

Excited: in this stage, the person begins to show some erratic behavior, thinking and judgment are impaired, reactions are slowed

Confused: in this stage, the person may begin to lose control over speech and coordination, exhibit exaggerated mood swings, slurred speech, and become disoriented

Stuporous: in this stage, the person may need assistance in walking and appears to be paralyzed at times, barely able to maintain consciousness, vomiting and incontinence are common

Comatose:  in this stage, the person will be unconscious, have few or no reflexes, brain activity has slowed so greatly that breathing may become arrested

Death: result of alcohol intoxication, violence, or traffic accidents

What are the effects of alcohol?

Brain Damage:  A variety of conditions from psychosis to permanent memory loss may occur.

Cancer:  Mouth, esophagus, liver, and stomach cancer are frequently due to the irritating effect of the alcohol.

Heart Disease:  Enlarged heart and congesting heart failure are not uncommon.

Liver Damage:  Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), alcoholic hepatitis, and cancer of the liver are common.

Glandular Problems:  The adrenal and pituitary glands may be affected.

Birth Defects:  Women who drink during pregnancy can cause birth defects such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Suicide:  Depression typically accompanies alcohol dependence.  A high number of suicides are related to alcohol and drug abuse.

Accidents:  Drinking and driving are a major cause of death in America. Alcohol is involved in nearly 40% of all traffic deaths.  Scientists have found that nearly 70% of people in crashes related to alcohol met the criteria for alcohol dependence, but most had never been arrested or received treatment.

Physical abuse:  Alcohol is a major factor in a large portion of homicides, as well as, child abuse and domestic violence.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.  For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome.  

Sources:  National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association