As a substance that most adults can easily obtain from their neighborhood store, or order off the menu at a favorite restaurant, the hard facts about alcohol use and abuse are frequently overlooked. Statistics about alcohol abuse can be quite alarming, however. Placing a spotlight on the damaging effects of alcohol consumption helps bring awareness to, and hopefully helps to fight this nationwide problem.
The Short Term Effects of Alcohol Use
The drug ethanol is more commonly called ‘drinking alcohol’ or simply ‘alcohol’. Alcohol is an organic compound, produced in various ways from the fermentation of sugars. Its chemical structure makes it easy for alcohol to cross human cell membranes and, therefore, highly diffusible into all tissues in the body, including the brain. It acts as a central nervous system depressant, with a wide range of alcohol use effects based on dosage, speed of ingestion and the resultant concentration in the blood over time. The concentration of alcohol is measured in percentage units of ‘blood alcohol content’ (BAC). Tolerance to the physical influence of alcohol tempers the effects in some individuals but, in general, the following percentage ranges roughly describe the short-term effects possible at different BAC levels.
- 0.03% – 0.10%: Mild euphoria, mood enhancement, lowered anxiety
- 0.10% – 0.20%: Marked sedation, delayed reaction time, balance / vision disturbances
- 0.20% – 0.30%: Marked confusion, ataxia, nausea, vomiting
- 0.25% – 0.40%: Severe loss of muscle coordination, intermittent unconsciousness, bradycardia, loss of bladder control
- 0.35% – 0.80%: Profound respiratory depression, coma, death possible
Long Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Not all drinkers stop after a single drink. Furthermore, an evening consisting of multiple drinks doesn’t always occur in isolation. Chronic alcohol consumption can quickly lead to a whole host of detrimental effects. Prolonged heavy drinking can lead to chronic inflammation of the liver (alcohol induced hepatitis) which, over time, secondarily leads to a proliferation of scarring in the liver itself (cirrhosis). The increase in blood pressure and heart rate associated with even moderate drinking over time can lead to an enlarged, underperforming heart (alcoholic cardiomyopathy). A less commonly known outcome from prolonged alcohol consumption is the increased incidence of a variety of cancers (with risk being heightened even more who smoke in conjunction with drinking). Aside from the personal health impact that alcohol abuse has, one must also factor in an increased association with violent crime, and accidents (car or otherwise).
- All told, the economic costs of alcohol abuse are in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
- The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that nearly 90,000 people die annually from alcohol related causes, placing it in third place on a list of preventable causes of death in the US.
Alcohol Abuse and Dependence
Alcohol abuse can nebulously be defined as having maladaptive or unhealthy drinking behavior. This could include drinking too much at a single moment in time, or continuing to drink every day. Most alcohol abusers know that what they are doing is detrimental to their daily lives, but are unable to easily discontinue the behavior. If a person continues to abuse alcohol, they may quickly find themselves meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence. To match the definition of alcohol dependency, a person must manifest at least three of the following:
- Tolerance, or the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve the same desired effect
- Withdrawal effects when abstinent
- Use of alcohol in quantities or lengths of time greater than intended
- A persistent desire to cut down on alcohol consumption
- Dedication of large amounts of time and energy in obtaining alcohol
- Decreased interest or time spent on social, work or recreational activities due to alcohol use
- Continuing to abuse alcohol despite recognizing the existence of a clear physical or psychological problem resulting from alcohol use
Drinking Too Much – Recognizing Alcohol Overdose
We previously outlined some of the effects of alcohol based on blood alcohol level. The overdose phenomenon known as “alcohol poisoning” can occur in those higher levels when BAC percentage is so markedly elevated that areas of the brain normally dedicated to life preserving functions such as respiration and heart rate regulation begin to fail. Symptoms of such an acute alcohol overdose may include unresponsiveness, mental confusion, repeated vomiting, cold and/or discolored skin, labored breathing and convulsions. Seek immediate emergency medical help should you witness any of the aforementioned symptoms.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has experienced overdose symptoms before, and could benefit from an alcohol treatment program, do not hesitate to call 1-888-744-0069 to discuss available options.
Common Questions and Answers
Q: What are some signs of alcohol dependence?
A: Dependency can occur in someone who drinks heavily and repeatedly, and can include tolerance to alcohol, withdrawal effects when abstinent, as well as continued drinking behavior despite recognizing the problem exists.
Q: What symptoms would indicate that a person is experiencing an alcohol overdose?
A: Someone experiencing an acute alcohol poisoning episode might display unresponsiveness, vomiting, confusion, trouble breathing, and seizures.