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Alcohol Effects (Side Effects and Benefits; Body and Brain)

Alcohol Effects: How Alcohol Affects the Brain

Alcohol Effects

Alcohol is a tricky substance. It is, in some cultures, considered a social tool, and not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. However, it’s easy to see how alcohol use can lead to alcoholism in some individuals.

We’ve covered alcohol addiction elsewhere on the Addictive Addiction website, but let’s talk about just what, exactly, this substance does to your brain and your body. As with any drug, there are short- and long-term effects; let’s look at how alcohol affects the brain first.

Within minutes of drinking alcohol, the substance enters your blood stream and all parts of your body, including your brain. Alcohol is a depressant. But it’s unique in that in addition to its depressant qualities, alcohol also has characteristics of a stimulant. Within your brain, there are chemicals and chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters control your emotions, your thought process and, in some ways, your behavior.

Drinking alcohol affects the neurotransmitters which are inhibitory and excitatory. Put simply, alcohol has both a calming effect and serves to slow down your thought process. But that’s not all.

Drinking alcohol will also increase the amount of dopamine which is released in your brain. This is exactly the same chemical effect which cocaine and meth have on your brain’s chemistry.

Therein lies the problem. Alcohol is both calming you and exciting you when you consume it. Over time and with continued use, the effects of alcohol on your dopamine levels will decrease. Alcoholics have frequently become reliant upon the release of that dopamine, but now that it’s no longer happening, a need to “try again and again” is established. This often leads to addiction.

Alcohol Effects: How Alcohol Effects the Body

As is true for most drugs, alcohol makes a drinker feel good. The effects which it has on the brain can allow a user to forget about stresses, at least temporarily, and feel uninhibited. Drinkers frequently describe alcohol as “liquid courage.”

However, in addition to affecting the way your brain works, alcohol will also have effects on your body. Alcohol consumption will affect coordination. Drinkers become clumsy, often stumbling or falling. Depth perception is impaired, causing those who have been drinking to bump into things. Alcohol can block pain receptors, which can lead to injury.

A very common side effect of alcohol consumption is the contraction of sexually transmitted infections. This is caused by irresponsible sexual activity, sometimes with multiple or “random” partners due to lowered inhibitions.

Long term use of alcohol can have serious consequences for the human body. Liver damage is common among those who use alcohol. These liver conditions include cirrhosis, fibrosis, alcoholic hepatitis and fatty liver.

The heart is damaged by long term alcohol use. High blood pressure, stroke, and irregular heartbeat are common side effects of alcohol.

It’s been shown that alcohol can contribute to the development of certain cancers. Pancreatitis is also a side effect of the substance; this is due to the buildup of toxins in the pancreas.

Effects of Alcohol on Growing Minds

Alcohol Side Effects

There’s a very common argument in the United States regarding the legal age for alcohol purchase and consumption. That argument is often phrased in the following way:

If an 18 year old is old enough to fight and die for their country, shouldn’t they be considered old enough to buy alcohol?

In the US, the legal drinking age is 21 years old. This law was not instated as a punishment, or to be unfair to those who are legal adults. The law is actually scientifically based.

The brain is not fully developed at age 18. In fact, it’s not until the mid-20s that a brain is fully formed. Alcohol use will affect younger brains differently than it will an adult brain. Memory retention is impaired more easily in young brains, adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, and those who begin drinking at a younger age are more likely to become alcoholics.

From the ages of 18 to 20, a young mind is still developing what is called “Level III abstract thinking.” This is the thought process which allows a person to compare and interrelate issues, characteristics, events and other factors in mind. Alcohol can interfere with this learning, and these alcohol effects are permanent.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

We’ve touched on alcohol poisoning symptoms in other articles on the Addictive Addiction website. However, an list of symptoms is as follows:

• Vomiting
• Hypothermia
• Choking
• Loss of control of bowels or bladder
• Confusion
• Extremely slowed breathing
• Blue-ish skin
• Inability to walk
• Seizure
• Unconsciousness

Alcohol Poisoning: How Much?

Alcohol Poisoning

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are oft times just exaggerated symptoms of alcohol use. It’s important to realize that alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous, and can result in death.

The amount of alcohol required to constitute a poisoning will, like other substances, depend on a few factors. The body composition and age of the drinker are factors. The amount of alcohol consumed, of course, is also a factor.

The average human liver can process one alcoholic beverage per hour. Wondering what a “drink” is? The following constitute one drink:

• 1.5 ounces of liquor (vodka, whiskey, etc)
• 8 ounces malt liquor
• 5 ounces wine
• 12 ounces beer

Consumption of more than one of these drinks per hour will put a person at high risk for alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Brain Damage

It’s been a widely held belief for quite some time that alcohol effects include the death of brain cells and, over the long run, brain damage. In May of this year, a study was conducted to determine the long term effects of alcohol on the brain.

The study showed that over 30 years, heavy users of alcohol were more likely to suffer permanent damage to the hippocampus. The brain atrophied, causing the actual structure to change. There was, however, no effect on word recall or fluency in the individuals.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

It may be that your employer conducts random drug and alcohol tests. Or, you may be in contact with law enforcement. Maybe you were pulled over while driving, or are required to check in with a parole or probation officer. Here’s what you need to know about how long alcohol stays in your system.

Does Alcohol Show up on a Drug Test?

Alcohol Drug Test
The first thing you need to know is that alcohol will not show up in a standard drug test. However, if you’re being tested by an employer or by law enforcement, it’s quite likely that you’ll be screened for alcohol. These tests are often performed separately.

As a rule, though, if you’re submitting a sample for drug testing, alcohol will not show up. Generally speaking, the test will have to specifically screen for alcohol in order to show traces.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in your Urine?

Alcohol can remain present in your urine for up to 80 hours following consumption.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in your Blood?

The length of time which alcohol will remain in your blood depends upon how much you drink. As a rule, the liver takes about an hour to metabolize an ounce of alcohol. After consuming one ounce of alcohol, it will be detectable in your blood for up to 10 hours.

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in your Hair?

Alcohol will be detectable in your hair after about one week. It will remain detectable for around 3 months.

What is a Blood Alcohol Level?

Blood alcohol level, or blood alcohol concentration, is the percentage of your blood which is alcohol. A high blood alcohol level can obviously lead to death, but for a clear example, consider the following:

A 150 pound person who consumes six cans of beer within about an hour has a blood alcohol level of 0.15. That may seem like a small number. But that number is actually the equivalent of a ½ pint of whiskey circulating through the body.