Alcohol is a liquid, an organic substance. It is a drug. The kind most consumed with the least side effects is called ethyl. Abuse leads to destruction of the liver, heart problems, and utter misery. Less destructive use is remarkably entertaining.

Alcohol comes in many forms. Some forms are tasty (wine, Jim Beam, beer). Some are remarkably nasty (cheap vodka).

In humans, alcohol causes dizziness, a general loss of inhibition(see seduction), physical pleasure, and unwanted children.

A chemical that, due to the small size of its molecules can have a variety of odd effects on the body.

The most noticeable is its effect on the brain. It can migrate through the membrane surrounding the brain rather easily, and cause its disruptions directly to the neurons. It gets to the receptors on the neurons, and attaches to them, blocking neurotransmitters from activating the neuron. As the amount of alcohol increases inside the brain, cells essentially shut down because they cannot receive signals. The more alcohol consumed, the lower the levels of brain activity, and the worse the ability to process stimuli and react to it.

It affects the outer areas of the brain first, which control higher level functions, such as reasoning. As those areas shut down, more primal, simple areas of the brain end up in control, unless so much is consumed that that area shuts down also, which can result in passing out or even death, due to disturbing vital functioning of the body.

A C2H5OH molecule:

  H H
  | |
H-C-C-OH
  | |
  H H

Nice huh?

A colorless, volatile, pungent liquid, C2H5OH. It can be burned as fuel (10-15% of gasohol), is used in industry and medicine, and is the intoxicating element of whiskey, wine, beer, and other fermented or distilled liquor. It is classed as a depressant drug.

Also called: ethanol, ethyl alcohol

Actually a name for a class of organic chemicals, unique because of their functional group:-O-H.

Many alcohols exist, but by far the most common is ethanol, more commonly known just as alcohol, and probably the most widely used drug in the world. Ethanol is usually made by fermentation of yeast, and other alcohols are made by hydrolysing alkenes.

I don't intend to comment on the origins of alcohol. This writeup merely points at one of the many facets of alcohol that we may take for granted.

Alcohol was being consumed unwittingly by our ancestors long before the cereals we know of were used to make bread. A weak, unfiltered, variant of the beer we know and love today was the first use of Barley known to man. The beer was made to be stored during months of drought, since plain water could not be stored for a long period of time before becoming stagnant and very harmful due to the high bacterial content. The small amounts of alcohol contained in that early beer was enough to keep the bacterial content to an acceptable limit.

The same may be said about wine. One may wonder why Christian religions claim that Jesus left us bread and wine as a symbol of Himself when bread and water might seem more appropriate. Again, the warm weather in Israel made stored water 2000 years ago a certain death. Wine, on the other hand, contained sufficient alcohol to keep the stored liquid close enough to sterility.

So the question arises. Should we thank alcohol for our existence today? The answer in my humble opinion is a definite yes. Survival of the race has always depended on sufficient amounts of safe water during times of drought and alcohol made this possible in Western civilisations.

The reason for which I specify western civilisations is that Eastern Civilisations seemed to emphasise the use of tea far before it was transported to the West. Tea was believed to have miraculous, life-extending properties, but in view of what is said about alcohol, the probability is that boiling served the same purpose, killing off harmful pathogens before the water was consumed.

Alcoholism

Short term effects of alcohol

For many people, drinking is very harmless, however, for others it can be quite destructive. There are many things that excessive alcohol consumption can promote, which in effect raises risk factors. Obviously, there is the state of being drunk. While intoxicated, the person experiences a lack of coordination. This causes them to loose balance as well as depth perception. However, most importantly, when someone is drunk, they loose the ability to think properly. They have trouble thinking clearly, therefore, more problems arise. Many times, being drunk leads to an increase in sexual activity, and as we know, this leads to uncontrolled births.

Also, some teens tend to binge-drink (this is when they drink in large quantities). Sometimes, binge drinking leads to alcohol poisoning as well as even death. This is because alcohol acts as a depressant, it slows down the central nervous system and this causes the heart to beat more and more slowly.

Another effect of drinking is that is causes your veins to expand slightly. A result of this is that your body temperature is more seceptable to change according to the temperature of your surrounding environment.

Long term effects

Over a period of many years, drinking has been proven to cause certain things in your body to change. For example, it gradually kills your brain cells. It also causes you to lose your sense of taste for certain types of foods. It even makes your sense of smell and touch weaker. Those are simply the obvious effects, it doesn’t mention the emotional stress which the alcohol places onto a person. Someone may lose many friends because alcohol has made them very unpleasant to be around. Many married people end up in divorce over alcohol related issues. These long term effects certainly apply to you if you start at age twenty-one, but what if you started as a child. The alcohol greatly effects a child’s brain much more quickly and more drastically than it could to any adult. By starting alcoholism at an early age, you are setting yourself up for a quick failure.

Stages of Alcoholism

There are a few stages of alcoholism. Some people can drink socially and never have any type of alcoholic problem. However, there are people who eventually decide to take it to the next level. From drinking a beer every now and then with some friends, to having many beers, becoming intoxicated. Then after that, you will have some people who eventually live to drink, every time they get money, they decide to spend it on alcohol. This is because they have let the “drug” control them.

Here are a few signs of alcoholism

· Drinking alone or in secret.

· Not remembering conversations or commitments.

· Making a ritual of having drinks before, with or after dinner and becoming annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned.

· Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring pleasure.

· Irritability as usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn't available.

· Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in the car.

· Gulping drinks, ordering doubles, becoming intoxicated intentionally to feel good or drinking to feel "normal."

· Having problems with relationships, employment or finances or legal problems.

The word alcohol is derived from the Arabic word meaning ‘the light’ and refers to the liquid in beer, wine and spirits which leads to people becoming drunk.

First discovered by an Arabian chemist, Alcohol is produced naturally as a result of the fermentation of almost any fruit or grain and was probably consumed by primitive peoples with probably comparable motives for doing so. It has been made by almost every group of people, in almost every society, using an enormous variety of substances ranging from honey and milk to rice and coconut palms. Egyptian writings dating back thousands of years, ancient chinese proverbs and early laws relating to alcohol abuse indicate that it was an integral part of everyday life and that its abuse was a cause for societal concern. Not only was its use widespread, but once it became part of the culture, it survived all attempts at prohibition. Prohibition has been trialed in more places than just the USA, for example in China, England, Russia, Finland and Iceland. All attempts at prohibition have failed.

For being the most commonly used and abused intoxicant among pretty much all of humankind, there is a remarkable paucity of information available regarding exactly how alcohol (ethanol) affects the brain. Part of this is likely due to how well alcohol's effects, but not necessarily the reasons for them, are already understood from medical and therapeutic models -- newer drugs get more attention because their models are still in development. Also, the ethanol molecule is tiny, comparatively speaking, and seems to be able to penetrate and actively make changes to many separate brain areas, so its effects are mediated via more channels than more selective drugs.

At any rate, there seem to be three main interactions responsible for alcohol's intoxicating properties:

  1. Endogenous opioid release: Endogenous opioids are peptides produced in the central nervous system and endocrine system which activate the same receptors as morphine, heroin, and other man-made opiates. They're usually released due to pain or stress, and serve to lessen the impact of those stimuli, inducing pain relief or even euphoria. Upon exposure to alcohol, endogenous opioid release is increased in the brain and the pituitary gland, and endorphin/enkephalin (responsible for transmission/reception of endogenous opioids, respectively) gene expression is increased. This action is probably responsible for the feelings of well-being or euphoria experienced with alcohol. Based on success in studies done with naltrexone, an opioid receptor blocker, this pathway is thought to be responsible for psychological alcohol addiction as well.

  2. GABA system sensitization: GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the brain's primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, responsible for decreasing the excitability of neurons. Increased GABA activity thus leads to sedation and lessened anxiety -- Valium and related benzodiazepines work by increasing GABA activity. Alcohol, interestingly enough, can in some situations mimic the GABA molecule itself at a receptor site, causing exactly the same effect as an increased concentration of real GABA. For more on this, see GABAergic drug use and memory loss

    For short term, recreational alcohol use, the increased activation causes a pleasant dulling of sensation and no appreciable long term effects. During long-term abuse of the drug, however, the GABA receptors respond to constant increased activity by desensitizing, so that regular GABA levels can no longer sufficiently activate them. Desensitization is possibly why alcohol withdrawal can cause anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and other responses that would seem to be based on neuronal over-excitation.

  3. NMDA receptor blockade: NMDA channels are one way that calcium ions may enter a neuron under certain circumstances, causing long-term potentiation of that neuron and (theoretically, at least) the formation of long-term memory in the overall system. Alcohol has the effect of blocking NMDA channels so that those processes occur more slowly or not at all. One effect of this is a euphoric, even mildly psychedelic shift in overall mental activity, a much weaker version of the dissociative intoxication also given by DXM or Ketamine use. Also like those drugs, the NMDA blockade is none-too-healthy for the brain itself, causing exitotoxicity and cell death possibly even in neurons unfazed by the alcohol. Years of accumulating this widespread brain damage probably contribute to Korsakoff syndrome, and other non-nutritional cerebral atrophy associated with alcohol.
An organic chemical containing one or more hydroxyl groups (-OH). Alcohols can be liquids, semisolids or solids at room temperature. Common alcohols include ethanol ("grain alcohol," the type found in alcoholic beverages) methanol (aka "wood alcohol," which can cause blindness and other nervous system damage if ingested) and propanol.

From the BioTech Dictionary at http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/. For further information see the BioTech homenode.

Alcohol commonly refers to Ethanol (C2H5OH). Human consumption can be a very vile thing. It makes people inadvertantly end up with their tongues in the mouths of people they swore they'd stay away from before they opened that can of Budweiser. It makes people spew brown liquids out of their mouths, and into the sink (if they're fortunate), trash basket (if they're less fortunate), or all over the floor (if they're my brother). It makes people get into fights with each other for no apparent reason. It can cause permanent anterograde and/or retrograde amnesia (as in Korsakoff's syndrome).

There are plenty of reasons not to drink, but, that said, it's also a lot of fun.

Harm Reduction
Proper harm-reduction depends on several matters. First, make sure you can't drive. If your judgment is impaired enough when completely trashed that you might consider it, give someone else the keys. It's an easy thing to do, and it could just save you your life.

Second, take proper supplements. A B-complex vitamin helps prevent deficincies in essential nutrients that can lead to cognitive deficits. The aforementioned Korsakoff's Syndrome is shown to result directly from vitamin B1 deficiencies. N-acetylcysteine is a powerful antioxidant that removes stress on the liver, and reduces the interaction between alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Be careful with it, however. High doses can cause excitotoxicity and thus brain damage themselves, negating any positive effects.
See R. Orasas et al, N-acetylcysteine attenuates alcohol-induced oxidative stress in the rat, PMID 12508366 and E. A. Carter, Enhanced acetaminophen toxicity associated with prior alcohol consumption in mice: prevention by N-acetylcysteine, PMID 3828067 for more on the possible benefits of N-acetylcysteine.

Third, be aware of how drunk you are, and how long you'll stay drunk. Drinking on an empty stomach is, as any frequent drinker knows, going to get you much drunker than drinking on a full stomach, especially if you're taking shots. Alcohol metabolism rates begin a steep rise just before midnight, and at 6 AM, peak at four times the rate of metabolism at 6 PM. Thus, the later you start drinking, the less time it will take you to sober up.
For a graph of alcohol metabolism rates versus time of day, see http://circadiana.blogspot.com/2006/02/diurnal-rhythm-of-alcohol-metabolism.html

Let's talk about alcohol.

I am a family practice physician and I talk to people of all ages about alcohol. The current recommendation is no more than one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men, no saving it up for the weekend.

"What?" you say "No way. Come on, that's ridiculous."

My patients don't say "That's ridiculous." After all, they are paying me to do a physical exam and a preventative exam. I am supposed to give them advice. But what is the basis for that?

One drink is defined as a regulation 12 oz beer or 6 ounces of wine or one ounce of hard liquor. If it is a high alcohol beer or wine, the amount is less.

It is NOT the liver doctors that have given us these numbers. It is the cardiologists, the heart doctors. One drink in women or two in men lowers blood pressure and in general, has good effects. Go over that daily and there is a rebound in blood pressure as the alcohol wears off. Alcohol works in the same way as benzodiazepines: it makes people less anxious and more relaxed and lowers inhibitions. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are addictive in the long term.

Cardiologists qualify this recommendation as follows: there is no recommended daily amount of alcohol that is considered heart protective because there are too many alcoholics. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for an alcoholic is none. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for the general population is none.

Alcohol withdrawal can be very very dangerous medically. I think that the three most difficult things to quit are heroin, methamphetamines and cigarettes, but alcohol is more dangerous. In heroin withdrawal all of the pain receptors fire at once, so it is torture, but people don't die. With serious alcohol withdrawal, the blood pressure skyrockets and the person can have seizures, a stroke, a heart attack, delerium tremens and can die. In the hospital, benzodiazepines are used to slow the withdrawal, replacing alcohol in a controlled manner.

Alcohol does more than affect the blood pressure. Over time, alcohol can damage the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.
Of course, you know that it can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is sneaky: as long as there are a few functioning liver cells, the lab work can look pretty normal. The liver makes proteins for the blood and makes proteins that allow our blood to clot. Once there aren't enough healthy cells to make those proteins, alcoholics will bleed quite spectacularly. If the amount of the protein albumin in their blood is low, fluid leaks from the blood into the tissues: so whatever part is "dependent", that is, lowest, will be swollen. Alcoholics can have legs with swelling where I can push with my finger and there is a two or three cm dimple. Alcohol also can lead to gastritis and ulcers. If someone can't clot and they are vomiting blood from an ulcer, the doctor gets a tummyache too, from worrying. Ow. The liver is also supposed to filter all of the blood in the body. As the liver gets blocked with dead liver cells, the blood starts to bypass it. The bypass is through blood vessels in the stomach. Remember that person vomiting blood? The swollen vessels in the stomach are called varicies and we don't like them to bleed. They are big and can bleed really really fast. The person can die. I don't like transfusing and really don't like transfusing 12 units of blood. In end stage alcoholism, the liver no longer lowers the blood level of ammonia. Ammonia crosses the blood brain barrier and poisons the brain. We haven't even discussed the lack of vitamin B12 and thiamine which can cause unraveling of the myelin sheaths on the long fibers in the spinal cord: this means that the person gets permanent asterixis and "walks like a drunk" even when they are sober. I'm sure I haven't remembered all of the consequences of alcohol, but that will do for now, right?

How much alcohol daily causes the above charming picture? We Don't Know. Really. And it is not okay to do randomized double blinded clinical trials to find out. Same with pregnant women: we don't know if there is a safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and we bloody well can't test it. It is safer not to drink while you are pregnant.

In clinic, I ask how much people drink. If they say 1-2 drinks daily, I ask what the drink is. Sometimes they look confused. I explain that I have one patient who has two drinks a day: however, it is a 12 ounce glass with a little ice and a lot of whiskey. I asked him to estimate how much whiskey and he said, "6-8 ounces." That is, each glass is 6-8 ounces. His blood pressure is not under control and so far I feel like a failure as a doctor with him; he is NOT reducing the amount. In medical school, the two jokes were: How much alcohol is too much? More than your doctor drinks. And: How much does the patient drink? Double or triple what they tell us.

The popular word in college used to be that you could drink one drink an hour and still be "okay". "Okay" to drive and it would wear off. Sorry, nope. Breathalyzers are now pretty cheap; buy one if you are drinking more than the 1-2 per day. And the college students that are binge drinking 6-8 or more drinks on Friday and Saturday: it DOES have long term effects and it IS doing damage.

Lastly, sleep and depression. If you are having trouble sleeping, don't drink. No alcohol at all. Alcohol is a depressant. It helps people to fall asleep. But they do not have "normal sleep architecture" and it works AGAINST them staying asleep. People often wake up as the alcohol wears off. And the blood pressure is having that rebound, remember, and often their heart will race. That is withdrawal. If you are having trouble sleeping or you are depressed, do not take a depressant. It makes it worse.

I saw a nineteen year old in clinic who admitted to "occasional" heroin use. "But I'm not addicted," she said. I said, "Well, that's good. But I took care of a bunch of people undergoing heroin withdrawal while I was in residency and it looked like one of the most painful things on the planet. So I would advise you to quit while you are ahead." I saw her a year later and she said, "When I tried to quit, it WAS hard. I was addicted and didn't know it. I'm off now and I won't go back." So if you tell me, no problem, I can quit alcohol any time, I say more power to you. Show me. And if it's harder than you think, get help.

Al"co*hol (#), n. [Cf. F. alcool, formerly written alcohol, Sp. alcohol alcohol, antimony, galena, OSp. alcofol; all fr. Ar. al-kohl a powder of antimony or galena, to paint the eyebrows with. The name was afterwards applied, on account of the fineness of this powder, to highly rectified spirits, a signification unknown in Arabia. The Sp. word has bot meanings. Cf. Alquifou.]

1.

An impalpable powder.

[Obs.]

2.

The fluid essence or pure spirit obtained by distillation.

[Obs.]

Boyle.

3.

Pure spirit of wine; pure or highly rectified spirit (called also ethyl alcohol); the spirituous or intoxicating element of fermented or distilled liquors, or more loosely a liquid containing it in considerable quantity. It is extracted by simple distillation from various vegetable juices and infusions of a saccharine nature, which have undergone vinous fermentation.

⇒ As used in the U. S. "Pharmacopœia, alcohol contains 91 per cent by weight of ethyl alcohol and 9 per cent of water; and diluted alcohol (proof spirit) contains 45.5 per cent by weight of ethyl alcohol and 54.5 per cent of water.

4. Organic Chem.

A class of compounds analogous to vinic alcohol in constitution. Chemically speaking, they are hydroxides of certain organic radicals; as, the radical ethyl forms common or ethyl alcohol (C2H5OH); methyl forms methyl alcohol (CH3.OH) or wood spirit; amyl forms amyl alcohol (C5H11.OH) or fusel oil, etc.

 

© Webster 1913.

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