Many people underplay the risks of alcohol because of its legality. However, the science of alcohol exposes its numerous health risks. Every year in the United States, there are approximately 88,000 people who die from causes that are related to alcohol.
Alcohol As a Drug
Although people often don’t think of alcohol as a drug like marijuana or cocaine, it is a drug. In fact, people abuse alcohol more than any other substance in the country. Classified as a central nervous system depressant, alcohol is considered an acceptable drug that people frequently partake of during weddings, romantic dinners, a relaxing night in front of the television, and many other times in between.
Because of its legal and common nature, there are many people who do not recognize or comprehend how alcohol really affects the body, particularly when drinking in excess. People who over-consume alcohol put themselves at risk. While most people may associate that risk with alcohol-induced actions such as driving while intoxicated and the risks to one’s social and professional life, there are also many health risks.
The Science of Alcohol
When people drink, there is a process that the alcohol must go through in order to leave the body. Immediately after swallowing, the alcohol makes its way into the stomach by way of the esophagus. The stomach absorbs approximately 20 percent of the alcohol into the bloodstream via small blood vessels. The remaining 80 percent of alcohol travels to the small intestine in the gastrointestinal tract, where it absorbs into the bloodstream.
The rate of alcohol absorption depends on certain factors, such as whether or not the individual has an empty or full stomach and the type of drink ingested, for example. Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, the blood’s water dissolves the alcohol and then proceeds to transport it through the body. As it travels through the body, it comes into contact with and is absorbed by organs and tissue (with the exception of fat) to varying degrees. Because it comes into contact with all organs, alcohol will most often affect them in some way when it is abused long-term. To what extent depends on the frequency and amount that a person drinks.
In the digestive system, one organ that is greatly affected by chronic alcohol consumption is the liver. The liver uses enzymes to break down or process the alcohol. Excessive drinking can cause cause liver disease This is a serious problem that can start with fatty liver and then inflammation of the liver, known as hepatitis. If the drinking continues over time, scarring to the liver will occur. This will result in alcoholic cirrhosis, which is the last and most serious stage of liver disease.
Alcohol and the Brain
The science of alcohol also affects the brain.Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it slows down or suppresses the central nervous system. An important part of this system is the brain. Alcohol generally reaches the brain in as little as 30 seconds after ingestion. The brain is highly susceptible to damage by alcohol. When alcohol affects the medulla, it can cause serious problems and even death, as it may drastically decrease one’s body temperature and slow down breathing. Alcohol can inhibit neurotransmitters and cause an impairment in one’s coordination and judgment. Alcohol can also hinder brain cell development. This is a particularly important problem when it comes to adolescents, whose brains are still in the process of developing fully.
Excessive alcohol consumption can also have a negative effect on the cardiovascular system. Drinking can affect the heart by increasing one’s blood pressure and elevating triglyceride levels in the blood. Both the increased fat in the blood and an increase in blood pressure make a person more susceptible to heart disease and heart failure. High blood pressure, hypertension, can also cause a person to have a stroke. Excessive and long-term drinking can affect mitochondria, which can decrease the amount of energy produced and cause the heart to not beat as it should. Long-term and excessive alcohol use can also disrupt the endocrine system. This type of behavior can disrupt the endocrine system by altering how it releases hormones such as insulin, testosterone, and growth and reproductive hormones. This can cause significant problems over time, such as osteoporosis.
For many people, alcohol is a common part of their social, personal and, in some instances, professional lives. It is still a drug, however, and excess consumption can lead to addiction and health problems. It’s important that people understand what problems long-term alcohol abuse can lead to as an incentive to use caution when drinking. For most people, moderation is key when it comes to alcohol; however, some people may need to consult their physician when health issues occur, as alcohol may affect them more dramatically than normal.
Once you understand the science of alcohol, it’s time to start looking for alcohol addiction treatment. Call Morningside Recovery today at 855-631-2135 to learn about our alcoholism rehab and other substance abuse treatment programs.