Alcohol has been consumed by humans dating as far back as 8000 BC. Most alcoholic beverages contain between 3-40% of alcohol. These beverages are classified into beers, wines, and spirits. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. When consumed it is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream.
Alcohol can affect virtually every organ of the human body ranging from the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, stomach, intestine, kidneys, reproductive organs, skin, and bones. A number of factors influence how and to what extent alcohol affects the brain including how much and how often a person drinks, the age at which he or she first began drinking and how long he or she has been drinking, the person’s age, gender, genetic background and family history of alcoholism and his or her general health status.
The bodies of women tend to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than men. Hence the recommended drinking limit for women is lower than that of men. Alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of chemicals throughout the body.
We often drink because we want to change the way we feel, or we want to relax, to celebrate, or in order to forget the day’s stress. Sometimes people drink to try and cover up anxiety or depression or other mental health problems. Although alcohol can have a temporary positive impact on our mood, in the long term it can cause serious problems with our mental health. That is aside from the various other problems it can cause in the other organs in the body.
Alcohol is usually described as a depressant meaning that it can affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions. As the drinking increases, the initial feelings of confidence and less anxiety soon gives way to aggressiveness, anxiety, anger, and depression. Reports have shown that people who experience anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy drinkers. For some, the anxiety or depression came first and alcohol was then used to try and medicate it while for others drinking began first and then led to anxiety.
So in the end it becomes a vicious cycle. Heavy drinking can also affect social life such as relationships with spouses, friends, and family and it can also have an impact on work performance. Issues emanating from the above could also contribute to depression. Excessive use of alcohol could also result in problems with sleep, tiredness and weakness, and undue jealousy over one’s partner. It is linked to a loss of inhibition where such an individual may behave inappropriately in public and impulsive behavior such as self-harm or suicide.
Extreme levels of alcohol can sometimes cause severe mental illness characterized by hallucinations (seeing or hearing strange things) and paranoid feelings. A condition called delirium tremens can develop when a heavy drinker suddenly stops drinking. This is characterized by body tremors and confusion. Alcohol can also disrupt the memory process, hence some reports of not being able to remember where one was or what one did or said on waking up after drinking.
Over a long period of time, there can be long-term effects on memory such that even on days when no alcohol is ingested recalling actions of the day before become difficult. And lastly, alcohol misuse also affects society in general in terms of increased violence and crime, and accidents resulting from driving while drunk.