Alcohol is considered a drug because it’s a substance other than a food that affects the way the body and the mind work. Specifically, drugs must be able to enter the brain and central nervous system and interfere with the functioning of neurotransmitters. This is what alcohol does.
What Alcohol Is
Alcohol is a substance that depresses the central nervous system. This doesn’t mean that a person who has had alcohol acts or feels depressed, at least not at first. Alcohol serves to loosen some social inhibitions people might have and can make them less shy and more gregarious at parties. However, if a person drinks too much, they can lose their bodily coordination. Whatever loosening of inhibitions alcohol brings might lead to them becoming belligerent or aggressive. In the end, it might cause the person to lose consciousness altogether. These behaviors and effects depend on the person’s blood alcohol content or concentration, or BAC.
Also, the effects of alcohol differ depending on the person’s gender, how the alcohol is served and whether it’s taken on an empty or full stomach. In general, men can handle alcohol better than women because men’s bodies have less fat and more muscle. This means that the alcohol in a man’s body is more diluted. The effects of alcohol are also stronger if it’s served in a carbonated beverage, if it’s concentrated and if it has congeners. These are substances that are the byproducts of fermentation. A full stomach also slows down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed.
How Alcohol Works
When it reaches the brain, alcohol not only depresses the centers that inhibit certain behaviors, but slows down the thought processes and a person’s ability to process information coming in through their five senses. It also increases the pain threshold. Alcohol can also affect a person’s memory, make them urinate more frequently and increase their libido while making it more difficult for them to perform. Alcohol also increases the flow of blood to the skin and the digestive tract, but reduces the flow of blood to the drinker’s muscles.
How the Body Breaks Down Alcohol
The body breaks down alcohol in the liver. It’s first broken down into acetaldehyde, then into acetic acid. After that, it’s eliminated through the kidneys and the lungs. Alcohol’s elimination through the lungs is why police can detect how much alcohol a person’s been drinking through a breathalyzer test. However, the body can only break down and eliminate so much alcohol at a time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive alcohol consumption caused about 88,000 deaths per year between 2006 and 2010. According to the CDC, a person who is abusing alcohol:
• Fails to fulfill the duties of work, home, family or school because of their alcohol use.
• Drinks in situations that can be dangerous to themselves or others, such as drinking while operating a vehicle.
• Continues to drink even though their drinking is hurting their relationships or family life.
People who are dependent on alcohol crave it and drink it despite the problems it causes when it comes to their health, their relationships, their employment or their education. They also can’t stop drinking without help.
As people drink more, their bodies become better at breaking down and eliminating alcohol. However, this also means that a person has to drink even more alcohol to get the same effect. This sort of behavior is true of drugs that can lead to addiction or dependence.
The drinker’s nervous system also tries to compensate for the depressive effect alcohol has on the nerves. This can lead to irritability and even hallucinations if alcohol is withdrawn. In severe cases, it can lead to the excruciating symptoms of delirium tremens.
People who are dependent on alcohol can benefit greatly from inpatient treatment. In an inpatient facility, the person is surrounded 24 hours a day by a supportive staff, as well as people who are experiencing the same struggles as they are. The other patients can give advice on how to cope with cravings for alcohol and how to cope with and avoid the pitfalls of everyday life once the person leaves the facility.
The staff includes medical professionals who can help the person through the physical aspects of quitting alcohol. There are also professionals who can help the person quit their dependence through such modalities as cognitive behavioral therapy. Family and friends can also visit the person and offer their support.