Alcohol is responsible for a large number of fatalities, accounting for more than one fifth of all overdose deaths of prescription drugs. A similar number of emergency hospitalization of individuals is also attributed to alcohol. On an average almost 100,000 deaths in the US are linked to alcohol, and these fatalities are preventable, unlike diseases that develop due to various reasons. Conditions such as liver conditions, heart diseases, upper aerodigestive tract cancers, breast cancer and hypertension have been attributed to alcohol. Following subsections offer an in-depth view of alcohol, including possible side effects of alcohol. This is intended to help wean individuals off the habit of indulging or overindulging in drinking.

Overview of addiction to drinking 

Alcohol has a history of being consumed since time immemorial, with discoveries pointing to intentional fermentation as long back as 10,000 BC. Most individuals who end up getting addicted to alcohol do not take up drinking with an intention of getting addicted to the substance. In modern societies, without exception, all individuals who end up addicted, started drinking for various reasons, such as recreation, peers, socializing, accidental, desire to try out, influenced by glamorising visuals, and for many it is always the experience. A typical drink constitutes around 250 ml of malt, or 50 ml of distilled spirits. This is essentially one drink, and individuals start off at this, eventually ending up consuming multiple rounds or many drinks, till achieving high levels of intoxication.

Reasons behind addiction and the various stages of addiction

AUD or alcohol use disorder is mainly attributed to specific areas of the brain, known as the pleasure areas. These areas of the brain of individuals who regularly consume alcohol, links certain euphoric sensations to the act of drinking. People typically feel relaxed, and are free from all inhibitions when drinking. Consequently, this creates craving for the drink, and the individual ends dependent.  Dopamine, the neurotransmitter is released in large numbers by the brain, when an individual drinks. This in turn, initially associates drinking with the sensations. Over a period of time, the sensations decrease, pushing the individual to consume more, in an effort to experience the same euphoric sensations.

The next stage is withdrawal, when the individual begins to experience the effects of withdrawal. During this stage, the individual is most likely to attach greater important to the events that include alcohol. This develops into a situation where other areas of life, such as relations, and routines take the back seat. Over time, the individual feels empty when there is no alcohol in their body, and feel better only when alcohol is consumed. For most people who are addicted, the feeling of normalcy is linked to a drink in their body.

Reasons for addiction

There are multiple reasons for addiction, as outlined above. However, there are also clear underlying psychological conditions that may push an individual to alcohol. For instance, an individual with low self-esteem is likely to drink, and find relief in escapism and the euphoric sensation. Similarly, depressed individuals and patients with anxiety related disorders are also more likely to drink. The aftereffects of any trauma, or sexual abuse may also be a strong reason for drinking. It is commonly agreed that alcohol is often considered as an option for emotionally distraught individuals to cope with their problems.

Individuals at higher risk of addiction

While anyone may end up getting addicted to drinking, there are certain categories of individuals who are at higher risk of indulging. For instance, genetics has a role to play in alcoholism. An individual with a parent or close relative who was or is addicted to alcohol, is more likely to be at risk of consuming alcohol.  Similarly, youngsters who take to drinking at a younger age, are certainly more likely to end up with dependence. Other risk factors include binge drinking, or consuming frequently, as this could develop into dependence easily.

Other risk factors include individuals with mental health problems, traumatic experiences in the past, gender (more men are addicted than women), and social conditions.

Symptoms of getting into alcohol dependence

It is possible for individuals and close family members or acquaintances to identify the early symptoms of getting into dependence and eventual addiction.  For instance, the individual may find it difficult to restrict oneself to the usual intake quantity. The person may take increasingly longer amounts of time to recover from the effects of drinking. The urge to take a drink may increase and the frequency of such urges may become closer between bouts of drinking.

Other discernible symptoms include the complete disregard of the individual towards his or her routines and responsibilities. Dependence reaches a high level, when the person continues drinking despite being aware that it is causing an impact on relations, responsibilities and routines. The next level of dependence is when the person starts drinking even when it is unsafe to consume; for instance, drinking and driving.

Withdrawal effects

There are clear tell-tale signs of withdrawal effects, and individuals, family and acquaintances are to quickly use these symptoms as a clear warning for suitable action. For instance, an alcohol dependent person is likely to experience feelings of nausea, and may sweat profusely when not drunk. The individual may start shaking abnormally when not under the influence of alcohol. In such instances, the person may drink to avoid these symptoms.

When are withdrawal effects experienced?

Withdrawal effects may be experienced in different times, and this depends on various factors. For instance, this could be experienced within hours or it could also be experienced about a few days later. Signs of withdrawal also include sudden increase in heartbeat rate, difficulty in falling asleep, hallucinations, and agitated behavior. Other possible effects also include seizures, and these effects may severely affect the person’s routines and responsibilities.

Commonly reported side effects of alcohol

The effects of dependence or addition to alcohol include withdrawal symptoms and side effects due to the alcohol in the body. For instance, when blood concentration levels of alcohol are high, there is a possibility of impact on behavior. The individual may end up with slurred speech, have problems concentrating/understanding, may have an unstable mind, may exhibit inappropriate behavior, and will make errors in judgement.

The ability of the individual to have coordinated movements may be affected, and this can be seen in the way a drunk person walks. Memory may be affected, and the person may end up forgetting simple things, that may affect relationships. In addition to the above, the effects of alcohol include impact on the body. The probability of drinking affecting health includes risk of cancer and exposure to risk of cardiovascular conditions.

Effects on various organs in the body after an individual consumes alcohol

After an individual consumes alcohol, the actions of chemicals and pathways in the brain slow down. Consequently, this affects the ability of the person to have coordinated movements, it affects the reflexes, impacts mood, and this is one of the reasons for drunk people to have slurred speech and difficulty in walking straight. The effect on the heart from drinking is an increase in heart beat rate, and expansion of blood vessels, contributing to increased blood low to the skin. Consequently, the skin is warm to the touch, and after a period of time, when the heat dissipates, the skin turns cold to the touch.

Alcohol has effects on the digestive system, and this includes an increase in the secretion of digestive juices. The small intestines and colon are also affected due to alcohol, where it is absorbed, and this has an impact on digestion. Individuals who drink typically experience flatulence, diarrhea and pain in the abdomen due to the above reasons. In the kidneys, alcohol causes dehydration and this has a serious impact on the ability of the body to control fluid and electrolytes. Additionally, the hormones that are linked to the functioning of the kidneys are also affected.

The greatest effect is possibly experienced in the liver, as the liver metabolizes alcohol. The function of the liver is to filter and to eliminate toxic elements. The ability of the liver to process and eliminate toxic elements is limited to a certain normal amount, and when alcohol consumption is high, the liver is unable to process the same. This results in severe damage to the liver, and is one of the reasons for alcoholics to have damaged liver and cirrhosis of the liver.

Other effects on the body due to binge drinking

In addition to the above, individuals who resort to excessive drinking are likely to build up immense stress. This is more likely to be experienced in the form of throbbing headaches, or dehydration. When individuals indulge in binge drinking, the effect on the heart increases manifold. The person is more likely to end up with cardiomyopathy, a condition, where the heart muscle needs to work harder to pump blood. This increases the pressure on the muscle and can have long term implications. Similarly, binge drinking can also cause a change in heart beat rhythm, apart from spiking blood pressure levels.

Side effects of alcohol due to binge drinking include the risk of poisoning from alcohol. When the amount of alcohol consumed is high, the body, including the liver and digestive system, will be unable to process it and this can have various effects – such as vomiting sensations. The possibility of ending up in a coma or a fatality cannot be ruled out in certain rare circumstances.

Long term implications of drinking

Apart from the above effects, individuals who consume alcohol regularly are also likely to suffer from long term implications. This includes spike in cholesterol levels, impact on cardiovascular health, and effects on the health of the brain. This could be experienced in the form of poor memory, inability to learn or pick up a new skill, and could be seen in erratic behavior.  Alcohol is known to cause a reduction in the size of the brain, and the individual may end up losing grey and white matter in the brain.  The impact on the liver may be the strongest, due to the role of the liver in processing alcohol. This could be experienced in the form of alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver, cancer and fibrosis.

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