Over time, heavy alcohol consumption can cause a number of problems, including pancreatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, heart disease, heart attack, some types of cancer, high blood pressure, and alcohol abuse.
Alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol poisoning symptoms include confusion, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, passing out, pale skin, low body temperature (hypothermia), seizures, and coma. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning call 911 immediately.
Symptoms of alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, include:
- Craving: Persistent thoughts about drinking with an irresistible urge to do so
- Loss of control: This includes not being able to stop drinking once started, drinking more than intended, or drinking despite saying you won't
- Physical dependence: Signs of dependence may include blackouts, and unexplained injuries, along with withdrawal symptoms (sweating, shaking, nausea, anxiety) when blood alcohol levels drop
- Tolerance: over time, a person's body needs more alcohol to get the same effects they used to with smaller amounts
In the U.S., you are legally intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%. When you reach a BAC of 0.08% you are notably impaired. Even at a lower BAC of 0.05% your reflexes are slowed and coordination is affected. The only way to eliminate alcohol from the body is digestion, which takes time. An average person takes about 1 hour to rid themselves of the alcohol from an average drink. In BAC terms, it takes 45 minutes to lower BAC by 0.01%. Caffeine and cold showers won't do the trick and may only cause you to feel more sober than you actually are which could lead to accidents and other problems.
When you first swallow a drink, it goes to the stomach, which breaks it down before passing to the small intestine. This happens very quickly on an empty stomach, but can take longer if you are full. From the small intestine, alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood where it is circulated until it reaches the brain. Other factors that influence how quickly alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream include how strong a drink is, your body weight, whether you are male or female, how fast you're drinking, medications you are taking, how much alcohol tolerance you already have, and illness.
The reason is that when you drink, you increase your blood sugar (glucose) and the body responds by producing more insulin to remove the glucose. Low blood glucose is what is responsible for feelings for lethargy, tiredness, shakiness, dizziness, and sweating. This feeling causes the body to crave carbohydrates to help alleviate these symptoms.
This can cause women to reach higher concentrations of blood alcohol and become more impaired than men, even when drinking the same amount.
- 0.02% BAC (about 2 drinks): Slight loss of judgment, relaxation, feeling of warmth, mood changes
- 0.05% (3 drinks): Exaggerated behavior, impaired judgment, lower alertness, lowered inhibitions, usually feeling good
- 0.08% (4 drinks, legally intoxicated): Loss of balance, slurred speech, slowed reaction time, impaired reasoning and memory, lowered of self-control
- 0.10% (5 drinks): Slow reaction time, slurred speech, loss of coordination, slowed thinking
There are other types of alcohols that are chemically related to ethanol but do not have the same effect on the body. Two-thirds of adults in the U.S. consume alcoholic beverages, and up to 10% abuse ethanol. A standard drink contains about 0.5 ounces of ethanol, which is equal to:
- 12 ounces of regular beer (which is about 5% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirit (about 80% alcohol)
A healthy liver can regenerate if it becomes damaged. When the damage to the liver is severe or long-lasting, the liver scars. When scar tissue replaces healthy tissue, this creates a partial blockage of blood flow through the organ.
There is no amount of alcohol that is safe for a fetus during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol any time while pregnant can cause problems for the baby such as premature birth, birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Further, alcohol is a factor in more than half the homicides, suicides, and traffic accidents in the country.