Alcohol Misuse and Health
“Santé!” “Salute!” “Za vashe zdorovye!” “Chuc suc khoe!” Whether in France, Italy, Russia, or Vietnam, similar salutations ring out before friends take a drink together: “Good health!” Yet, paradoxically, millions of people worldwide are drinking themselves into the grave.
ALCOHOL misuse is a multifaceted problem that includes hazardous use, harmful use, and dependence. Hazardous use, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “a pattern of alcohol consumption carrying with it a risk of harmful consequences,” physical, mental, or social. It includes drinking more than the limits recommended by health authorities or imposed by the law. Harmful use, also called alcohol abuse, involves drinking that is already provoking either physical or mental damage but has not yet led to dependence. Dependence has been described as “the loss of control to abstain from drinking.” An alcohol-dependent person craves alcohol, continues to drink despite various alcohol-induced problems, and suffers from withdrawal in its absence.
No matter what your age, gender, or nationality, you are not free from the risks of hazardous drinking. Just what does alcohol do to the body? What are the health dangers of overdrinking? And what is generally considered a safe level of alcohol consumption?
Dangerous for the Mind
Ethanol, the chemical compound present in most alcoholic drinks, is a neurotoxin—that is, a substance that can damage or destroy the nervous system. Someone who is drunk is, in fact, suffering from a form of poisoning. In large quantities ethanol causes coma and death. For instance, among students in Japan, the practice of ikkinomi, or alcohol chugging, causes deaths every year. The body is able to convert ethanol into harmless substances, but this is not accomplished immediately. If alcohol is consumed at a faster rate than the body can handle it, ethanol builds up in the system and begins to interfere noticeably with brain function. In what way?
Speech, vision, coordination, thought, and behavior are all connected with an incredibly complex series of chemical reactions in the brain’s neurons, or key cells. The presence of ethanol modifies those reactions, suppressing or enhancing the role of certain neurotransmitters—chemicals that relay signals from neuron to neuron. The stream of information in the brain is thus altered, preventing the brain from functioning normally. That is why when a person drinks too much, he or she develops slurred speech, blurred vision, sluggish movement, and weakened behavioral restraints and inhibitions—all common symptoms of intoxication.
HOW ALCOHOL CAN DAMAGE YOU
Cell loss, memory loss, depression, aggressive behavior
Vision, speech, coordination impairment
Cancer of throat, mouth, breast, liver
Muscle weakness, potential heart failure
Fatty, then enlarged, then scarred (cirrhosis)
Poor immune system, ulcers, inflammation of pancreas
Risk of deformed or retarded babies
With prolonged exposure to alcohol, brain chemistry adapts to counter the poisonous effect of ethanol and to maintain normal nerve function. This leads to tolerance, whereby the same amount of alcohol has less of an effect than it would have had previously. Dependence occurs when the brain has adapted so much to the presence of alcohol that it cannot operate properly without it. The body craves alcohol to maintain the chemical balance. When a person is deprived of alcohol, his brain chemistry is totally destabilized and withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, trembling, or even seizures, set in.
Besides causing modifications of brain chemistry, alcohol abuse can lead to cell atrophy and destruction, altering the brain’s very structure. While partial recovery is possible with abstinence, some of this damage seems to be irreversible, further affecting memory and other cognitive functions. Damage to the brain is not just the result of long-term exposure to alcohol. Research seems to indicate that even relatively short periods of alcohol abuse can be harmful.
Liver Disease and Cancer
The liver plays a vital role in metabolizing food, combating infection, regulating blood flow, and removing toxic substances, including alcohol, from the body. Prolonged exposure to alcohol damages the liver in three stages. During the first stage, the breaking down of ethanol slows the digestion of fats, causing them to build up in the liver. This is called steatohepatitis, or fatty liver. In time, chronic inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis, sets in. While alcohol can cause hepatitis
Read more at http://www.watchtower.org/e/20051008/article_02.htm
· 8 years ago