Overview: Whether most people know it or not, ethyl
alcohol (or eth-anol) is a real drug, one that causes more deaths,
crime, and health and behavioral problems than all illegal drugs
combined. Produced by the fermentation and distillation of grain,
fruit, and other plant products, alcohol is used throughout the
world, except in Islamic countries, which oppose its use.
Actions/Effects: Ethanol is a central nervous system depressant
that triggers a range of physical, emotional, and behavioral
changes. The rate at which it enters the bloodstream (and exerts
its psychoactive effects) is influenced by various factors, including
gender and body size and whether drinking is done on a full or
empty stomach. As blood-alcohol levels rise, effects increase.
At low doses, effects includes a loosening of inhibitions along
with feelings of relaxation and well-being. At higher doses,
intoxication is linked to progressive levels of impairment.
Duration: Depends on the amount consumed. Since
the liver can only metabolize about one drink per hour, drinking
more than that causes intoxication and impairment.
Medical Uses: Alcohol has a long history of medical
uses, but is no longer used as a medicine in its own right. When
used at all today, it’s combined with other ingredients in cough
syrups or elixirs.
Risks/Side Effects: All body systems are affected by alcohol.
Side effects include dilation of blood vessels (which causes
flushed skin) and increased gastric secretion in the stomach.
At high doses, side effects include mood swings, unrestrained
behavior, and inability to control motor functions as basic as
Other effects include blackouts,
sleep problems (including impaired REM sleep), and hangovers.
Side effects increase in severity with chronic abuse. Heavy drinkers
suffer a variety of alcohol-related problems, including damage
to the brain, stomach, pancreas, heart, and liver.
Trends: After continual increases in consumption after
the 1930’s, use among adults began to level off in the 1980’s
and has fallen during the first decade of this century.
Demographics: All socioeconomic and ethnic groups in
society are affected, but overuse is most common among young
people. According to a recent survey, about 16 million Americans
are considered “heavy” drinkers, while 26.8percent
of the high school class of 2010 reported being drunk at least
once during the month preceding an annual survey.