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April Alcohol Awareness Month!

Updated: May 28, 2020

Written by Autumn Decker

What is alcohol? Where does it come from?

Alcohol is a pure, colorless, odorless and flammable liquid that comes from fruits and grains such as potatoes, wheat, and barley.

Alcohol is a legal substance that is considered a depressant, which means it slows body function down. One to two drinks may make you feel relaxed, but three or more may severally impair brain and motor function.

Short-term effects?

There are several factors that determine how quickly the consumption of alcohol will affect your body. Those include; how much is consumed over what period of time, your weight, sex and body fat percentage, and whether or not you have eaten.

Signs of intoxication can include: Slurred speech, clumsiness, drowsiness, vomiting, headache, loss of consciousness and lapses in memory.

The stomach absorbs 20% of alcohol, the small intestine removes almost 70%, and the other 5% is removed through the lungs, kidneys and skin. The liver removes whatever is left, at a rate of about one drink per hour. It may take the body 2 to 3 hours to fully metabolize alcohol from one to two drinks, and up to 24 hours to process alcohol from eight to ten drinks.

The blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the amount of alcohol in the blood stream, in which you can legally operate a motor vehicle is .08%

The fatigue you may feel the day after a night of heavy drinking is called a “hangover”. These occur because alcohol is toxic to the body and your body is still working to remove all of the toxin. The symptoms of a hangover are caused by dehydration, but sugary drinks can make these symptoms worse. The symptoms can include; headache, diarrhea, racing heart, dry mouth and eyes, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and nausea/vomiting. A hangover can last up to 24 hours, and doctors advise not to drink again within 48 hours to allow to body to recover.

When the amount of alcohol in your blood streams exceeds a certain level it can lead to alcohol poisoning. Signs of alcohol poisoning can include confusion, seizures, slow breathing, and blue tint to the skin, low body temperature and loss of consciousness. It is important to be aware of these signs because if the BAC becomes higher than 0.4% there is a 50% chance of death.

Some people may experience an alcohol intolerance which means after just one drink they can become flushed, have diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. If you suddenly develop an intolerance to alcohol it can be a sign of Hodgkin lymphoma, in which you are advised to see a doctor.

Combining alcohol with any other depressants can be seriously dangerous, those can include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety and sleeping medications. This combination will have serious effects on your respiratory and central nervous system.

Long- term effects?

While drinking is a common social activity, drinking in access can have many negative long-term effects on the body.

According to the CDC, alcohol abuse contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions. Including, dependence and addiction, liver cirrhosis and failure, cancers, and unintentional injuries. Around 88,000 people die in the United States every year from alcohol related causes, which makes it the third leading cause of preventable death.

Because alcohol affects every body system it can cause systemic health problems. Those include; liver disease, damage to the heart, stomach ulcers, cancer, brain and nerve damage, depression and anxiety, and even vitamin deficiencies.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, up to 40% of the hospital beds in the United States are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a condition that affects many people, but in recent years a growing percentage of adolescents. Research suggests 20% of college aged students would be considered alcohol misusers. Binge drinking plays a large role in this statistic. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman within two hours.

The most notable of long-term effects is addiction and withdrawal. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. After a period of time of consuming large amounts of alcohol and on a regular basis you can become dependent on the drug. Alcohol addiction is a strong craving for alcohol and continued use even after the negative affect on health, interpersonal relationships and ability to work.

Treatment for alcohol dependency and misuse can include group and individual counseling, medication, inpatient detoxification programs and most common Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12 step program that aims to help anyone and everyone with a drinking problem. Information for the local Grand Rapids chapter of AA can be found at:

Treatment plans are not one size fits all, so if you suspect you or a family member may abuse alcohol suggest reaching out to a physician or calling the listed contacts for help.

Contacts for Help: Alcohol and Drug Helpline:

1-800-527-5344 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. 1-800-622-2255

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