Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, is produced when yeasts ferment sugar. It’s the active ingredient found in every alcoholic beverage, from light beer to spirits. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and its use has been recorded since ancient times.
Many people consume alcohol regularly and are able to control their use of the drug – even when experiencing its effects. However, like every other psychoactive drug, alcohol is addictive. Unlike most other psychoactive drugs, however, alcohol is also legal, frequently advertised and easy to obtain.
The phrase “alcohol abuse” refers to a behavior pattern. An alcohol abuser continues to harmfully use alcohol despite experiencing negative consequences – job difficulties, blackouts, health problems, DUI arrests and so on. There are two forms of alcohol abuse:
- Alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism. This involves a person engaging in drinking large amounts of alcohol over a long-term period,
- Binge drinking, which involves consuming large amounts of alcohol with the express goal of getting drunk. For women, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consisting of four or more drinks consumed in a two-hour period.
Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
- Drinking in high-risk or dangerous situations
- Having to drink more to achieve the same effects
- Feeling out of control or guilty while or after drinking
- Spending more and more time drinking, or recovering from drinking sessions
Red Flags of Alcohol Abuse
- Legal problems resulting from drinking
- Causing physical harm to another person while drunk
- Drinking interfering with work, school or normal daily functioning
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking which may indicate the need for help from an alcohol detox center
Alcohol Inside the Body
Alcohol enters the bloodstream via the stomach shortly after being consumed. Once in the bloodstream, it’s distributed around the entire body. In the brain, alcohol impairs areas controlling balance, memory and thought. It also interferes with the brain’s messaging network, causing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Although moderate drinking generally causes no long-term issues, heavy drinking over a long period of time creates many serious health problems. In addition to damaging internal organs like the stomach, heart, liver and pancreas, the severe judgment impairment heavy drinking causes puts the user at risk for accidents, assaults and even death. Also, like other addictive substances it’s possible to build up a tolerance to alcohol’s effects over time, requiring the user to consume more alcohol in order to achieve the same effects. Eventually, the body will learn it needs alcohol to function, causing addiction as well as withdrawal symptoms when alcohol isn’t available.
Binge drinking has its own hazards. A person who drinks heavily only on the weekend may tell themselves they don’t have a problem, but they face the same health risks as a long-term habitual drinker. Additionally, because binge drinkers often consume large amounts of alcohol very quickly, they run the risk of alcohol poisoning.