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What is Alcohol?
We often think of alcohol as beverages, but what is it? Alcohol is classed as a ‘sedative hypnotic’ drug, which means it acts to depress the central nervous system at high doses. At lower doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant, inducing feelings of euphoria and talkativeness, but drinking too much alcohol at one session can lead to drowsiness, respiratory depression as well as a coma or death.
Alcohol Affects the Brain
Thirty seconds after your first sip, alcohol races into your brain. It slows down the chemicals and pathways that your brain cells use to send messages. That alters your mood, slows your reflexes, and throws off your balance. You also can’t think straight, which you may not recall later, because you’ll struggle to store things in long-term memory.
If you drink heavily for a long time, booze can affect how your brain looks and works. Its cells start to change and even get smaller. Too much alcohol can actually shrink your brain. And that’ll have big effects on your ability to think, learn, and remember things. It can also make it harder to keep a steady body temperature and control your movements.
Booze irritates the lining of your stomach and makes your digestive juices flow. When enough acid and alcohol build up, you get nauseated and you may throw up. Years of heavy drinking can cause painful sores called ulcers in your stomach. And high levels of stomach juices mean you won’t feel hungry. That’s one reason long-term drinkers often don’t get all the nutrients they need.
Your liver breaks down almost all the alcohol you drink. In the process, it handles a lot of toxins. Over time, heavy drinking makes the organ fatty and lets thicker, fibrous tissue build up. That limits blood flow, so liver cells don’t get what they need to survive. As they die off, the liver gets scars and stops working as well, a disease called cirrhosis.
Normally, this organ makes insulin and other chemicals that help your intestines break down food. But alcohol jams that process up. The chemicals stay inside the pancreas. Along with toxins from alcohol, they cause inflammation in the organ, which can lead to serious damage. After years, that means you won’t be able to make the insulin you need, which can lead to diabetes. It also makes you more likely to get pancreatic cancer.
Do You Know Someone Struggling with Alcohol?
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
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