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Drug Rehab and Alcohol Treatment - Alcohol Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol: the Drug


What is alcohol?


Alcohol is made up of the chemical ethanol. Ethanol is a psychoactive drug that alters a person’s mood or perception. The ethanol being absorbed in person’s blood stream is what activates the body’s central nervous system and causes these physical and mental changes.


Alcohol is a depressant, a type of psychoactive drug that slows down the nervous system and produces effects like:


- Reduce anxiety, panic, and stress.                                                                       

- Induce sleepiness and relieve insomnia.

- Induce analgesia and relieve aches and pains.

- Cause muscle relaxation and/or heart rate.

- Boost the mood and/or enhance sociability.


Alcohol may seem like a stimulate, but the “stimulation” occurs because alcohol affects portions of the brain that control judgment. 4


Other depressant psychoactive drugs are: tranquillizers, alcohol, heroin and other opiates, cannabis (in low doses).


Psychoactive drugs can also be stimulants, which excite the nervous system. Nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, and caffeine are stimulants. There are also hallucinogens, which distort how things are perceived. LSD, mescaline, shrooms, cannabis (in high doses) are hallucinogens.


How is alcohol made?


Beer, wine, or a spirits (“hard alcohol”) contain alcohol. Drinking alcohol is made by brewing, fermenting, or distilling ingredients to produce ethanol.


Brewing steeps a starch, typically cereal grains, in water and creates ethanol by fermenting the gains with yeast. Corn, rice, or sugar can also be used. Beer is brewed and fermented.


Fermenting turns sugar into ethanol. The presence of yeast in beer and wine is what activates the sugars to ferment. Wine is fermented.


Most beers and wines do not exceed an alcohol content of about 15% ABV (alcohol by volume). This is because yeast cannot produce alcohol above this level. Therefore, fermentation stops after distilled beverages have reached this ABV.


Spirits are fermented and distilled. When a fermented liquid is distilled, the liquid is boiled until the vapors of alcohol come out of the fermented liquid. Those vapors are cooled and become liquid form again. This cooled liquid is the spirit. Distilling a fermented liquid does not produce 100% alcohol, but it is a much larger ABV than beer or wine.


Alcoholism: the Addiction


What is alcoholism?


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines alcoholism as a disease that includes four symptoms:


- Craving: A strong need, or urge, to drink.

- Loss of control: Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.

- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.

- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high.”


Alcoholism is a disease that causes an addict’s brain to become dependant on the alcohol. Alcoholism is caused by multiple factors. Alcoholism is not the result of a person simply not “having the will power” to stop drinking.


Who becomes an alcoholic?


There are many factors that contribute to alcoholism and addiction. The main areas are:


- Genetics

- Mental illness

- Early use of drugs

- Social environment

- Childhood trauma


No one area determines whether or not a person becomes an addict. However, there are various elements within these areas that can more heavily contribute to a person becoming an alcoholic.


For example, in 2007 the Universidad de Granada in Spain found that some people genetically lack strong endorphin production. This means that some people are more predisposed to becoming addicted to alcohol than those whose genes do not have this deficiency.


Alcoholism is a complex disease. It is important to find a rehabilitation and alcohol treatment center that will thoroughly go through you or your loved one’s history, including medical, social, and familial history.


Alcohol: Physical and Psychological Effects


Short-term effects of alcohol use:


Each person has a different reaction to alcohol depending on


- his/her size,

 - weight,

 - age,

 - male or female,

 - amount of food in system

 - amount of alcohol consumed


Basic short-terms effects of drinking alcohol:


- Uninhibited, less awkward in social situations   

- Dizziness   

- Talkativeness   

- Slurred speech    

- Disturbed sleep    

- Nausea   

- Vomiting

- Hangover: After consuming more alcohol than your body can handle, headache, fatigue, thirst, and nervousness are a withdrawal symptom. There may also be nausea, abdominal cramping, and vomiting.


Alcohol significantly impairs judgment and coordination. Alcohol can increase the likelihood of an incidence of aggression or overreaction.


Long-term effects of alcohol use:


Addiction and alcoholism is the number one long-term effect of prolonged, heavy alcohol use. Long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:


- Permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver.

- Pregnant women who drink can cause their unborn child to have fetal alcohol syndrome.


Alcohol withdrawal symptoms


Alcohol withdrawal symptoms depend on how long and how much the person has abused alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:


- Sleep disturbance: Waking up earlier than usual

- Irritability, anxiety, restlessness

- Tremors, “morning shakes”

– Tremors will clear after a few days of abstinence, if there is no permanent damage to the nervous system

- Physical weakness

- Mental sluggishness

- Difficulty thinking clearly

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