The most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world and the oldest known. Historical references abound in literature, religion and science about alcohol, its effects and its consequences.
The production of alcohol results from a process of fermentation, in which water and yeast act on the various sugars of various types of grains, vegetables and fruit. The psychoactive drug that is produced is ethyl alcohol.
As a depressant drug, alcohol slows down the activity of the central nervous system and in small doses can result in people being relaxed with inhibitions being lowered. As the depressant effect takes over, it can slow reflexes, depress respiration and heart rate and disrupt reasoning and judgement.
Heavy drinkers usually develop a tolerance to alcohol and need to drink more to experience the same effect.
The long term effects of alcohol on the body, following heavy drinking over a long period of time, are extensive. These can include -
- higher blood pressure,
- enlarged heart,
- cirrhosis of the liver,
- liver swelling and pain,
- skin bruising,
- stomach and intestinal ulcers,
- muscle weakness,
- loss of memory,
- sexuality problems,
- loss of sensation in feet and hands, and
- damage to unborn babies if the pregnant mother drinks.
Behavioral problems are commonly linked to alcohol. Some problems can include -
- family violence,
- work absenteeism,
- motor accidents,
- legal problems and
- fines associated with violent assaults and
- financial difficulties.
Regular drinking can result in psychological and physical dependency.
A physically dependent person will suffer withdrawal symptoms that can include loss of appetite, irritability, confusion, inability to sleep, cramps, tremors, hallucinations and even death due to seizures.
Addiction to alcohol (alcoholism) is a chronic progressive disease that is distinguished by lack of control over drinking, preoccupation with alcohol use despite adverse consequences and denial.
If the progression of alcoholism is not arrested by abstinence it can lead to early death. While alcoholism can take years to develop the recovery period can take a lifetime – one day at a time.
Alcoholics Anonymous is the most readily available and most successful program for recovery from alcoholism.