Alcohol (ethanol) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which means that it slows functions involved with body and mind. Alcohol affects vision, coordination, judgment, ability to multitask, reaction time, sleeping and decision-making skills. Because of the decreased reaction time from alcohol abuse, people are unable to do simple tasks, like driving a car.

The short-term effects of alcohol may include:

  • slurred speech
  • slowed reaction time
  • stumbling
  • injury
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • passing out
  • alcohol poisoning
  • coma
  • death

A small dose of alcohol slows a person’s brain function, reduces tension and lowers inhibitions and the ability to concentrate. A medium dose of alcohol causes slurred speech, altered emotions, poor vision, increased blood flow to surface of the skin, increased urination and sleepiness.

A high dose of alcohol produces breathing difficulties, uncontrolled urination/defecation, alcohol poisoning, coma and possible death. Alcohol poisoning is a body’s reaction to over consumption of alcohol; it causes the body to completely shut down and may be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol poisoning kills six people every day in the United States.

Understanding Alcohol Abuse

The definition of alcohol abuse is the habitual misuse of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a type of alcohol use disorder (AUD) which is characterized by problem drinking that becomes severe. Alcohol use disorders frequently lead to health problems, legal trouble and difficulty meeting obligations at work, school or home.

For some people, the effects of alcohol are detectable after one or two drinks, while others may be able to mask it better. The short-term effects of alcohol abuse vary and may depend on the following factors:

  • how much and how often a person drinks
  • the age at which a person first began drinking and how long they’ve been drinking
  • the person’s age, level of education, gender or genetic background
  • whether a person suffered prenatal alcohol exposure
  • individual’s overall health

There were 139.7 million alcohol users in 2014 and about 17 million met the criteria for alcohol use disorder. A person struggling with alcohol abuse isn’t necessarily addicted to alcohol, although they’re at a much greater risk of developing alcoholism. Alcoholism is the most severe form of AUD.

Different Types Of Alcohol Abuse

There are several forms of alcohol abuse in which the short-term effects of alcohol will be intensified. Types of alcohol abuse include binge drinking, underage drinking and heavy alcohol use. People who should avoid alcohol altogether are those who are on medications, planning to drive, have mental illness or are pregnant.

A person under the legal drinking age may be at an increased risk of developing health problems from alcohol abuse. From the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2012, about 24 percent of eighth graders and 64 percent of twelfth graders used alcohol.

Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 or higher. It is defined as five drinks for men and four drinks for women in about two hours. Binge drinking may increase the likelihood of drunk driving, decreased sexual inhibitions, alcohol poisoning and injury.

Heavy alcohol use is a type of high-risk drinking which is defined as binge drinking on five or more occasions in the past month. Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of liver disease, heart disease, depression, sleep disorders and internal stomach bleeding. It may also lead to alcohol blackouts, unconsciousness and anemia (loss of red blood cells).

Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse

It isn’t always easy to determine if a person is abusing alcohol. Some people use alcohol as a way to cope with mental illness, environment, trauma or grief—any of these types of drinking is considered alcohol abuse.

A person may be abusing alcohol if they can’t control the amount they drink or if their drinking causes problems in their relationships. A person struggling with alcohol abuse may give up things that they were once passionate about, such as their career goals or extracurricular activities. Men and women with an alcohol use disorder may go to great lengths to get alcohol, even if it’s hurting them or their loved ones.

Health Risks Associated With Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse, over time or in a single occasion, can cause serious health complications. Alcohol abuse may even lead to cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver or breast. There is no amount of alcohol that’s considered safe for pregnant women because alcohol can cause a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome.

Alcohol abuse can damage the following organs:

  • Brain—Alcohol interferes with the brain’s reward pathway. Alcohol can affect how the brain appears and functions. Disruptions in the brain’s function can change mood, behavior and cause a person to lose coordination. Alcohol can cause permanent brain damage and even contributes to certain mental disorders.
  • Heart—Alcohol can damage the heart and how it functions. Even in one single occasion, alcohol abuse can lead to cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, stroke and high blood pressure. Some studies have shown that moderate alcohol use can be beneficial to the heart. There are safer ways to improve heart health that don’t involve alcohol, like exercise and nutrition.
  • Liver—Alcohol abuse can cause liver inflammation and other problems. The liver is responsible for filtering alcohol and turning it into a digestible chemical. Too much alcohol, even on a single occasion, can result in alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis and steatosis.
  • Pancreas—Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce a toxic chemical that may lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas, which stops the body from being able to properly digest food.

Drinking too much can weaken a person’s immune system, making the body an easier target for disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows the body’s ability to ward off infections—even up to 24 hours after getting drunk, (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

Alcohol use disorder is considered a chronic illness with relapse rates similar to diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. Treating alcohol use disorder as a chronic illness can help a person avoid adverse health consequences and remain abstinent from alcohol. One of the biggest problems with treating AUD is that alcohol affects each person differently.

An individualized treatment at Vertava Health treats alcohol use disorder as it pertains to each person and their illness. Many people need a medical detox to overcome the physical malady of alcohol abuse. Detox is merely the first step to overcoming alcohol. A behavioral treatment helps a person deal with all the mental and spiritual conditions of alcohol abuse. With the help of trusted professionals at Vertava Health, freedom from alcohol is within reach.

Contact Vertava Health today to learn about treatment for alcohol abuse.