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Effects of Alcohol on the Human Body

Buzzle Staff
Alcohol, specifically ethanol, a central nervous system depressants, when ingested in excessive quantity has drastic effects on human body and causes liver cirrhosis, increased risk of cancer, coma and in some cases even death.
Have you ever roamed around the bars late at night and have come across a few people stumbling, not able to talk properly, claiming the world is spinning? You ignore their claims thinking they are a "little drunk". Wondering what happens to these people when they consume the alcohol? It may be little more dangerous and complicated than perhaps we think of.
Although, the nomenclature 'alcohol' denotes the entire family of organic compounds like methanol, ethanol, isopropanol, in more general terms, we mean 'ethanol' when we talk about alcohol, the most commonly ingested of these chemicals.
Alcohol, or ethanol (C2H5OH) in specific, is an organic compound made up of molecules of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen. It is a highly volatile liquid with distinct odor and has great affinity towards water.
In fact, its high solubility in water makes it one of the most potent depressant of human central nervous system. It is a powerful hypnotic sedative with an array of side effects. The extent to which the central nervous system is affected depends upon the concentration of alcohol in blood, usually denoted by BAC (Blood Alcohol Content).

Effects of Alcohol Consumption

Absorption and Distribution Mechanism

When consumed, alcohol first irritates the mucous lining of mouth and then esophagus causing an anesthetic effect. Then it goes to stomach where only 20% of its total quantity is absorbed. Remaining 80% is then absorbed by the small intestine and from there it gets distributed in the body.
Alcohol travels through blood and comes into contact with cells of every organ. Due to its high affinity towards water, it can penetrate almost all cellular membranes resulting in absorption by all organs.

Effects at Initial Stages

When ingested, the effects of alcohol on human body change gradually over the time. At initial stages, a person feels more relaxed and cheerful which is followed by more stumbling movements and animated speech. They become more confident, and often let go of their inhibitions.
This happens because of the increased metabolism in nigrostriatal pathway of brain which is associated with body movements.
While, increased alpha waves from brain make person more cheerful and relaxed, the stimulation by alcohol to cortex, hippocampus region of brain helps to shed off inhibitions. This stage is often termed as 'euphoria' where BAC is around 0.03 to 0.12%.

Long Term Effects

Alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme secreted by hepatic cells converts alcohol to acetaldehyde. This acetaldehyde further gets converted into acetic acid and then acetate by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Acetate is a compound of fats which gets deposited locally.
Liver filters the blood and eliminates the toxins from the body in the form of urine. Because of the chronic and continuous consumption of alcohol, the increase in fatty acid levels results in forming of plaque in the hepatic capillaries.
This situation leads to liver cirrhosis. As liver performs vital role in filtration mechanism of body, malfunctioning of liver often leads to jaundice and hepatitis. As alcohol inhibits antidiuretic hormone secretion, more urine is formed which results in dehydration.
Though one glass of alcohol each day helps in the proper functioning of heart, excess of alcohol can affect its working and it will be unable to pump required amount of blood other parts of the body.
Too much alcohol may also affect the functioning of endocrine glands which are responsible for secreting growth hormones, tissue function, metabolism, etc. Excess alcohol can also weaken your immune system. During pregnancy, alcohol consumption can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Carcinogenic Effects

Alcohol comes under Group1 carcinogens as classified by WHO. Although, previous studies have failed to establish a direct connection between alcohol and its effect on cancer, there is a strong indication to suggest that alcohol enhances the effects of other carcinogenic chemicals like tobacco.
Acetaldehyde, the byproduct of metabolism of alcohol, gets concentrated in the body in high amounts. It can damage the DNA of cells.

Their reaction with polyamines can end up in formation of mutagenic DNA. Excessive consumption of alcohol increases the risk of mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, liver, and breast cancer.

General Effects on Human Body

BAC count ranging from 0.09 to 0.23% often leads to lethargy. In this condition, people become sleepy, they lose coordination and start losing their body balance. It is also characterized by blurred vision.
When BAC count ranges from 0.25 to 0.39%, the condition is known as stupor. In this stage, body movements are severely affected and patients lose and regain consciousness intermittently. They have a high risk of coma or even death.
When BAC count ranges from 0.35 to 0.50% , the condition is known as coma. It is characterized by unconsciousness when body reflexes are low, breathing rate declines resulting in dropping of heartbeat rate.

When BAC crosses the mark of 0.5%, it results in failure of CNS (Central Nervous System) ultimately resulting in death.
When BAC count ranges from 0.17 to 0.28%, it may cause confusion in a person. It is characterized by aggravated emotional state where people try to be sentimental or overly aggressive. They are not certain of what they are doing. Dizziness continues. Nausea is also a common symptom of this phase.
Alcoholism is a major public health problem. While consumption of alcohol develops an array of diseases, its withdrawal also develops symptoms like delirium tremens which has a high percentage of mortality rate (35%), if not treated.
So the best solution for any ill effects of alcohol is to consume it in moderation. Eat proper food with your drink and avoid having shots. Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.