What is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a depressant drug. These drugs slow down the activity of the central nervous system. The effects of alcohol depend on the amount that is drunk, how familiar the person is with alcohol, the mood the person is in, how much has been eaten, the size and weight of the person, the overall health of the person, and if other drugs have been consumed (prescription or recreational).
Short Term Effects of Alcohol
In the short term, alcohol can have the following effects:
- feeling relaxed and less inhibited
- reduced concentration
- slurred speech and blurred vision
- affected coordination and judgment
- aggressive behaviour
- the risk of accidents when operating cars or other machinery is increased
- the effect of alcohol and other drugs combined is unpredictable – mixing drugs can greatly increase the effect of all the drugs taken
Long Term Effects of Alcohol
In the longer term, alcohol may have the following effects:
- physical problems such as liver damage, heart and blood disorders, brain damage, stomach inflammation, damage to reproductive organs
- emotional problems such as depression or relationship and family problems
- social problems such as poor work performance, financial troubles, and legal problems
- heavy drinking causes hangovers with symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, irritability, shakiness, and nausea
- alcohol during pregnancy can harm the baby – it has been linked with increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, stillbirth, premature birth
- increased risk of common cancers such as breast, colon and rectum cancers, and some of the rarer cancers such as oral, oesophagus, larynx, and stomach cancers
- binge drinking can dramatically increase blood pressure and the risk of having a stroke
Alcohol – How Much is Safe?
Alcohol is fairly low risk if the recommended guidelines are stuck to. For women, this is no more than two standard drinks per day. For men, it is no more than four standard drinks per day, although two is preferred. Both males and females should have at least two alcohol free days per week. But what is a standard drink? One standard drink is defined as containing ten grams of alcohol, and is one schooner of light beer, or one middy of full strength beer, or one small glass or 100ml of wine, or one nip or 30ml of spirits.
High risk drinking is defined as anything that exceeds the consumption of more than two standard drinks per day for women and more than four for men. High risk drinking, including binge drinking, can seriously put your health at risk. Drinking excessively, even if just once or twice a week, can cause health problems, increase the risk of injury and accidents, and affect relationships with those close to you.
Red Wine – The Heart Friendly Alcohol
Red wine, drunk in moderation, may have heart protective effects. Studies have shown that red wines contain powerful antioxidants that come from the skins of the grapes used to make the wine. Different grape antioxidants have different effects. One, which is only found in red wine, increases the level of good (HDL) cholesterol in the blood while simultaneously lowering the level of bad (LDL) cholesterol. Other antioxidants protect the LDL in the blood from being oxidised (the oxidation of LDL is believed to be a critical step in the process that leads to heart disease). Yet another antioxidant helps to dilate blood vessels, thereby reducing the risk of abnormal blood clotting.
If someone who is physically dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms due to their body having to readjust to functioning without alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
In the more severe cases, withdrawal can cause convulsions, cramps, vomiting, delusions, hallucinations, and even death. Someone who wishes to withdraw from alcohol should first visit a health professional, who will help them through the process.