Alcohol is scientifically known as Ethyl alcohol (ethanol). It is produced through the fermentation of sugar, yeast and starches. Alcohol is referred to by a number of street names such as: Booze, brew, chug, cold one, gargle, hard stuff, hooch, jack, juice, refreshment, sauce, shine, swish, vino among others.
There are different categories of alcohol. They include: Spirits, liqueurs, beer, wines and champagne. Alcohol is a depressant-meaning that it alters with the balance in our brains affecting thoughts, feelings and actions. The image below shows varying units in different alcoholic drinks.
According to Inter Press Service News Agency, Kenya is still facing its greatest threat from alcohol abuse. (March 27 2015) In Kenya, second generation alcohol has become very common problem especially in Central Kenya where It is has cost the lives of so many people. A NACADA 2012 survey suggested a total of 4 million Kenyans were consuming illicit brews. NACADA has also recently warned the problem has worsened.
Before moving on to the effects it is important for us to note that the rate and extent to which alcohol affects a person varies among individuals; it is dependent on certain predisposing factors. They include weight, amount of fat or muscle, gender, age, medication, physical health, tolerance, mental health and emotional state, drinking history and amount of food in your stomach among others.
Once a person consumes alcohol there are a lot of changes that occur in their bodies. Short term effects can be looked at in two ways.
• Slowed reaction time
• Poor memory
• Flushed appearance
• Difficulty thinking and concentrating
• Blackouts; a person cannot recall details of previous events
• Slurred speech
• Blurred vision
• Difficulty walking and balancing
• Mood swings and extreme emotions
• Slowed heart rate and breathing
• Hangovers-these are caused by substances called congeners. The more congeners in your drink the more the hangover.
These are effects that are taking place in the body that a person is not aware of. They are mostly internal. They include:
• Stomach lining can become inflamed in some cases causing diarrhea.
• Excessive alcohol intake affects the cardiovascular system causing irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure and may eventually lead to heart failure.
• Alcohol impairs your immune system by affecting blood cells even those that are involved in immunity boost. Resultantly the body’s immunity level is lowered hence an individual becomes more prone to illnesses and they also poses a low recovery rate when sick or injured.
• Alcohol interferes with the absorption and storage of essential vitamins in the body particularly vitamin B.
• Sexual functioning is altered because alcohol affects a number of hormones including testosterone which may lead to low libido and impotence.
Point to note: This short-term effects are reversed as the alcohol is broken down and removed from the body. But over time some of these effects may build up and cause permanent effects.
• Alcohol dependency. A person’s body becomes so used to alcohol that they have to consume more than they did before so as to achieve similar results. At this point when the body is denied alcohol the victim suffers withdrawal symptoms.
• When consumed for a long time alcohol affects the brain by killing neurons which are very important in supporting proper brain functioning. Neurons help in consciousness and memory functioning of the brain.
• Liver disease. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to fatty liver disease; excess fat is deposited in the liver cells. This is an early stage of liver disease and in some cases can be reversed through alcohol abstinence. Alcoholic hepatitis results in a swollen and damaged liver. It also causes yellowing of the eyes and skin-a condition known as jaundice. It can be reversed if it is in its early stages but the more progressed the disease is the more likely it is to cause death. Liver cirrhosis is the worst of its kinds. The liver is covered by a hard scar tissue. The damage is irreversible and also leads to death.
• High risk of cancer especially mouth cancer, Pharyngeal cancer (upper throat), Oesophageal cancer (food pipe), Laryngeal cancer (voice box), breast cancer, bowel cancer and cancer of the liver.
• Excessive drinking increases the chances of high blood pressure which is one of the risk factors of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
• According to H. Wayne Sampson (PHD, Professor of human anatomy and medical neurobiology and nutrition at Texas A&M University) human and animal studies indicate that heavy drinking particularly during adolescent and young adult years can dramatically reduce bone quality and increase risk of suffering osteoporosis-a condition in which bones become weak and brittle.
The image above shows loss of bone density causing weakness.
• Overall visual performance may be affected due to hindered brain function. The weakened eye muscle coordination may cause blurry or double vision. Redness of eyes may occur. This is caused by the expansion of blood vessels in the eyes making them more visible.
• Alcohol also dehydrates the skin leaving it looking dry.
• Also drinking during pregnancy is very dangerous as it can lead to physical and mental birth defects. Babies may be born with low birth weight, facial abnormalities, develop learning disabilities and need medical care through much of their lives
If alcohol consumption is not regulated then you risk the following:
• Losing your job if you are employed or dropping out of school in the case of a student
• Getting a divorce
• Experiencing financial problems
• Emotional consequences that may lead to depression
Symptoms of Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms refer to the symptoms that occur when a person that was drinking too much alcohol regularly suddenly stops drinking. The symptoms include:
• Tremor of the hands or other body parts
• Mood swings
• Clammy skin
• Loss of appetite
• Rapid heart rate
• Nausea and vomiting
Treatment begins at the point where the addict accepts they have a problem and need to be helped. Treatment has three stages
1. Detoxification. This is needed immediately after alcohol consumption is stopped. Withdrawal symptoms are common in this phase. Benzodiazepines are drugs administered in this stage to treat withdrawal symptoms. They are however used carefully because they may be addictive.
2. Rehabilitation. Drugs are administered to help maintain soberness. Certain drugs are used to reduce alcohol cravings. They include: naltrexone and acamprosate. Counseling is also done to equip the recovering alcoholic with the skills that will assist him/her in maintaining soberness.
3. Maintenance of sobriety. This steps requires self-drive from the individual and a lot of support is needed which is offered through the recovering addicts meeting together regularly. This provides them with a support group that helps them through the recovery process.
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