People drink alcohol for a variety of reasons: to relax, for the taste of the drink, and for celebration, to name a few. No matter why you do it, drinking alcohol makes everyone feel a certain way, emotionally and physically, and that can have positive and negative effects on your body in the short and long-term. But first, it’s important to understand exactly what alcohol is and why it affects us the way it does.
Alcohol, also known as ethanol, is caused by the fermentation of sugars and or yeasts, and is considered to be one of the oldest recreational drugs around. It is classified as a depressant, because it lowers the stimulation and overall functions of the central nervous system (CNS). This manifests itself in a number of ways, including decreased motor coordination, reaction times, and intellectual performance. Because of its effects on human consciousness, mood, and perceptions, alcohol is technically a psychoactive drug.
As we’ve already hinted at, alcohol has a major effect on the brain, which trickles down to the entire body. Because of it’s retardation of the central nervous system, it slows many processes of the body down, including coordination, speech, hearing, vision, and reaction times. It can also increase confidence, and in turn impair judgement. Some positive effects, when drinking in moderation, include feelings of warmth and a change in mood. Moving down the body, many other organs are also affected by the consumption of alcohol. When you swallow a drink, the alcohol travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. Some of that is absorbed into the bloodstream, some into the small intestine, and the rest acts as an irritant to the stomach lining and acids that live there to break down foods. When the alcohol in your bloodstream meets your heart, it can cause a spike in blood pressure. A moderate amount of alcohol per week has been shown to have positive effects on the fight against heart disease, but excessive drinking (either in one night or over a person’s lifetime) can stretch the heart muscle, and put people at increased risks for heart attacks or strokes. Finally, the liver, where alcohol is metabolized, can go into overdrive if more than one drink per hour is consumed. An excess of alcohol can lead to fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
In short, understanding your personal relationship with and tolerance for alcohol is key to experiencing the positive effects of alcohol on your mind and body. Knowing how an excess of drink can cause major damage is the first step in preventing problems down the road, and enjoying alcohol in moderation.