The Dangers of Underage Drinking and How Alcohol Affects the Body

The Dangers of Underage Drinking and How Alcohol Affects the Body

The Origins of Alcohol

In his book, Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture and Control, author David Hanson traces the origins of the use of alcohol back thousands of years. He points out that beer jugs were found in excavations of Stone Age dwellings dated about 10,000 B.C.

The impact of alcohol spans the entire globe –beer and wine were important in ancient Egyptian culture as well. Hansen points out that alcoholic beverages were often considered as a food source when used in moderation. Alcohol also serves as an important part of many religious services. In fact, some religious scholars have speculated that, in addition to preventing the ravages that were often caused by alcohol, Mohammed may have forbidden his Islamic followers from drinking alcohol to clearly differentiate his religion from other religions.

He points out that whiskey was apparently first distilled in Ireland prior to the 16th century before becoming a staple in Scotland, and the distilling of spirits rapidly spread to other parts of the world. Just like the many modern day tourists who use the excuse that the water is bad in Mexico to drink more beer, alcohol was often consumed over water in ancient times because of the potential health risks.

Alcohol has also long been thought to have medicinal qualities. It was used to clean wounds and was used as an anesthetic when operations needed to be done, and other anesthetics were not available. Hanson points out that in addition to its positive qualities, there has been reference to its danger and potential for abuse throughout history. Some societies dealt with this more harshly than others, but societies throughout history understood that there were real dangers associated with the use of alcohol.

Two Common Myths About Alcohol

Myth: When I am cold I can drink alcohol to warm up.

Fact: Actually, when alcohol enters the bloodstream, it causes more blood to flow to the surface of the skin. While initially giving a feeling of warmth, the increased blood flow to the surface allows body heat to escape, causing the body’s core temperature to drop.

Myth. Alcohol relaxes me.

Fact: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and when it reaches the brain it has a depressant effect. As the alcohol is absorbed, the drinker can start to experience:

  • Depression
  • A loss of sensation
  • A decrease in sharpness of vision
  • A decrease in hearing
  • A loss of balance and muscle coordination
  • Decreased pulse rate and blood pressure which may lead to a loss of consciousness, a coma, or even death

Alcohol in Today’s World

Alcohol has remained a massive part of today’s culture and is among the most popular references throughout all forms of art. While alcohol has influenced some of the world’s greatest artists, it also claimed many of their lives along the way. The great novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald became an alcoholic, something that is thought to have led to his early death at just 44 years old. One of his most famous quotes deals with this disease, and stands the test of time:

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

For many of us, the consumption of alcohol was a rite of passage. It was something that we did to show that we were becoming adults. In fact, turning 21, or 18, or whatever the legal drinking age was at the time, was the most important birthday because it meant that we could legally purchase and drink alcohol. While many of us anxiously looked forward to the day when we could go out and party in a club or at a bar, the physical effect alcohol had on our bodies was often an afterthought, if it was even a thought in the first place. Why did it make some of us dance around with a lampshade on our head, or just want to go to bed?

Alcohol, while it is an incredibly popular substance, can also be incredibly dangerous. Of all the abused substances in our society, alcohol is one of the very few that is both legal and readily available to anyone looking to purchase it. When you consider the ease with which alcohol can be obtained and the potential for abuse, it is important to understand what alcohol is and how it affects you.

What Exactly is Alcohol?

The alcohol in alcoholic beverages is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Ethanol is also used for fuel, but that type of ethanol is made using a different process than the ethanol in alcoholic beverages. The type of ethanol that we drink is produced through a process known as fermentation, during which yeast or bacteria reacts with the sugars in the products being fermented. Depending on the products used in this process, which includes vegetables, grains, and fruits, the finished product will be a different type of alcohol like rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, beer, wine, etc. The amount of alcohol present in the finished product can vary greatly depending on what’s being made and how long it’s allowed to ferment. For beer, the alcohol percentage is typically between four and six percent; for wine, the alcohol percentage is typically between seven to 15 percent; for hard liquor, the alcohol percentage is typically between 40 to 95 percent.

What Happens When I Drink Alcohol?

The most common way to consume alcohol is by drinking it – there are other ways to partake of this product, but for the sake of this blog, we’ll leave it at that. The alcohol is then absorbed through the stomach and small intestine and enters the bloodstream. The rate of absorption depends on a number of factors like how much food you have in your stomach, your body weight, genetics, etc. From there, the alcohol travels up to the brain, causing the “drunk” effects.

Our brains have a filtration system that prevents the vast majority of substances from passing through, but because alcohol is water soluble, it can pass through and into our brains. Depending on the amount of alcohol you consume and the alcohol content of your drinks, it can have a different effect. Many people experience diminished reasoning, caution, and inhibition which can lead to seemingly irrational actions. It can also negatively impact motor skills, balance, reaction time, and more. Sometimes, it can simply cause exhaustion and put you to sleep. While the physical effects can vary from person to person, alcohol can be incredibly harmful to our brains, especially when consumed excessively and frequently.

How Does the Human Body Process Alcohol in the Bloodstream?

Alcohol in the bloodstream travels throughout the body, affecting systems beyond just the brain on its way to being metabolized in the liver. As the alcohol in the bloodstream passes through the lungs, some of the alcohol will be expelled as we breathe, which is why breathalyzers can measure a person’s level of intoxication.

Once the alcohol in the bloodstream enters the liver, the liver breaks down the alcohol into energy, carbon dioxide, and water. The carbon dioxide is released from the body through the lungs; the water passes out of the body as breath vapor, perspiration, urine, sweat, etc. However, alcohol prevents the release of certain chemicals in our bodies that regulate how much urine the kidneys make, which is why you may find yourself in need of the bathroom more often than usual during a night of drinking. Because of this, the drinker will become increasingly dehydrated and thirsty. In extreme cases, a drinker can become seriously dehydrated, a condition that can occur when the amount of water in the body has dropped below what’s typically needed to function as normal.

What Is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?

Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC, is the measurement of alcohol present in the bloodstream. This percentage is determined by measuring the number of milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. The legal limit for most drivers is 0.08 percent BAC (truck drivers and other commercial drivers have a limit of 0.04 percent), or eight-tenths of one percent of the fluid in the blood is alcohol.

How Can I Track My BAC?

The cheapest way to track your BAC is with simple math, something that may be difficult once you’re more than a few drinks in. The average person processes about one drink’s worth of alcohol per hour, either a one ounce shot of hard liquor, a five-ounce glass of wine, or a 12 ounce can of beer. Men typically process alcohol faster than women, though every person is different, and there are a number of factors that can affect the speed your body processes alcohol. Your age and weight can also have a noticeable effect on how alcohol affects you – larger people’s BAC tends to rise slower than people who weigh less, and younger people tend to be better at processing alcohol.

It’s important to note that while 0.08 percent may be the legal limit on the road, any amount of alcohol can impair your reaction time. The best advice for anyone planning on drinking and driving is simply to not do that. However, if you do choose to drink and drive, make sure you limit your alcohol consumption and give your body ample time to process any alcohol you put in your system. Getting pulled over by a cop and getting a DUI is an awful experience, but getting in an accident because your reaction time was impaired by alcohol and potentially seriously injuring yourself, your passengers, or anyone else is even worse.

What Is Binge Drinking?

An estimated one in six adults in the United States binge drink about four times per month according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Binge drinking, or drinking that brings your BAC up to or over 0.08 percent, is most popular among people between the ages of 18 and 34. While some people may think that limiting their alcohol intake to once a week and simply consuming a bit more than usual is better than having a drink or two at night throughout the week is healthier, research suggests that may not be the case. According to some studies, binge drinking is more damaging to most people than drinking the same amount of alcohol over several days.

Studies have also found that binge drinkers also scored lower in cognitive tests of their short term memory, as well as in other similar tests, than people who drank the same amount spread across several days. In addition to the long-term mental impact of consuming that much alcohol at once, binge drinking can also lead to more immediate damage like alcohol poisoning. This is especially common with people who don’t know their limits, like underage drinkers trying out alcohol for the first time, or young drinkers who get carried away at a party.

Underage Drinking

The law states that people in the United States aren’t allowed to consume alcohol until they’re 21, but just because it’s illegal doesn’t stop young people from consuming alcohol well before the drinking age. According to a recent study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Office of Applied Studies, Underage Alcohol Use: Findings from the 2002-2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, more than 10.8 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 have at least tried alcohol. Some of the other statistics reported in this study include:

  • More than 40 percent of underage drinkers reportedly received alcohol for free from someone 21 years old or older in the past month.
  • One in 16 underage drinkers were given alcoholic beverages by their parents in the past month.
  • More than 5,000 people under the age of 21 die because of alcohol-related causes every year.
  • More than half of people reported drinking while underage.
  • An average of 3.5 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 meet the diagnostic criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.
  • About one in five people between the ages of 12 and 20 reportedly binge drank in the past month.
  • More women between the ages of 12 and 14 drank than men in that same age group (7.7 percent and 6.3 percent), slightly more women between the ages between the ages of 15 and 17 drank than men (27.6 percent and 27.3 percent), and more men between the ages of 18 and 20 drank than women (54.4 percent and 47.9 percent).
  • 9.4 percent of underage people reported drinking last in a club, bar, or restaurant, 30.3 in their own home, and 53.4 in someone else’s home.

The Importance of Educating People About the Dangers of Alcohol

It would be so easy if simply explaining to someone why their excessive drinking was a bad idea was enough to get them to stop. Unfortunately, this is rarely enough to get a friend in danger of succumbing alcoholism to get over their problems. However, treatment options like detox and rehabilitation can be incredibly effective and have helped countless people overcome their struggles. A key aspect of what we do at Novus Medical Detox Center is educate our patients about how alcohol affects them. We have found that simply knowing what happens when they drink is enough to have a positive impact, and is often the first step towards a full recovery.

What is the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism, while similar, aren’t quite the same. Some symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

  • Health issues
  • Negative impact on personal relationships
  • Deteriorating ability to perform work tasks
  • Making poor and potentially dangerous choices, like repeatedly drinking and driving

Alcohol abuse is often a step on the road towards full-blown alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Some symptoms of alcohol dependence or alcoholism include:

  • Alcohol cravings
  • Continued drinking despite the damage it causes
  • An inability to limit alcohol intake
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the person hasn’t drank for a little while
  • Needing to drink more in order to experience the same effects

Is There an Easy Way to Tell if Someone Has a Drinking Problem?

A simple way to test for alcohol dependence is the CAGE test.

  1. Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

What Health Problems are Associated With Alcohol Abuse?

Abusing alcohol can cause serious damage if left unchecked. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • High blood pressure

What is Cirrhosis of the Liver?

Cirrhosis of the liver is one of the most common issues people who suffer from alcoholism face, but not many people fully understand what this condition entails. The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body – it’s tasked with filtering our blood by metabolizing drugs, removing or neutralizing poisons (including alcohol), producing immune agent to help fight infections, removing bacteria, and more. The liver also produces proteins that regulate our blood’s ability to clot, and even produces bile that our bodies use to absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Cirrhosis is a disease that permanently damages the liver, causes scar tissue to replace healthy tissue, impacts blood flow, and more. Some of the most common complications caused by this condition include:

  • Edema and ascites
  • Bruising and bleeding
  • Jaundice
  • Gallstones
  • Accumulation of toxins in the blood or brain
  • Improper metabolism of medications
  • Type 2 diabetes

What Happens When an Alcohol Abuser or Alcoholic Stops Drinking?

Many people suffering from alcoholism or who abuse alcohol reach a point where they need to make a significant change in their alcohol consumption in order to keep their lives in order or health relatively intact. While some people may attempt to quit all at once, known as going “cold turkey”, this may not be the best or even safest way to go about it. Many people who attempt to go this route experience withdrawal symptoms.

Some more serious forms of withdrawal symptoms include uncontrollable shaking, seizures, and hallucinations. These symptoms typically occur within six to 48 hours after the last drink. Some people may also experience delirium tremens (DTs). DTs can cause profound confusion, hallucinations, and severe autonomic nervous system overactivity, which can result in seizures, comas, and may even be fatal. These symptoms typically begin between 48 and 96 hours after the last drink.

Can Alcohol Abusers and Alcoholics Safely Stop Drinking?

Yes, someone suffering from this condition can absolutely stop drinking. However, it’s safest and most effective to do so with medical supervision. At Novus, we can safely and more comfortably help people withdraw from alcohol in our stress-free environment. If you or someone you know wants to withdraw from alcohol please give us a call today at (855) 464-8550 to learn more about what we can do for you.

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

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