Alcohol: An Overiew
Alcohol and the Post-Secondary Student
Binge Drinking: Drinking to become intoxicated; 5 drinks in a single sitting for men and 4 drinks for
Physiological and Behavioural Effects of Alcohol
Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is a drug produced by fermentation and found in many beverages.
Fermentation is the process whereby yeast organisms break down plant sugars to yield ethanol.
Distillation is the process whereby mash is subjected to high temperatures to release alcohol vapours,
which are then condensed and mixed with water to make the final product.
Proof is a measure of the percentage of alcohol in a beverage. The word ‘proof’ comes from
“gunpowder proof,” a reference to the gunpowder test, whereby potential buyers tested the distiller’s
product by pouring it on gunpowder and attempting to light it.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC): is the ration of alcohol to total blood volume; the factor used to
measure the physiological and behaviour effects of alcohol.
Learned behavioural tolerance is the ability of drinkers to modify their behaviours so that they appear
sober even when they have high BAC levels.
Absorption and Metabolism
The drinker’s blood alcohol concentration depends on:
1. The amount consumed in a given time
2. The drinker’s size, sex, body build, and metabolism
3. The type and amount of food in the stomach
Mood also influences the rate of absorption. Consuming fruit sugar may shorten the duration of
alcohol’s effect by increasing the rate of elimination from the blood (that is, metabolism).
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Compared to men, women have half as much alcohol hydrogenase, the enzyme that breaks down
alcohol in the stomach bore it has a chance to get to the bloodstream and the brain.
Dehydration is the loss of fluids from body tissues.
Cerebrospinal fluid is fluid within and surrounding the brain and spinal cord tissue.
Hangover is the physiological reaction to excessive drinking, including such symptoms as headache,
upset stomach, anxiety, depression, diarrhea, and thirst.
Congeners are forms of alcohol metabolized more slowly than ethanol that produce toxic by-products.
Effects on the Nervous System: Since alcohol is a CNS depressant, the nervous system is especially
sensitive to it.
Cardiovascular Effects: Alcohol contributes to high blood pressure and a slightly increased heart rate
and cardiac output.
Liver Disease: One of the most common diseases related to alcohol abuse is cirrhosis of the liver. One
result of heavy drinking is that the liver begins to store fat – a condition known as “fatty liver.” Cirrhosis
is the last stage of liver disease associated with chronic heavy use of alcohol, during which liver cells die
and damage is permanent.
Alcoholic hepatitis is a condition resulting from prolonged use of alcohol in which the liver is inflamed. It
can result in death.
Cancer: The repeated irritation caused by long-term use of alcohol has been linked to cancers of the
esophagus, stomach, mouth, tongue, and liver.
Other Effects: An irritant to the gastrointestinal system, alcohol may cause indigestion and heartburn if
consumed on an empty stomach. It also damages the mucous membranes and leas to inflammation of
the esophagus, chronic stomach irritation, problems with intestinal absorption, and chronic diarrhea.
Alcohol abuse is a major cause of chronic inflammation of the pancreas, the organ that produces
digestive enzymes and insulin.
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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a broad category of disorders relating to consumption of alcohol
during pregnancy; includes fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol effects, partial fetal alcohol effects,
alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders, and neurobehavioral disorder-alcohol exposed.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a disorder that may result in the fetus if a mother regularly consumes
alcohol during pregnancy. Among its effects are mental retardation, small head, tremors, and
abnormalities of the face, limbs, heart, and brain.
Fetal alcohol effects (FAE) is a syndrome describing children with a history of prenatal alcohol exposure
but without all the physical birthweight, irritability, and possible permanent mental impairment.
Alcohol abuse (alcoholism) is the use of alcohol that interferes with work, school, or personal
relationships or that entails violations of the law.
The Causes of Alcoholism
Biologic and Family Factors: Research into the hereditary and environmental causes of alcoholism has
found higher rates of alcoholism among family members of individuals addicted to alcohol. Individuals
categorized with type 1 alcoholism are individuals who had at least one parent who was a problem
drinker and grew up in an environment that encourage heavy drinking. Individuals classified as type 2
alcoholism are typically males only. These men are the biological sons of fathers who in addition to
being alcoholics have a history of violence and drug use.
Social and Cultural Factors: Many individuals begin to drink because of peer pressure – because
everyone else is doing it. Others may begin drinking as a way to dull the pain of an acute loss or an
emotional or social problem. Family attitudes toward alcohol also influence whether or not a person will
develop a drinking problem. Religious people are less prone to alcohol depe