What is alcohol?
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the world. It comes in a variety of types, with all alcoholic drinks containing the chemical ethanol. Formed as a by-product of the fermentation of sugar and yeast, alcohol is often created from foods including potato, barley, molasses, wheat and maize.
The concentration of alcohol varies depending on its type. Lighter drinks such as cider and beer typically contain up to 5% alcohol, wine up to 14% and spirits such as whiskey and vodka typically as high as 40%.
How do people use alcohol?
Alcohol is heavily tied with social activities in most countries, and the UK is no exception. Known as binge drinking culture, alcohol is a staple for most adults on nights out to clubs, bars and pubs. In many cases on such nights out, ‘pre-drinking’ is done before leaving the house to help build a buzz and save money. On the night out itself, excessive amounts of alcohol are often consumed in the form of shots of spirits and rounds of other drinks.
It’s also common for alcohol to be consumed in private, however. ‘Solo drinking’ is something many teens and adults in the UK do each week, and this type of behaviour is a sign of alcohol addiction can be just as destructive and detrimental to health and wellbeing as binge drinking with friends and others in towns and cities across the country.
Hiding alcohol use is a common behaviour amongst adults struggling with excessive use and dependence. Alcoholism and dependency are often felt to be shameful, and an alcoholic will do all they can to minimise or hide their drinking, doing things such as drinking away from the house and hiding bottles from the view of loved ones and flatmates.
How does alcohol affect the body?
Interestingly, alcohol has the effect of being both a stimulant and a depressant. Many people, particularly in social settings, use alcohol to relieve anxieties and elevate their mood. The initial buzz we feel as we become drunk is pleasant, loosening our inhibitions and quieting negative or anxious thoughts. As this continues, drinkers often find themselves consuming more alcohol to continue or increase the potency of this feeling.
This leads to the depressant effect of alcohol. A depressant slows your central nervous system, which is why we slur our speech when we are drunk.
What are the risks?
Heavy alcohol use has significant short-term and long-term health risks. 7,551 deaths in 2018 were due to alcohol-related causes. Short-term risks include alcohol poisoning, miscarriage and stillbirth or Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), injuries such as falling, drowning and vehicle crashes due to impaired motor control and poor decision making.
Long-term risks of excessive alcohol use include the development of chronic diseases including cancer. Dementia and other memory or learning issues can occur, and high blood pressure, liver disease, heart disease and strokes may occur after prolonged heavy use. Often, social problems follow and continued excessive consumption will lead to alcohol dependence or alcoholism.
If you are struggling with the effects of alcohol abuse we can offer help and advice.