Millions of people around the world enjoy alcohol as a recreational beverage and have done so for centuries. If alcohol were discovered today, however, this would not be the case. It has been claimed that alcohol would be declared an illegal Class A drug if newly-uncovered, thanks in no small part to the impact it has on the human body and brain.
However, alcohol has not just been discovered, and it’s not an illegal Class A drug. This means that it should be approached from a position of education, with an awareness of what it does to the human body. Like all things, moderation is key.
Is alcohol harmful to the human body?
Anything is harmful to the human body if consumed to excess. Even water, if drank in too high an amount, will lead to poisoning. Alcohol, however, is considerably more toxic than anything you’ll find in your tap.
The liver is the organ most commonly associated with alcohol damage. This is because alcohol is an inflammatory substance, and the liver is charged with clearing the body of toxins.
This is why alcohol is a diuretic – once it reaches the liver, it must be purged again in the form of urine before it can cause any damage. If we drink too much, the liver struggles to keep up with the demands placed upon it. This eventually leads to scarification of the liver, which is commonly known as cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis slowly but surely destroys the liver, leaving the body in a great deal of danger. If your body cannot process toxins rapidly, they seep into your bloodstream. This means that the toxins are spread to the heart, lungs, pancreas, and other critical organs. This leaves heavy drinkers at a much higher risk of heart disease and pancreatitis.
The inflammatory nature of alcohol can also damage the digestive system. If excessive drinking impacts the intestines, they’ll struggle to digest food appropriately. This leads to painful bloating and stomach cramps, gas, and diarrhea. Chronic and constant alcohol consumption can also cause stomach ulcers, which can, in turn, lead to internal bleeding. This can be lethal if not treated.
Finally, alcohol is a known carcinogen. The National Cancer Institute discusses the heightened risk of breast, liver, rectal, and mouth cancers at great length. Coupled with the impact that alcohol has the immune system, this places the health of regular drinkers at a great deal of risk.
Why does alcohol make us drunk?
Of course, it’s not just the bodily organs that are impacted by alcohol. It also changes our brain chemistry. When we drink alcohol, messages between our body and brain become blocked and garbled. This is why we slur our words, struggle to formulate our thoughts and find our coordination impacted.
The most significant component of intoxication is ethanol, which is a critical component of alcohol. The molecules in ethanol are tiny, which means they can sneak into the brain unfiltered. This impacts the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for processing sensory information.
The hypothalamus sends messages to the body that we’re making questionable decisions. Alcohol represses this. This is why we take on something of a devil-may-care attitude when we’re drunk. An intoxicated person will say things they’d never say when sober and take chances they wouldn’t dream of under normal circumstances.
This could be racking up a credit card bill with a completely superfluous online shopping spree after a night of drinking. It could involve attempting to complete a physical feat that is far beyond us, as we’re convinced that we’re invulnerable while drunk.
It can even lead to calling our boss on the phone at 3am, and telling them exactly what we think of them! All of these decisions are a direct result of the hypothalamus not being able to calm us down, and preventing us from doing something we’ll regret.
Intoxication can be delayed by keeping an even balance of blood and alcohol in the body. Eating before consuming alcohol helps with this. The more food is in the human body, the more solids there are to absorb the alcohol.
Water will not help with intoxication, though. While it’s advisable to drink water between alcoholic drinks to protect your body the morning after, it will not prevent you from becoming drunk.
Why does alcohol give us hangovers?
A hangover is essentially a very chronic case of dehydration. If you feel awful the morning after a night of drinking, it’s because you’re hugely dehydrated.
As we have covered, alcohol is a diuretic. Once it enters your body, your liver quickly empties it out again in the form of urine. This, naturally, means that you’ll be depleting your body’s natural water supply throughout a night of drinking.
The common symptoms of dehydration are:
- Mental and physical exhaustion.
- Seemingly unquenchable thirst.
- Aches and pains and feeling physically weak.
- Chronic headaches and an inability to think straight.
- Feeling grumpy and irritable.
- Dried out skin.
- Rapid heartbeat, and struggling for breath.
Sound familiar? That’s right – they’re virtually identical to a hangover!
The risk of dehydration can be tempered by drinking water in between every alcoholic drink on an evening out. As discussed, this will not stop you from getting drunk or even slow down the process. It will, however, stave off the very worst impact of the morning after.
If all of this information has you worried, try not to panic too much. If you don’t drink to excess, your health is not in imminent danger. In fact, some scientists remain adamant that a small amount of alcohol is actually beneficial to your health.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes 14 drinks in a week as ‘low-risk drinking’ for men, with 7 drinks in a week safe for women. Naturally, everybody is different, but this is a good starting point.
People will always consume alcohol. It’s arguably the world’s greatest social lubricant, and it’s pivotal to many cultural and religious practices. Just watch your own intake, and ensure that it does not become excessive. The impact on your body and brain can be significant in such instances.