Alcohol is a depressant drop that can slow down the parts of the brain and affect thinking, behaviors, breathing, and heart rate.

What is it?

Alcohol is a depressant drug that is legal in Canada. Depressant drugs slow down the parts of your brain that affect your thinking, behaviour, breathing, and heart rate. For this reason, it should be consumed moderately.

Where does it come from?

Alcohol is produced by fermenting or distilling various fruits, vegetables, or grains. Fermented beverages include beer and wine, which have a maximum alcohol content of about 15 percent. Distilled beverages, often called “hard liquor” or “spirits,” such as rum, whisky, and vodka, have higher alcohol content.

Although alcohol comes in different forms, it has the same effect. Each “standard” drink contains 13.6 grams of alcohol in the following table.

* Note that regular beers have an average alcohol content of five percent, but some have as much as six or seven percent, making them stronger than a “standard” drink. “Light” beers have an average alcohol content of about four percent.

** such as sherry, port, or vermouth

What does it look like?

Pure (ethyl) alcohol is a clear, colourless liquid. Alcoholic beverages get their distinctive colours from their ingredients and the process of fermentation.

Who uses it? According to the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs Survey, 22.7 million (77 percent) of Canadians reported having an alcoholic drink in 2015. More men (11.8 million, or 81 percent) than women (10.9 million, or 73 percent) reported alcohol use.

In 2015, young adults aged 20 to 24 had the highest rate of alcohol use (83 percent). In addition, alcohol use was reported by 59 percent of youth aged 15 to 19 and 78 percent of adults aged 25 and older.

How does it make you feel?

The way alcohol affects you depends on many factors, including:

· your age, sex, and body weight

· how sensitive you are to alcohol

· the type and amount of food in your stomach

· how much and how often you drink

· how long you’ve been drinking

· the environment you’re in

· how you expect the alcohol to make you feel

· whether you’ve taken any other drugs (illegal, prescription, over the counter, or herbal).

A single drink of alcohol releases tension and reduces inhibition for many people, making them feel more at ease and outgoing. Some people feel happy or excited when they drink, while others become depressed or hostile. Suicide and violent crimes often involve alcohol.

Women are generally more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than men, and all adults become increasingly sensitive to alcohol’s effects as they age. When someone is more sensitive, it takes less alcohol to cause intoxication and more time for the body to eliminate the alcohol consumed.

Early signs of alcohol intoxication include:

· flushed skin

· impaired judgment

· reduced inhibition.

Continued drinking increases these effects and causes other effects, such as:

· impaired attention

· reduced muscle control

· slowed reflexes

· staggering gait

· slurred speech

· double or blurred vision.

A severely intoxicated person may “blackout” and have no memory of what was said or done while drinking. Effects of extreme intoxication include the inability to stand, vomiting, stupor, coma, and death.

Death may result when a person “passes out,” vomits, and chokes. A person who has been drinking heavily and is unconscious should be laid on their side and watched closely. Clammy skin, low body temperature, slow and laboured breathing, and incontinence are signs of acute alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. Call 911 if you’re concerned.

How long does the feeling last?

It takes about one hour for the liver of a person weighing 70 kilograms (154 lbs.) to process and eliminate eight to 10 grams of alcohol, or about two-thirds of the alcohol contained in a standard drink (i.e., 13.6 grams of alcohol). This rate is constant, no matter how much alcohol has been consumed or what food or non-alcoholic beverages are consumed.

Drinking heavily usually results in a “hangover,” beginning eight to 12 hours after the last drink. A hangover is caused by acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical created as your liver processes alcohol. Other causes include dehydration and changes in hormone levels. Symptoms can include:

· headache

· nausea

· diarrhea

· shakiness

· vomiting.

Is it addictive?

Most alcohol-related illnesses, social problems, accidents, and deaths are caused by “problem drinking.” This term describes alcohol use that causes problems in a person’s life but does not include physical dependence, one indicator of addiction. Problem drinking is four times as common as severe alcohol dependence.

Physical dependence involves tolerance to alcohol’s effects, which means people need more alcohol to produce the desired effect. Physical dependence also includes withdrawal symptoms when regular alcohol use is abruptly stopped.

Withdrawal symptoms can include sleeplessness, tremors, nausea, and seizures within a few hours after a person’s last drink. These symptoms can last from two to seven days and range from mild to severe, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the period over which it was used. Some people experience delirium tremens, or “the DTs,” five to six days after they stop drinking. This dangerous syndrome consists of hallucinations, confusion, fever, and a racing heart. If left untreated, severe alcohol withdrawal can result in death.

Is it dangerous?

Alcohol can be dangerous in several ways.

The impact of alcohol’s effect on judgment, behaviour, attitude, and reflexes can range from embarrassment to unwanted or high-risk sexual contact to violence, injury, or death. Alcohol is involved in more regrettable moments, crimes, and traffic fatalities than all other drugs of abuse combined.

During pregnancy, women who drink risk giving birth to a baby with behaviour problems, growth deficiency, developmental disability, head and facial deformities, joint and limb abnormalities, and heart defects. The risk of bearing a child with these congenital disabilities increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. The first trimester may be the time of most significant risk, although there is no time during pregnancy when it is known to be safe to drink alcohol.

Mixing alcohol with other drugs can have unpredictable results. Alcohol may block the absorption of the other drug, making it less effective or increasing the effect of the other drug to the point of danger. The general rule is never to mix alcohol with any other drugs—whether the other drug is a medication or an illegal substance. If you are taking a medication and want to drink, check first with your doctor or pharmacist.

What are the long-term effects of using it?

How alcohol affects you in the long term depends on how much and how often you drink.

Research studies have shown that:

· as little as one drink of alcohol every other day can help protect middle-aged and older adults against heart disease

· one to two drinks a day can increase your risk of developing certain cancers

· three or more drinks a day increases your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart problems.

Heavy alcohol use can result in trouble getting and keeping an erection for men or menstrual irregularities for women. Alcohol may cause appetite loss, vitamin deficiencies, and infections. It also irritates the stomach lining, which can be painful and is potentially fatal. Alcohol

increases the risk of liver, throat, breast, and other cancers. Alcoholic liver disease is a major cause of illness and death in North America.

Psychologically, long-term use of alcohol can damage the brain, leading to dementia, difficulties with coordination and motor control, and loss of feeling or painful burning in the feet. Alcohol dependence often results in clinical depression, and the rate of suicide among people dependent on alcohol is six times that of the general population.

(Source: Do You Know. . . Alcohol © 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)

Where can I find help, treatment, and support?

· Treatment at Savera Medical Centre: Assess SAVERA