HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF ALCOHOL, SMOKING, DRUG ADDICTION

ALCOHOL

To start with, we should be very clear on one basic fact: The alcohol contained in alcoholic beverages, ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is a drug, because of its chemical structure. Ethanol has the power to depress the action of the central nervous system and thus is classified as a mind-altering drug. More specifically, ethanol is a depressant drug, and its depressant action brings about most of the commonly observed drinking behavior.

The first observable effects of ethanol are those controlled by the higher centres of the brain located primarily in the frontal area. Our learned social inhibitions are the first to go. Behaviorally, we may talk louder than normal talk more than normal sing in situations in which we would normally be too inhibited to do so, or just feel looser and more relaxed. This behavior may seem paradoxical given the fact that ethanol is a “depressant” drug; but remember these actions are normally inhibited by our learned social controls. The drug is depressing those control centers, thus allowing the action. These are the first centers affected, and social inhibitions can begin to disappear after only a couple of drinks. No one knows for sure why these areas are affected first. It may be that this part of the brain controls very complex behavior. Millions of nerve cells are required to “think” and even small amount of alcohol may interfere with this complex process.

After a few drinks, ethanol begins to act more like a depressant drug; we begin to lose our motor coordination; then our speech functions become impaired, then our vision, and finally our ability to stay awake. If we have drunk enough, the alcohol can depress our automatic respiratory centers and as a result we could stop breathing and die.

All of the cells in the body are susceptible to the effects of alcohol the placenta of a pregnant women and enters a fetus. According to the general rule of system, which includes the human organism the more complex a system is the more vulnerable it is to disruption. The brain and central nervous system are the body most complex organs, thus the effect of alcohol is felt there first. In the brain the most complex functions are those of judgement self control and other learned inhibitions. Thus even small amount of alcohol can bring about some loss of inhibition. When our learned social inhibitions are removed, we are capable of becoming very antisocial. Very early in life children learn to control their excretory processes, their tempers and many other actions that our society deems improper for pubic display. Sexual and moral codes are among the most complex to learn. As these are learned, they are stored in the association areas of the brain and become the guardians of logical, social behavior. When depressed by alcohol, these centers stop monitoring social behavior; thus an intoxicated person may do things in public that he might not normally do.

What a person might do really depends upon the individual and his temperament. It has often been said that a normally inhibited person who becomes intoxicated seems to undergo a more radical behavior changes than does a less inhibited person. While that has some logic to it and has been the subject of many comedy skits, there is little scientific evidence to prove it.

After too many drinks, many people display another personality the intoxicated one. Motor impairments such as unsteady balance, a staggering walk and slurred speech are the most obvious sensorimotor characteristics that intoxicated people exhibit. Simple visual functions are generally unaffected, but even low doses of alcohol prolong the time required to recover from the glare of oncoming lights, producing a period of relative blindness that can be hazardous for intoxicated drivers and others on the road.

ALCOHOL METABOLISM

Once alcohol is absorbed into the tissues of the body, it enters the metabolic process and is broken down to produce energy. Alcohol itself has little or no nutritional value and alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine contain only trace amount of vitamins, minerals and proteins. However alcohol can be used in the energy-burning process; thus it has calories, which are measures of energy. Alcohol yields seven calories per grams, which makes it more caloric that carbohydrates but less calories than fats. A one-ounce shot glass of 100-proof whisky yields approximately 84 calories. A twelve-ounce can beer runs a little higher at 150 calories. Light beer usually fluctuates between 70 and 120 calories per 12 ounce. A four-ounce glass of dry table wine has about 100 calories. To figure the calories in your favourite drink you most know the proof and the amount of alcohol the drink contains. Like foods, alcohol must be metabolised into a chemical substances that the cells can utilize. The first step in this process occurs mainly in the liver, where alcohol is changed into acetaldehyde. This break down proceeds at a rate various somewhat from one individual to another, but the average amount of ethanol that changed into acetaldehyde is one-quarter to one-half ounce per hour. This is the approximate alcoholic content of one 12-ounce bottle of beer or one mixed drink. Since the first phase occurs in the liver at a constant rate, the process of sobering up is dependent on the livers. This concept is extremely important for individuals who must drive or perform other activities after drinking.

 

The second phase of alcohol metabolic is the oxidation of acetaldehyde into acetic acid. This process is very important because the large amount of acetaldehyde that accumulate after ingestion of large quantities of ethanol are significant in the development of a hangover. The problem of the accumulation of acetaldehyde is compounded by the fact that ethanol is a general depressant of many endocrinological processes and associated metabolic events. This decrease in metabolism slows the rate at which acetaldehyde is utilized.

The third phase of alcohol metabolism is very energy phase, where the breakdown product of acetaldehyde, acetic acid, enters into the normal chemistry of energy production. When alcohol is in the system it is used preferentially for fuel, leaving the food stuffs to be stored as fat. With this a two-fold problem develops: one of gained body weight and the other of an accumulation of fats that are not removed from the liver. The latter is instrumental in the liver disease that is often seen in chronic, heavy drinkers.

COGNITIVE FUNCTIONS

Alcohol usually does not affect our ability to focus our attention on a single source of incoming information. It is when information comes from several sources simultaneously that we often have trouble. Research shows that alcohol may impede the brains capacity to switch from one source of information to another. In addition, alcohol impairs memory functioning. Memory storage processes are particularly vulnerable to disruption by alcohol. Intoxicated people have considerable difficulty processing new information and recalling that information at a later time. Another interesting aspect of alcohols effect on cognitive processes is state dependency that is information learned in one state is remembered better in that state. In other words, you may forget a dance you learned the night before when intoxicated and you may have to become intoxicated again to remember it.

Other cognitive research suggests that there is a relationship between how much we drink and our performance while sober on tests that require abstraction and adaptive abilities the more we drink, the greater the loss of these abilities. The pattern was strongest in heavy drinkers, but also existed in moderate drinkers as well. You have heard individuals toasting the loss of a few more brain cells; they may know what they are talking about.

INGESTION AND ABSORPTION

Since alcohol is already in liquid form. It does not need to be digested; it is ready for absorption soon after entering the stomach. Some absorption of alcohol occurs in the stomach; the other 80 percent takes place in the first foot of the small intestine. The speed of absorption is helped by the fact that alcohol has a low molecular weight, and because it is highly fat and water soluble. Once absorbed alcohol saturates the blood flowing from the intestines and stomach to the liver, then quickly moves to other blood-rich organs such as the brain and kidneys. Once these organs reach a storage equlibrium with the blood cause diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea in heavy drinkers prevents the intestines from absorbing nutrients and thus results in vitamin, calcium, and iron deficiencies.

AGGRESSION

Another psychological factors that has grave social implications is aggression. Research shows that alcohol increase in certain people in certain circumstances, but not in others. It is primarily personality related, and to a lesser desgree situation related. For example when male social drinkers drink in competitive group situations, interpersonal aggression increase. However, when male-female couples drink in non structured social situations, neither hostility nor aggression increase from your own observation and from police and newspaper reports, you might infer that alcohol often precipitates aggression and violence. Although his is true it applies to only a relatively few angry people who are made less inhibited and more aggressive by the alcohol they consume.

It is also interesting to note that some people become more aggressive when they think they are drinking but are not actually ingesting alcohol. In a series of closely controlled studies it was found that the expectation of intoxicated behavior played a major role in how some individuals actually behave. Men who were given plain tonic water but were convinced by research that they were drinking vodka and tonic, behaved more aggressively and generally acted as thought they in fact, intoxicated perhaps these men use alcohol as a culturally accepted excuse to behave in what is normally an unacceptable manner. Perhaps the state boundness previously described is really a psychological set that emerges when people think they are drinking alcohol.

 

The same set of experiments produced some other interesting results about expectations. Individuals who thought they were drinking alcohol, but were not, become more sociable and extroverted when they thought that was how alcohol typically affected them. Individuals who thought alcohol made them more with drawn, behaved that way. Other individuals become more relaxed and less anxious, while some women who reported that they had to watch their behavior when drinking become more anxious. A particularly interesting aspect of this research was the change in sexual activity due to expectations. Men tended to become more sexually aroused when they believed they were drinking. The theory is that alcohol is frequently consumed in situations where sexual advances are appropriate. The expectations are the same, whether or not alcohol is actually present. Curiously enough, those men who thought they were drinking showed more relaxed physiological reactions in social-sexual situations. Women, on the other hand, reported feeling more sexual arousal when they thought they were drinking, but measures of their vaginal blood flow showed that they were physiologically less aroused. Expectancy, the set, and the setting are powerful inluences of behavior, perhaps even more powerful than the effect of the alcohol.

SMOKINGĀ 

Tobacco smoke is a mixture of hot air and gases in which are suspended small particles called tars. At least 1,200 different toxic chemicals have been identified in tobacco smoke. Many of the particles contains carcinogens, substances that cause cancer.

Normally, small inhaled particles are not problem for the lungs because the lungs air passages are cleaned constantly as millions of tiny whip like hairs called cilia move mucus up the respiratory tract. Small particles must pass the nasal trap, which snares many of them in sticky mucus and escalates them out of the system. If some particle gets past this protective mechanism, they must overcome a second line of defence within the lungs. Here white blood cells attack foreign particles and destroy or immobilize them. The lungs of people do not constantly over load these protective devices can normally clear themselves of dangerous materials. however the lungs of heavy smokers and people who work amid coal dust or live in a heavily polluted environment cannot remove these particles effectively.

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