Alcohol as a Drug
Alcohol is the most widely consumed substance that is psychoactive or alters one's consciousness. Anyone that has seen someone that is intoxicated on alcohol can see how potent this drug can be in terms of changing the normal functioning of the body, and especially the mind.
One of the temporary effects of alcohol is a feeling of euphoria, which can be as mild as a relief from stress or as intense as uncontrollable laughter. This artificial happiness is the "high" that keeps alcohol being the most widely used drug in our society.
The latest data on alcohol consumption shows that Americans consume an average of two gallons of alcohol per person per year. Obviously, this doesn't mean that every American drinks alcohol nor do they consume at this level, but the total consumption averages out to this figure. This average figure is equal to a six-pack of beer, or two glasses of wine or three mixed drinks every week. Thirty-five percent of the American public doesn't drink any alcohol; so many adults are drinking much more than the average.
Alcohol is a clear liquid that will evaporate at a lower temperature than water. This chemical property allows for the process of distillation, where alcohol can be separated from water by heating the liquid to a point where the alcohol will evaporate away from the water. Alcohol is a flammable substance, which is currently being used with gasoline as a viable fuel.
Alcohol of human consumption is made by fermentation of fruit or grain mixtures. Distilled spirits, such as whiskey, rum and gin, are made from distillation, a process of collecting the evaporating fumes from heating the fermented liquid and, therefore, increasing the percentage of alcohol in the resulting liquid.
The alcohol that comes from this fermentation and/or distillation process is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. There are other alcohols that are used for industrial purposes that are too toxic for human consumption, such as methanol or wood alcohol.
High concentrations of ethanol in the blood is lethal, but lower levels gives the desired drug-effect that people are seeking when they drink an alcoholic beverage. Beer has the lowest percentage of alcohol per ounce, with an average of four to six percent. Wine ranges from seven to fifteen percent and distilled spirits can range from 40 to 95 percent alcohol.
Some people believe that they don't have an alcohol addiction problem because they only drink beer. However, everyone that is drinking for the effects of alcohol are trying to get the optimal percentage of alcohol into the blood stream, which may come from drinking three beers or one ounce of hard liquor. In either case, one is consuming approximately the same amount of alcohol. This optimal amount gives the person the feeling that he is still thinking and functioning normally, but he is feeling relaxed, unworried, jovial and in his "A" game. Unfortunately, alcohol changes one's perceptions and what feels like these positive outcomes from drinking alcohol is actually part of the delusion that comes from alcohol intoxication.
When a person drinks an alcoholic beverage, about twenty percent of the alcohol is immediately absorbed into the blood stream through the stomach lining; the remainder is absorbed by the small intestine. Hard liquor, which as a higher percentage of alcohol, will be absorbed faster than beer, but carbonating the beverages increases the speed of absorption of alcohol. Drinking alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach enhances the absorption of this drug.
When alcohol enters the blood stream it dissolves with the water of the blood and is carried throughout the body where it further dissolves with the water in the body's cells. This process happens immediately after alcohol is consumed, but the highest blood alcohol concentration (BAC) happens within twenty minutes after consumption.
Once alcohol enters the body, the systems that purify our blood begin addressing this foreign substance. The kidneys eliminate about five-percent of the alcohol into the urine. Another five-percent is exhaled from the lungs; hence the smell of alcohol on one's breath after drinking and the liver is responsible for eliminating the remainder of alcohol. An average person eliminates about fifteen-milliliters of alcohol per hour, which translates to eliminating the alcohol in a can of beer in about one hour.
The blood alcohol concentration increases as a person drinks faster than the body can metabolize and eliminate the alcohol that is coming into the body. The body eliminates about one beer; a four-ounce glass of wine, or one mixed drink every hour, so the BAC will rise as a person drinks more of these units of alcohol faster than the body can handle their metabolism.
As mentioned earlier, most people drink to experience the euphoric effects of this drug. As the BAC increases, the person will experience different sensations. Euphoria occurs when the BAC is around 0.03 to 0.12 percent alcohol. (Incidentally, the legal BAC for driving is under 0.08 percent.)
During the euphoric phase a person feels more self-confidence, he has a shorter attention span, his skin is flushed and even though he feels confident, his judgment is impaired which causes many of the social faux pas, and his physical coordination is also impaired.
When the BAC reaches the 0.09 to 0.25 percent, a person becomes sleepy, their memory is significantly impaired, their coordination worsens, their vision can be blurred and their senses are subdued.
Blood alcohol concentrations between 0.18 to 0.30 percent shows significant drunkenness with total confusion as to where they are or what they were doing, their emotions are unpredictable with feelings of aggression or being overly affectionate, their speech is slurred and they don't feel external stimuli, such as pain, as someone without this impairment. When the BAC reaches the 0.4 percent levels, the person is usually in a stupor where they can barely move at will and they can hardly respond to external stimuli. BACs above this level are life threatening, with the breathing and the heart rate are being retarded, their body temperature is lowered and they are close to alcohol poisoning and death. A person usually stops breathing and dies when the BAC is greater than 0.50 percent.
These descriptions of the effects of alcohol consumption demonstrate the risk and the compulsive nature of alcohol addiction. Becoming addicted to alcohol can happen outside of a persons awareness, so it is vital that anyone that is drinking regularly be aware that input from others may be more accurate that one's own denial will allow them to believe. Effective alcohol treatment programs, such as the Narconon drug rehab program, employ counselors that will help anyone discern if they have an alcohol problem or if their drinking patterns will ultimately lead them in that direction.