Alcohol is a drug.

No question about it.

 

A condoned drug that has ruined the lives of many users and destroyed countless families in the process.  

 

Those who are in control of their drinking may scoff at that suggestion but those who know the evil of alcohol will attest to both its potential for addiction and power of destruction. 

Between the lives it destroys and the diseases it causes, alcohol must rank among the most destructive forces on the planet.

 

A social lubricant for a stressed out society.

 

 Alcohol is everywhere.

 

Alcoholic beverages are served before, during and after diner.

 

Alcohol is the social lubricant of American society.

 

We love it.

We feel at ease when we drink.

Alcohol is imbibed and served in restaurants, bars, countless events and millions of parties.

 

Unfortunately, children are increasingly discovering alcohol at much earlier ages. 

And they are abusing it in ever increasing numbers.

There are many reasons to account for its popularity among kids. None of them good.

The most recent explanation lies in the failure to keep alcohol advertising off the airwaves and the resumption of selling it in drugstores..

 

Everyone drinks, parents, teachers, friends.

There is no real anti-drug message when it comes to alcohol.

Every main street in America has liquor stores and bars. While it is legal only for those over the age of 21, it is perfectly acceptable for younger children to aquire, use and abuse this drug.

 

Alcohol is a real threat to children because of their inability to understand the medical consequences of the drug.

 

Alcohol is back.

Thanks to the relaxation of regulations governing their advertisements, alcohol is once again, king of the airwaves.

 

Young adults don’t have the physical capacity to metabolize alcohol quickly and are thus more likely to become intoxicated and out of control.

Those who don’t drink are considered uncool and nerdy.

Alcohol provides a whopping 7 calories per gram. That makes it the second most calorie dense food after fat (9) and does not provide any nutritive value.

The practice of imbibing a glass of red wine with a meal has been shown to be beneficial to health (see the French paradox). Unfortunately any amount in excess does not increase protection.

 

Alcohol in Nature is derived from the incomplete metabolism of glucose, similar to the human process of burning glucose in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic respiration).

This partial metabolism of sugar by the body occurs when exercising muscle cells undergo glycolysis. Due to a lack of oxygen, the two-carbon compound, lactic acid is formed instead of alcohol. Lactic acid remains in muscle until the completion of exercise when it can then be fully oxidized back to carbon dioxide and water.

 In Nature’s alcohol, yeast (a unicellular fungi) follows the same anaerobic metabolic pathway as muscle, but instead of lactic acid they form the two-carbon fragment, ethyl alcohol. This process is called fermentation.

Alcohol does not undergo any further oxidation and it is in this form that it is a very potent drug. The amount of alcohol present in solution determines its strength.

 Alcohol dilates the blood vessels in the skin.  This decreases core body temperature and produces a warm flush in the drinker. For this reason, during cold conditions, many people ingest alcohol under the mistaken impression that the warm flush indicates that their body is warm. Instead, lost body heat induces a reflex conservation of heat and causes the drinker to become even colder.

Alcohol Chemistry

Ethanol is the alcohol produced during fermentation of sugars. It is the volatile liquid found in wine and the distillation product of grains that have undergone fermentation.

Ethyl alcohol or ethanol contains an OH or hydroxyl group  attached to two atoms of carbon. This allows the drug to be both water and fat soluble and therefore able to diffuse across plasma membranes. This is important to understanding the speed with which alcohol takes effect.

 

Alcohol is rapidly and completely absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract with the stomach absorbing almost twenty percent of the initial dose. The remaining alcohol enters the upper intestine where the other eighty percent is absorbed.

 

Alcohol’s rapid absorption is dependent on the physical contents of the stomach. A full stomach delays the absorption and increases the  time it takes for the contents of the stomach to empty into the upper part of the small intestine (duodenum), where the bulk of alcohol is absorbed.

 

A full stomach delays the effects of alcohol.

 

Blood alcohol levels increase faster on an empty stomach due to the increased speed of gastric emptying. Higher concentrated doses of alcohol, like those in cocktails as opposed to beer and wine, result in higher blood levels due to their faster absorption.

 

An empty stomach accelerates the effect of alcohol.

Since alcohol is such a small molecule and is soluble in both fat and water, it becomes well distributed in all body fluids and tissues.

Alcohol diffuses into muscle masses and fat deposits immediately. Alcohol that is deposited in these tissues accounts for the fact that obese and muscular individuals tolerate higher levels of alcohol.

 

Alcohol lacks nutritive value but provides a whopping seven calories per gram when metabolized into carbon dioxide and water.

Ninety-five percent of alcohol is metabolized by the liver before being removed from the body. The remaining five percent is excreted unchanged by the kidney and lungs.

The human body can metabolize 10 ml of pure alcohol (ethyl alcohol) in one hour.  Translating this rate into everyday usage equates one shot (an ounce of 80 proof whiskey) with 4 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer. They each have 10 ml of alcohol, which is metabolized in one hour.

Any increase in the rate of consumption relative to this rate of metabolism results in an increase in blood alcohol levels and a corresponding increases in intoxication.

 

Alcohol is enzymatically metabolized by two enzymes (liver and gastric dehydrogenase). This occurs partially in the stomach and the remainder in the liver.

Alcohol breakdown involves two steps. The first requires the conversion of alcohol to acetylaldehyde, a reaction catalyzed by the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase. The second step results in the formation of acetic acid, which is further broken down to carbon dioxide and water with the energy released being stored as glycogen.

 


 

Ethanol or ethyl-alcohol is classified as a sedative-hypnotic drug. It acts on the human brain much like the other sedative-hypnotic drugs such as barbiturates (downers or goofballs) and benzodiazepine tranquilizers (Valium and Xanax).

These drugs act as ligands and interact with the same set of receptors in the brain, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. These drugs can also substitute for one another to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Benzodiazepine tranquilizers are often used to treat severe alcohol withdrawal.

Ethyl alcohol, like other sedative-hypnotic drugs, produce physical dependence over time. The essential point of course, is that alcohol is a drug. Perhaps the most dangerous recreational drug on the market.

Since the blood-brain barrier is freely permeable to alcohol, ninety percent of the alcohol absorbed from the gut passes to the brain immediately.

Alcohol is a central acting drug that inhibits gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. Binding to GABA receptors in the brain produce the depressant effect of druga in this class.

GABA receptors are responsible for regulating a wide range of activities. Blocking them, as alcohol, does causes disorientation, mental clouding and impaired judgement.

Alcohol also depresses the inhibitory synapses in the higher centers of the cerebral cortex.  The neurons affected produce a mild euphoria and loss of inhibitory control.

This loss of inhibition is dependent on a mechanism that involves a calcium dependent, neurotransmitter.  that is normally released from the pre-synaptic membranes when sober.  Alcohol prevents its release.

Alcohol exerts a diuretic effect on the body by increasing the reabsorption of fluids by the kidneys and by interfering in the activity of antidiuretic hormone produced by the pituitary gland.  The dehydrating effect of alcohol is manifested in a dry mouth, a clear sign of dehydration.

Drinking a glass of water for every glass of wine is a highly recommended practice.

Despite the misconception, alcohol is not an aphrodisiac. It instead relaxes a person’s sexual and moral restraints.  As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth of alcohol, ‘it provoked the desire, but taketh away the performance’.

Moderate consumption of alcohol produces a feeling of pleasantness and has health benefits that include a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Chronic alcohol consumption depresses cardiac activity and is a predisposing factor in hypertension. Fatty liver and cirrhosis are two significant adverse effects that are related to alcohol consumption. Liver disease represents the seventh most common cause of death in the United States.

Chronic alcohol use is associated with heart disease and heart failure. This despite the fact that low doses of alcohol may actually reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Alcohol addiction is a socially accepted disease. High powered Martini lunches prove that point.

Two botanicals whose hepato-protective function may help everyday drinkers of wine, beer, sake and hard alcohol are highly recommended. These herbs are Milk Thistle and Picroliv

 

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