How does alcohol 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 (illicit, prescription, over-the-counter or herbal).
For many people, a single drink of alcohol releases tension and reduces inhibition, 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 and reduced inhibition. Continued drinking increases these effects, and causes other effects, such as impaired attention, reduced muscle control, slowed reflexes, staggering gait, slurred speech and double or blurred vision. A severely intoxicated person may “black out,” and have no memory of what was said or done while drinking. Effects of extreme intoxication include inability to stand, vomiting, stupor, coma and death.
How long with the effects last?
It takes about one hour for the liver of a person weighing 70 kg (154 lbs.) to process and eliminate eight to 10 grams of alcohol, or about two-thirds of the alcohol contained in a standard drink. This rate is constant, no matter how much alcohol has been consumed, or what food or non-alcoholic beverages are taken.
Drinking heavily usually results in a “hangover,” beginning eight to 12 hours after the last drink. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, diarrhea, shakiness and vomiting. A hangover is caused in part by acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical that is created as alcohol is processed by your liver. Other causes include dehydration and changes in hormone levels.
Some people think that having a drink before bed helps them to get to sleep. While alcohol does bring on sleep more quickly, it disturbs sleep patterns, and causes wakefulness in the night.
What are the long-term health effects of drinking alcohol?
How alcohol affects you in the long term depends on how much and how often you drink.
For middle-aged and older adults, as little as one drink of alcohol every other day can help protect against heart disease. On the other hand, having three or more drinks per day increases the 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, appetite loss, vitamin deficiencies and infections. Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach, which can be painful and is potentially fatal. Alcoholic liver disease is a major cause of illness and death in North America. Alcohol also increases the risk of liver, throat, breast and other cancers.
Chronic use of alcohol can damage the brain, which can lead to dementia, difficulties with co-ordination 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 who are dependent on alcohol is six times that of the general population.
Although women’s average lifetime alcohol intake is less than half that of men, women are just as likely as men to develop alcohol-related diseases, and are twice as likely to die from these conditions.
Is alcohol addictive?
It can be. 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. Problem drinking is four times as common as severe alcohol dependence.
Physical dependence involves tolerance to alcohol’s effects, and withdrawal symptoms when drinking is stopped. As people develop tolerance, they need more and more alcohol to produce the desired effect. People who are physically dependent on alcohol can develop withdrawal symptoms, such as sleeplessness, tremors, nausea and seizures, within a few hours after their last drink. These symptoms can last from two to seven days and range from mild to severe, depending of the amount of alcohol consumed and the period of time over which it was used. Some people experience delirium tremens, or “the DTs,” five to six days after drinking stops. This dangerous syndrome consists of frightening hallucinations, extreme confusion, fever and racing heart. If left untreated, severe alcohol withdrawal can result in death.
Adapted from Do You Know . . . Alcohol © 2003, 2010 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health