What is alcohol?
Most of us have some idea of what alcohol is. In its most basic form, alcohol is a clear colorless liquid found in alcoholic beverages. Alcohol in alcoholic beverages is often made from fermentation of sugars and/or starches in grains. But what is the chemical composition of alcohol? And how does it affect the body?
Alcohol, or ethanol, is also known as grain alcohol, ethyl alcohol, or drinking alcohol. Ethanol, which can cause intoxication, is chemically abbreviated by the structural formula CH3CH2O. Consuming alcoholic beverages is the most frequent way ethanol is taken into the body. The effects of alcohol vary by individual, and play some role in how people become problem drinkers, or not.
Alcohol has a psychoactive effect on the body. In fact, the chemical compound ethanol is the agent that makes alcoholic drinks intoxicating, and is one of the most abused drugs in the world. Other than in alcoholic beverages, alcohol has also other medical uses. Therapeutic uses of alcohol include its use as an antiseptic, solvent, or treatment for poisoning by other alcohols like methanol. In addition, some individuals can experience benefits from drinking alcohol, especially with regard to prevention of thrombosis of the heart.
Still, alcohol abuse usually affects the mind and the body in several adverse ways. One example is acute alcohol intoxication. Once alcohol reaches low concentrations in the body, alcohol causes euphoria, excitement and reduced attention span. At increased concentrations, alcohol causes inabilities to coordinate body movements, lowered reflexes and nausea and vomiting. Higher doses of alcohol can cause talking difficulties, amnesia and hypothermia and grade-I anesthesia.
Overdose from alcohol (termed as alcohol poisoning) can result from excess consumption of alcoholic beverages, or consumption of beverage with very high concentration of ethanol. Alcohol overdose happens when the body is overwhelmed by the large amount of alcohol in the body that the brain’s life supporting functions starts to shut down. Alcohol overdose causes unconsciousness and lowered heart and breathing rate that can lead to death .Even if you survive an alcohol overdose, you might still suffer from long-lasting brain damage.
The amount of alcohol concentration in the bloodstream is often measured in terms like BAC or Blood Alcohol Content. BAC measures the weight of alcohol in a certain volume of blood which is expressed in percentage. For example, a reading of 0.10% means that one-tenth of the person’s blood is alcohol. Higher BAC readings mean that there is more alcohol in the body that results to higher degrees of impairment and higher risk of harm. BAC is often used to objectively measure alcohol levels in the body.
Binge drinking is the main reason for alcohol overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is consuming 5 drinks and more in men and 4 drinks or more in women in a span of 2 hours. A BAC of 0.08% and above is indicative of binge drinking. Binge drinking is a dangerous practice that can lead to alcohol dependency, addiction and overdose.
Overdose of alcohol causes symptoms such as:
- clammy skin
- confusion, vomiting and seizures
- dulled responses
- low body temperature
- slow and irregular breathing
- unconsciousness or difficulty remaining conscious
High alcohol levels in the blood can depress respiratory activity and results to general hypotension that leads to coma and eventual death. A person with alcohol overdose can also die from hyperthermia, choking on his own vomit, irregular or absent heartbeat or breathing and too low blood sugar.
Cold showers, coffee or tea, or walking cannot reverse effects of alcohol overdose. Sleep it off can prove deadly because alcohol overdose may still progress as alcohol is still absorbed in the gut. In case you feel or witness signs and symptoms of alcohol overdose, you need to call emergency medical services immediately.
Call 911 or Poison Control Center for immediate medical assistance. While waiting, try to keep the victim awake and sitting up. If passed out, turn the victim on his side to prevent choking from vomit. Make sure to keep the victim warm. Do not leave the victim until medical assistance arrives.
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