I
ALCOHOL INTOXICATION
Alcohol-dependent persons are more
susceptible than others to a variety of
physical and mental disorders (see
alco-
hol-related disorders).
TREATMENT
Many problem drinkers require medical
help
in
overcoming
their
physical
withdrawal symptoms (detoxification)
when they stop drinking alcohol, fol-
lowed by long-term treatment. There
are
different
methods
of treatment,
which may be combined.
Psychological treatments for alcohol
dependence involve
psychotherapy
and
are
commonly carried out as
group
therapy.
Social
treatments
may
offer
practical help, such as with problems at
work, and tend to involve family mem-
bers in the process. Physical treatment
includes the use of
disulfiram
, a drug
that sensitizes the drinker to alcohol so
that he or she experiences unpleasant
side effects when drinking, or acam-
prosate, which helps to reduce craving.
Alcoholics Anonymous
and other self-
help organizations can provide support
and advice.
Alcoholics Anonymous
an antiseptic and a solvent.
Methanol,
also known as methyl alcohol, is a rela-
ted, highly toxic, substance.
MENTAL EFFECTS
Alcohol is a drug and produces a wide
range of mental and physical effects.
The effect of alcohol on the
central
nervous system
(the brain and spinal
cord) is as a depressant, decreasing its
activity and thereby reducing anxiety,
tension, and inhibitions. In moderate
amounts, alcohol produces a feeling of
relaxation, confidence, and sociability.
However, alcohol slows reactions, and
the more that is drunk, the greater
the impairment of concentration and
judgment.
Excessive
consumption
of
alcohol results in poisoning or acute
alcohol intoxication,
with effects ranging
from euphoria to unconsciousness.
PHYSICAL EFFECTS
Short-term physical effects include peri-
pheral
vasodilation
(widening of small
blood vessels), causing flushing and
increased flow of gastric juices, which
stimulates the appetite. Alcohol increa-
ses sexual confidence, but high levels
can cause
impotence.
Alcohol also acts as
a diuretic, increasing urine output.
In the long term, regular excessive
consumption of alcohol can cause
gas-
tritis
(inflammation and ulceration of
the stomach lining) and can lead to
alcohol-related disorders.
Heavy drinking
in the long term may also lead to
alcohol
dependence.
However, individuals who
drink regular, small amounts of alcohol,
(1-2 units (see
alcohol, unit of)
per day)
seem to have lower rates of
coronary
artery disease
and
stroke
than those who
abstain totally.
The consumption of alcohol during
pregnancy may result in
fetal alcohol syn-
drome, miscarriage,
or a disruption in
normal fetal development.
alcohol dependence
An illness characterized by habitual,
compulsive, long-term, heavy alcohol
consumption and the development of
withdrawal symptoms when drinking is
stopped suddenly.
CAUSES
Causative factors that interact in the
development
of alcohol
dependence
include: personality, environment, and
the addictive nature of alcohol. People
of an inadequate, insecure, or immature
personality are at greater risk. Environ-
mental factors are important, especially
the ready availability, affordability, and
widespread social acceptance of alco-
hol. Genetic factors may play a part in
causing alcohol dependence in some
cases, but it is now widely believed that
anyone, irrespective of personality, envi-
ronment,
or
genetic background,
is
capable of becoming dependent. Stress
is often a major factor in precipitating
heavy drinking.
DEVELOPMENT OF DEPENDENCE
Alcohol dependence usually develops in
four main stages that occur over a num-
ber of years and merge imperceptibly.
In the first phase, tolerance (being able
to drink more alcohol before experienc-
ing its effects) develops in the heavy
social drinker. In the second phase, the
drinker
experiences
memory
lapses
relating to events during the drinking
episodes. In the third phase, there is loss
of control over alcohol consumption.
The final phase is characterized by pro-
longed
binges
of intoxication,
and
mental or physical complications.
SYMPTOMS AND EFFECTS
Behavioural
symptoms
of
alcohol
dependence are varied, and they can
include grandiose, aggressive, or furtive
behaviour; personality changes (such as
irritability,
jealousy,
or
uncontrolled
anger); neglect of food intake and per-
sonal appearance; and lengthy periods
of intoxication.
Physical symptoms of the condition
may include nausea, vomiting, or shak-
ing in the morning; abdominal pain;
cramps; numbness or tingling; weak-
ness in the legs and hands; enlarged
blood vessels
in the
face;
irregular
pulse; unsteadiness; confusion; memory
lapses; and incontinence. Sudden with-
drawal
from
alcohol
may
lead
to
delirium tremens
(severe shakes, halluci-
nations, and convulsions).
A worldwide,
independent,
self-help
organization that is operated locally by
people working on a voluntary basis to
overcome
alcohol dependence.
Regular
group
meetings
are
held in which
members are encouraged to help one
another to stay sober by sharing their
experiences
openly and by
offering
support and advice.
alcohol intoxication
The condition that results from consum-
ing an excessive amount of
alcohol
,
often over a relatively short period.
ALCOHOL
AND PREGNANCY
The damage to a fetus by alcohol intake
during pregnancy has been recognized only
recently. Intake of more that two units (see
alcohol, unit of
)
per day increases the risk of
fetal alcohol syndrome
(consisting offacial
abnormalities such as
cleft lip and palate
,
heart defects, abnormal limb development,
and lower-than-average intelligence). The
risk of miscarriage is also increased. Binge
drinking can have the same effect, even if
the mother drinks little otherwise. Because
a proportion of the alcohol reaches the
baby, there is a risk that even small
amounts can disrupt normal development
(causing, for example, low birth weight).
Fetal alcohol syndrome
An affected baby is abnormally small, with small
eyes and a small jaw. He or she may also suffer
from heart defects or a cleft lip and palate, may
suckle poorly, sleep badly, and be irritable.
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