The Dangers of Alcohol and Other Drugs

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Drinking alcoholic beverages is an accepted social activity. Consumed in moderate amounts, alcohol relaxes you, stimulates your appetite, and produces mild euphoria. It also loosens inhibitions, making you feel more friendly and outgoing. While moderate drinking is not detrimental to your health, excessive drinking (defined as four drinks or more per day) or binge drinking (defined as four drinks at one sitting) can eventually lead to alcoholism and other serious health problems. There is evidence that some people have an inherited predisposition toward alcoholism. The disorders produced by alcoholism are very costly in terms of human suffering and economic hardship.

According to scientific research, the incidence of heart disease in men who consume a moderate amount of alcohol (two drinks a day or less) is lower than in men who do not drink. But there is not much difference between moderate drinking and heavy drinking. A typical drink is 5 ounces of wine, 1V/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, 12 ounces of wine cooler, or 12 ounces of beer (see page 24). Although moderate drinking may reduce your risk of heart disease, doctors do not recommend drinking alcohol because it carries many health risks, including cancer of the liver, mouth, throat, and esophagus. Excessive alcohol consumption also increases your chances of having an accident, makes you more prone to violence, and makes you more apt to engage in risky behaviors such as illicit drug use or unsafe sex (see page 111). Nutritional deficiencies and even malnutrition also can result from overconsumption of alcohol.

Alcohol affects every organ in your body, even in moderate amounts, but overconsumption takes its most serious toll on the liver, heart, and brain. When you drink alcohol, some of the alcohol is absorbed in your stomach, but most enters the small intestine, where it passes into the bloodstream, which carries it throughout your body. As alcohol enters your brain, it numbs nerve cells, slowing down their ability to send messages to your body. If you continue to drink, the nerve centers in the brain may lose control over speech, vision, balance, and judgment, and you may have a blackout.

Alcohol depresses the activity of your heart muscle; the heart compensates by quickening your pulse. Enzymes in the liver break down alcohol, but the alcohol

Healthy Man interferes with the natural breakdown of fats in the liver. When you drink excessively, fats accumulate in the liver, resulting in a condition known as fatty liver, the first step—and the only reversible one—in the continuum of alcoholic liver disease. The next phase, early fibrosis, happens when fibrous scar tissue appears around the central veins in the liver and impairs liver function. Continued heavy drinking rapidly produces the final two stages of liver disease: alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Alcoholic hepatitis produces jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes), appetite and weight loss, fever, an enlarged and inflamed liver, and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Permanent abstinence from alcohol is the only cure for alcoholic hepatitis.

The hallmark feature of cirrhosis of the liver is the presence of scar tissue that destroys the normal structure of the liver. The liver can no longer remove toxins from the blood, and the toxins accumulate in the bloodstream. Cirrhosis usually leads to liver failure or liver cancer.

Other long-term effects of excessive drinking include inflammation of the pancreas, bleeding in the stomach and intestinal tract, obstruction of blood flow to the liver, varicose veins in the esophagus (the muscular passage that leads from the mouth to the stomach), and heart failure.

Alcohol is not the only drug that is easy to abuse. Men use a number of other recreational drugs—marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, inhalants, hallucinogens, tranquilizers, designer drugs such as ecstasy, and heroin and other opiates. All carry certain risks, some deadly. Marijuana has received much publicity for its alleged medical uses, but that fact does not mean that marijuana is risk-free. Marijuana affects short-term memory, impairs the ability to concentrate, inhibits alertness and reaction time (making driving dangerous), and reduces athletic performance. Prolonged use can irritate the upper respiratory system, making you more susceptible to respiratory infections. Marijuana smoke also contains some of the same cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarettes.

Cocaine is a dangerous stimulant that boosts the heart rate while constricting the blood vessels, increasing your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, seizure, or an abnormal heart rhythm. While usually inhaled as a powder, cocaine is sometimes injected. In another form known as crack, cocaine can be smoked. Another class of stimulants, amphetamines (also known as speed or uppers), are prescription drugs taken in pill form that may boost energy and alertness, but also produce rapid heartbeat and can raise the blood pressure so dangerously high that a stroke can occur. Habitual use of amphetamines can cause addiction. In general, stimulants can cause agitation, dilation of the pupils of the eye, visual and auditory hallucinations, seizures, and depression of the respiratory system.

Young boys may be tempted to inhale the fumes of glue, typewriter correction fluid, nail polish remover, or household cleaning products because of the availability of an easy "high." Sniffing such highly toxic fumes produces euphoria

Dangers of Alcohol and Other Drugs

Healthy Man

24 but also can damage the nerves that control breathing and can cause the heart to

The stop suddenly, leading to coma or death, even in first-time users.

Hallucinogens such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline create dreamlike visual hallucinations and unexplained bizarre behavior that may mimic psychosis. These drugs can foster psychological dependence. Hallucinogenic plants such as peyote have similar effects.

The most common opiates, including heroin, morphine, and codeine, are highly addictive compounds taken to acquire a feeling of profound well-being. Undesirable effects include depression of the respiratory system and swelling of the brain. When injected, these drugs increase the risk for blood clots, inflamed veins, and transmission of blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis (see page 191) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Overdoses of these drugs may lead to seizures, coma, and death from the sudden stopping of

How Much Alcohol Is in One Drink?

The type of alcohol that is found in most alcoholic drinks is ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol or grain alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a given drink can vary considerably. Hard liquors such as whiskey, gin, vodka, and brandy are made up of about 40 to 50 percent pure alcohol (80 to 100 proof). Beer has about a 4 percent alcohol content and wine 14 percent, but beer and wine are typically served in larger portions than are distilled spirits. So, although the proportion of alcohol varies, the actual alcohol intake is about the same. Having some food in your stomach will delay the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. Also, watery drinks such as beer will be absorbed more slowly than drinks, such as hard liquor, in which the alcohol is more concentrated.

• Hard liquor: 40-50 percent

Wine 5 ounces

Hard Liquor 11/2 ounces

Wine Cooler 12 ounces

Beer 12 ounces

Wine 5 ounces

Hard Liquor 11/2 ounces

Wine Cooler 12 ounces

Beer 12 ounces

Different Drinks: Same Amount of Alcohol

Ounce for ounce the alcohol content varies widely from one alcoholic beverage to another. A 5-ounce glass of wine contains about the same amount of alcohol as a mixed drink with 1 V2 ounces of 80-proof liquor or a 12-ounce wine cooler or glass of beer.

the heart or the inhalation of vomit, which can cause suffocation. Withdrawal from these substances produces serious effects such as anxiety, severe diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and seizures.

It is also possible to become addicted to prescription drugs that you may have received for a medical purpose. Drugs that may become habit-forming include narcotic painkillers prescribed for conditions such as chronic back pain or taken after surgery, or sedatives or tranquilizers prescribed for chronic insomnia or anxiety. Ask your doctor about the potential for addiction when he or she prescribes any medication. Always take medication according to your doctor's instructions and only for the period of time specified on the prescription.

Any type of drug, including alcohol, has the potential to alter your judgment and perception and increase your chances of having a motor vehicle collision or other type of accident. Alcohol and other drug use also is linked with higher incidences of homicide and suicide in men. Moderation is the key when it comes to the use of alcohol (see previous page). Experimentation with other recreational drugs is a risky behavior that can increase your chances of continued substance abuse, accidental injury, and death.

Dangers of Alcohol and Other Drugs

The Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

The spectrum of behaviors that gradually lead to alcohol or drug abuse and addiction begins with experimentation, usually in adolescence. Experimentation progresses to casual use, which can easily become regular use, heavy use, abuse, and finally dependence. Once a person becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, he often conceals his use, abandoning family and friends in favor of the social group that abuses the substance. The only way out of the cycle of drug dependence is abstinence, fortified by a formal substance abuse treatment program. Relapse is not uncommon following treatment. The warning signs of substance abuse vary, depending on the substance being used. In general, however, certain behaviors such as the following may indicate a problem with alcohol or another drug. Call your doctor, an employee assistance program, or a substance abuse hot line if you or anyone you know displays any of the following warning signs:

• absenteeism or a decline in quality of work at job or school

• uncharacteristic outbreaks of temper

• avoidance of responsibility

• deterioration of appearance and grooming

• wearing sunglasses indoors or at night, or a glazed appearance to the eyes

• wearing only long-sleeved shirts, even in hot weather

• repeatedly borrowing money

• stealing from home or employer

• secretive behavior, including frequent, unexplained trips to the rest room or basement

• acquaintance with known drug abusers

Healthy Man

How to Treat a Hangover

A hangover manifests itself as a combination of symptoms, including headache, dry mouth, and mild dizziness. It is still unclear exactly why overindulging in alcohol produces a hangover, but several factors come into play. Alcohol causes your body to lose water by stimulating your kidneys to excrete more water than you drink, resulting in dehydration. The more alcohol you drink, the more water passes out of your body. Alcohol also widens blood vessels, and the widening of vessels around the brain may cause pain, much as it does in a migraine headache.

Once you have a hangover, there isn't very much you can do to make yourself feel better. You just may have to let it run its course. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids, such as water, fruit juice, or bland soda. Avoid drinking coffee because the caffeine it contains will make you even more dehydrated. Never fight a hangover by having another alcoholic drink in the morning because your body will take even longer to eliminate the alcohol circulating in your bloodstream. Use an over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen if you have a headache, but remember that these painkillers can irritate your stomach, and excessive doses of acetaminophen may be toxic to your liver when combined with alcohol (see warning box below).

The best way to handle a hangover is to avoid getting one by not drinking too much in the first place. Always have a couple of glasses of water with your drinks, and drink more water before going to bed to avoid becoming dehydrated.

The Effects of Alcohol on Your Sexual Performance

Social drinking lowers your inhibitions and may make you feel more ready to have sex, but too much alcohol can actually impair your sexual function. Alcohol is neither an aphrodisiac nor a stimulant. It is a central nervous system depressant that slows down your responses, making it harder to get an erection or to ejaculate. Drinking alcohol also can impair your judgment, making you less likely to practice safer sex (see page 181).

But the sexual problems that can arise after having a few drinks are mild compared with the effects of chronic alcoholism on your body. Alcoholism can obstruct the blood supply to the nerves in the penis, resulting in erectile dysfunction (see page 146). The liver damage caused by alcohol can increase the levels of the female hormone estrogen and lower the levels of the male hormone testosterone in your body, leading to breast enlargement, shrunken testicles, and a reduced sperm count.

Warning! Acetaminophen and Alcohol Can Cause Liver Damage

Taking doses of a painkiller containing acetaminophen that are in excess of those recommended on the package can cause serious liver damage if you regularly consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Never take more than six doses of regular-strength acetaminophen in 24 hours if you consume moderate amounts of alcohol regularly.

If you have a problem getting or maintaining an erection and you think it may be related to excessive alcohol consumption, cut back on your drinking for a few weeks to see if your ability to have an erection improves. You need to get help for your drinking problem. Ask your doctor what kind of alcohol-treatment programs are in your community, or call the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Hazards of


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