Medical corner: Effects of alcohol

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kaitlyn Eaton
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron
Countless people use the common drug alcohol, in the form of adult beverages, to socialize, celebrate and even relax, not realizing the damaging and life changing consequences. 

To understand the effects of alcohol, one must look at how it directly affects the human body, both mentally and physically. 

Alcohol is classified as a depressant drug because it slows down the central nervous system, causing a decrease in motor coordination, reaction time and intellectual performance. 

Once swallowed, alcohol enters the stomach where about 20 percent is directly absorbed and can reach the brain within one minute. Almost all of the remaining 80 percent continues to the small intestine where small blood vessels carry it to the bloodstream. 

Alcohol is ultimately metabolized by the liver, where enzymes break down the alcohol. The liver can process one ounce of liquor or one standard drink in one hour. If you consume more than this, then your system becomes saturated and the excess will accumulate in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized. 

This can result in high blood alcohol concentrations hours after playing drinking games or pounding down a few rounds of shots. At high doses, alcohol can cause the respiratory system to drastically slow down and can lead to coma or even death. 

The organ most affected by alcohol is the liver. With moderate drinking, the liver can have plenty of time to process alcohol fairly safely. However, heavy drinking overtaxes the liver causing serious consequences. 

Fatty liver presents itself in the first stages of liver deterioration and interferes with the distribution of oxygen and nutrients to the liver cells. A liver clogged with fat causes liver cells to become less efficient at performing their necessary tasks. 

If this condition lasts long enough, the liver cells will die, forming fibrous scar tissue, which is the second stage of liver deterioration. Some liver cells can regenerate with good nutrition and abstinence from alcohol, however if the liver reaches the last stage of deterioration known as cirrhosis, the damage to the liver cells is almost never reversible.
The alcohol within several consumed beverages has many affects. Mentally it depresses the body and in some cases causes the body to be dependent on it. Physically, alcohol can cause long term effects, such as inhibiting the respiratory system, liver damage, and can even result in death. 

So next time you go out to celebrate, or have that one drink to relax, remember to drink responsibly for you and for your body.