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Attributes/effects of alcohol

Alcohol is a gifted chemical. Depending on how much is consumed, it can act as a food, a drug or a poison. It has positive and negative effects.

Negative Effects


Effects can be grouped into immediate and long-term:

Immediate Effects

bulletDehydration that can cause headaches, dry mouth, thirst, lethargy and dizziness. Alcohol increases the body's output of urine. Drinking about 50 g of alcohol (about 4-5 standard drinks) causes the loss of 600 to 1000 mL over several hours.
bulletGastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining, causing nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Alcohol directly irritates the stomach lining.
bulletDilation of blood vessels in the brain that can cause or add to headache, probably the most common symptom of a hangover.
bulletA depressive effect on the brain due to alcohol affecting the levels of several brain chemicals, an effect that can last for up to 16 hours after the blood alcohol level has returned to normal.
bulletInterference with the secretion of a number of hormones that may reduce the quality of sleep and cause disruption in circadian rhythms possibly inducing a 'jet lag' like effect.

Long Term Effects. Prolonged use causes massive memory loss, disintegration of vital organs, vocabulary and language impairment, disintegration of the muscular system, eventual loss of brain cells, loss of balance and coordination, and a reduced life expectancy.

In some instances it can be helpful to the cardiovascular system. Some studies show that those who drink in moderation have an additional two years expectancy.

Alcohol is a neurotoxic agent at lower doses than was previously recognised, and does in fact destroy brain cells. Even light to moderate drinking may impair such high-order cognitive processes as abstracting, adaptive ability, concept formation, and learning ability.

Memory suffers, too, and drinking interferes with the brain's ability to process new information and commit it to memory.

The following is from

Alcoholism is one of the major causes of nutritional deficiency in the United States. The most common deficiencies are of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamine, and folic acid. Deficiencies in these nutrients cause anaemia (low blood count) and neurologic problems. Korsakoff´s syndrome ("wet brain") is caused by nutrient deficiencies related to absorption problems caused by heavy use of alcohol, rather than by the drinking itself.

Alcohol intoxication also impairs two major organs involved in metabolism and nutrition: the liver and the pancreas. The liver detoxifies harmful substances and the pancreas regulates blood sugar and absorption of fat. Impairment of these two organs results in an imbalance of fluids, calories, and electrolytes.

Other complications include permanent liver damage (or cirrhosis), seizures, diabetes and severe malnutrition. Laboratory tests for protein, iron, and electrolytes may be indicated to determine if there is liver disease in addition to the alcohol problem. Post-menopausal women who are alcoholic are at high risk of osteoporosis and require calcium supplementation.


Under construction.


Positive Effects

Excerpts from an article by  (about June 03) See the complete article at 

Pre-menopausal women who drink a glass or two of wine or beer a day could significantly reduce their risk for type 2 diabetes, a new Harvard study claims.

Light drinking - a protective effect
Studying the effects of drinking various levels of alcohol, as well as differentiating between beer, wine and hard liquor consumption in a group of more than 100 000 women aged 25 to 42, the researchers found: Light drinking of wine and beer seems to have a protective effect on the women's risk for type 2 diabetes. Drinking hard liquor was not as beneficial.

"There are better preventive measures to lower the risk for type 2 diabetes, like not smoking and increasing physical activity - obesity is the overwhelming risk factor for the disease. But it appears that light to moderate drinking of wine or beer has a protective effect," says study co-author Goya Wannamethee.

The results of the study, which was supported by grants from the American National Institutes of Health, appear in the June 9 (2003) issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Creating the wrong impression
Dr Joseph Giangola, medical director of the Hackensack University Medical Center's Molly Diabetes Center in New Jersey, says, "This study provides interesting data, but the natural conclusion that people reach is, 'Let's go out and have a drink.' "

"Instead, I would rest on other large studies, where we know for certain that increasing physical activity and reducing weight are the best ways of reducing risk for diabetes," Giangola says.

No drinking, light drinking and hard liquor
After adjusting for other health factors such as smoking and physical activity, researchers found women who were light to moderate drinkers, which was classified as drinking one or two drinks daily, had a lower risk of developing the illness compared to women who didn't drink. Of interest was that the risk-reduction benefits of wine drinking seemed significantly higher than from drinking hard liquor.

The women who drank between one or two glasses of wine daily had a 40 percent reduction in risk for developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those who drank no wine. Those who drank a similar amount of beer had a 30 percent reduction in risk. Drinking the same amount of hard liquor did not bring a similar benefit - only a 20 percent reduction of risk.

Further, while those women who reported drinking more than two glasses or wine or beer daily still had a 22 percent reduction in risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared to non-drinkers, those who drank more than two drinks of hard liquor more than doubled their risk for the illness, the researchers found.

"The numbers are small, and we cannot say with certainty that the effects of wine are actually different from spirits in having an effect of lowering insulin level or other biological factors relating to diabetes," Wannamethee says.

Lifestyle characteristics
"The greater reduction seen for wine may be due to differences in lifestyle characteristics, which we weren't able to adjust adequately in the multivariate model," Wannamethee says. Wine drinkers reported a healthier lifestyle - thinner, non-smoking, more physically active and better educated - than those who drank beer or hard liquor, she adds.

Another reason for the lesser effects of hard liquor, Wannamethee says, could be that the small number of hard liquor drinkers in the study were quite heavy drinkers and had a much higher total alcohol intake than the heavy beer and wine drinkers.

General health

On the up-side for those people who enjoy drinking, studies have shown that moderate drinking, especially when the drink is taken with food, combined with good exercise, can relax the mind and body. 

Last updated 05 January 2006


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