The effects of alcohol

Nov 182004
Authors: Lauren Mattingly

On a Friday or Saturday night at the bars or at a party, the thought of how alcohol negatively affects the body may not cross many students' minds.

However, Pam McCracken, director of CSU's Center for Drug and Alcohol Education, said maybe it should.

Regardless of the potential happy, relaxed and euphoric sensation drinking can bring, alcohol is a depressant and can have both short-term and long-term effects on the body, she said.

"Every part of your body can face some type of problem," McCracken said. "One night of drinking can damage the liver. If you keep it up, that damage will build up, but if you stop, the liver may repair."

According to a pamphlet about the effects of alcohol from Hartshorn Health Service, heavy drinkers can face substantial brain damage, liver cirrhosis and immune system problems. Personal safety can also be put in jeopardy when drinkers' minds are not functioning clearly.

"I know heavy drinking can harm the body, but I feel that I don't drink often enough to cause permanent damage," said Adam Slack, a senior liberal arts major.

There are several factors that must be taken into account when drinking, such as at what age someone started drinking, how many years someone has been drinking, frequency of drinking, current health and family history.

"Short-term effects depress the brain centers and neurological functions," said Ernest Chavez, professor and chair in the Department of Psychology.

For every drink that enters the body, it takes one hour to metabolize depending on the consumer's stature, gender and previous food consumption, according to the pamphlet.

"One drink is a 12-ounce beer, five ounces of wine, a single jigger of brandy or one-and-a-half ounces of spirits," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Web site,

When someone drinks at a faster rate, the body cannot metabolize the alcohol, which is why people get drunk, McCracken said. Alcohol affects the brain after a short time.

The drunken feeling comes from parts of the body's central nervous system, which numbs up and slows down motor abilities in response to alcohol, Chavez said. Alcohol impairs hearing, vision, pain perception, sexual performance and can lead to loss of consciousness.

"The reason people black out is it's the bodies attempt to save itself from alcohol overload. The body shuts down so it can't receive any more liquor and begins to metabolize the alcohol in the system," Chavez said.

If someone goes to bed with too much alcohol in their system they will not get proper sleep because it will disrupt the REM cycle, the deepest sleep cycle, McCracken said. No enough adequate sleep can weaken the immune system and add to a hangover. The body may feel recuperated the morning after but it takes about 24 hours for the brain and body to fully recover from alcohol's effects, she said.

"Being younger, students are at an advantage opposed to older people because their bodies are more efficient in getting up the next morning or day," McCracken said.

Drinking and having a hangover can create a ripple effect in someone's body and life. Both McCracken and Chavez believe there is a direct correlation between consumption of alcoholic beverages and GPA.

This correlation is not due to brain damage from drinking or that the students who party hard are not bright, but rather drinking getting in the way of motivation, going to class and caring, which in turn affects performance on the job, McCracken said.

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