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Though traditionally considered a depressant, alcohol actually has a wide spectrum of contradictory effects. It may depress or stimulate, tranquilize or agitate. Medically, alcohol was long prescribed as a tonic, a sedative, and a soporific. Its traditional role in medicines has now been taken over by barbiturates, minor tranquilizers, and other sedatives and hypnotics.

Alcohol is a clear colorless liquid found in beer, wine, and liquor. Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is used for human consumption. Some drinks have more alcohol than others. Beer has the least amount, wine has more than twice that of beer, and liquor has the highest content of all-up to eight times that of beer.

There have always been people that have used alcohol. The ancient Greeks and Romans drank it. The lords and serfs in the Middle Ages drank it. And when the Puritans came to America in 1620, they brought the practice of drinking alcohol with them. In these early days clean drinking water was very hard to find. Everyone drank alcohol with their meals.

Alcohol was more than just another drink. It was a way to celebrate important events such as a new house, the fall harvest, weddings, and funerals. It was also used as medicine to ease pain, bring down fever, or to soothe an upset stomach.

In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution made it illegal to produce, sell, or ship alcohol in the United States. This period was called Prohibition. Only thirteen years later, on December 5, 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment was voted out. One rule remains constant. It is illegal to purchase or consume alcohol if you are below the age of 21.

In our society, alcohol is taken occasionally and in moderation with few undesirable effects by most users. Its potential for mental and physical harm, however, make it one of the most dangerous drugs to those who are addicted and those around them. An estimated 10 to 12 percent of all drinkers are alcoholics or problem drinkers.

Alcohol addiction is second only to nicotine addiction in its incidence and prevalence. Alcohol addicts are unable to refrain from the drug even though they decide to, want to, and try to quit drinking alcohol. The imminent danger of relapse is significant. Also consider the millions of drinkers that are not addicted but get roaring drunk from time to time. Alcohol is a gateway drug. It can lead to drinking problems and even drug problems.

When alcohol is consumed it goes directly into the stomach. Alcohol does not need to be digested. It goes straight from the stomach to intestines into the bloodstream. From there, it is carried to every portion of the body. The liver is then responsible for eliminating the alcohol from the body. It does this by changing the alcohol into water and carbon dioxide.

It takes the liver about one hour to process the alcohol from one drink. A person gets drunk or intoxicated by drinking alcohol faster than the liver can dispose of it. Alcohol addiction is utterly destructive to the human mind and similarly destructive to the human body. Overuse can lead to irreversible brain and liver damage. Most people know that alcohol can cause headaches and vomiting.

But alcohol can also hurt the heart, the liver, the kidneys, the brain, and the stomach. It can cause loss of memory and some kinds of cancer. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it is passed on to the developing fetus. This often can lead to physical or mental problems with the child.

One of the worst problems with alcohol is that people develop a tolerance to it. Withdrawal is the sick feeling drinkers get without alcohol-headaches, nausea, nervousness, confusion. It is very difficult to overcome these feelings and once someone has stopped drinking alcohol, they are considered a recovering alcoholic forever.

Alcohol is a significant factor in the "battered child or spouse" syndromes. In a high percentage of cases where someone is beaten so severely that hospitalization is required or death ensues, the perpetrator was drunk at the time. The relationship between alcohol and suicide is also very high.


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