| The Dangers of Alcohol |


What is alcohol?

  • a colorless, volatile and flammable liquid that is the intoxicating constituent of wine, beer, spirits, and other drinks, and is also used as an industrial solvent and as fuel

Essential Question

Why do people get "addicted" to alcohol?


Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Here are some ways people can become addicted to alcohol.

How alcohol can make you drunk.

Ingredients and Brains.

When you drink alcohol, the water-soluble ethanol it contains has a free pass throughout your body. After it enters your digestive system, it takes a ride in your bloodstream, passes through cell membranes and strolls through the heart. It especially likes to hang out in the brain, where it becomes a central nervous system depressant. While in the brain, ethanol wanders around, causes feel-good dopamine to be released and links up with nerve receptors.

Of these receptors, ethanol particularly binds to glutamate, a neurotransmitter that normally excites neurons. Ethanol doesn't allow the glutamate to become active and this makes the brain slower to respond to stimuli. Ethanol also binds to gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Unlike its stinginess with glutamate, ethanol activates GABA receptors. These receptors make a person feel calm and sleepy so the brain's function slows even further [source: Inglis-Arkell]. Of course, the severity of one's drunkenness is dependent on other factors, too. Gender, age, weight -- even what you had for dinner -- can all play a role in how much alcohol it takes to become intoxicated [source: Beck].


Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may: Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)


In this series on alcoholism, I described alcoholism as a specific type of addiction. We answered the question, "How do you get addicted to alcohol?" There are biological, psychological and socio-cultural, reasons that people can become addicted to alcohol.