What is alcohol?
From a chemical point of view, there are different alcohols. When we talk about alcohol in everyday life, we usually mean the substance in alcoholic beverages, which has an intoxicating effect and can cause dependence. This “drinking alcohol” is ethanol – a colorless, combustible substance that has a sharp-burning taste. Drinking alcohol is usually produced from various vegetable substances such as grapes or barley. Alcohol is not only contained in beverages but also in cleaning and disinfecting agents and solvents.
Why do people drink alcohol?
People drink alcohol: out of pleasure, to gain exciting experiences, and as a coping strategy to deal with fears, bad feelings, and stress. In small amounts, alcohol has a relaxing, anxiolytic, and stimulating effect. In addition, it can improve mood in the short term, helps overcome insecurity as well as anxiety, and distances itself from negative feelings.
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Another motive for drinking alcohol is social influences. This includes several levels:
- Society and cultural norms play a role. In Germany, alcohol consumption is accepted and even integrated into numerous traditions like a ritual. On the birthday, for example, sparkling wine is often used.
- The family, as well as the circle of friends, the school, and the working environment, also have an influence on the drinking behavior. For example, people often drink alcohol at parties with others.
- Some people drink alcohol because they fear they will otherwise be excluded from a particular group.
- Finally, advertising can also affect alcohol consumption.
How is alcohol absorbed in the body?
Alcohol enters the blood mainly through the mucous membrane of the small intestine. Thus, the alcohol is distributed within a few minutes in the bloodstream and finally in the entire body water. Since the human body is largely made up of water, most tissues in the body and thus organs such as the heart, brain, and muscles are exposed to alcohol. In organs such as the liver and brain, alcohol arrives faster than in other organs of the body. The maximum blood alcohol concentration is reached approximately 45 to 75 minutes after ingestion.
What does alcohol do in the brain?
Alcohol is a cell poison. If you take it in, it spreads throughout the body. Some organs are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others, such as the brain. There, alcohol influences various messenger substances that are responsible for transmitting information between neurons. Alcohol has an inhibitory or dampening effect on the transmission of information. The perception and responsiveness are slowed down when you have drunk alcohol. By absorbing alcohol, the reward system in the brain is also activated by an influence on messenger substances.
In small amounts, alcohol has a mood-lifting, relaxing, and anxiolytic effect. A feeling of well-being arises. Alcohol is numbing in large quantities. The inhibitory effect usually decreases again when the alcohol is broken down in the body.
How is alcohol broken down in the body?
A small part of the alcohol is exhaled and excreted through the skin and kidneys. However, the body processes the majority into water and carbon dioxide. The degradation begins in the mucous membrane of the stomach before the alcohol enters the blood. More than 90 percent of the alcohol breaks down the liver.
To what extent is the consumption of alcohol low risk?
There is no completely risk-free alcohol consumption. Low-risk could pertain to the amount of alcohol consumed. So if you have drunk a relatively small amount of alcohol, the risk of harmful effects on physical and mental health is relatively low.
The German Centre for Addiction (DHS) set thresholds, which can only be used for rough guidance. Low-risk alcohol consumption is therefore referred to when
- Women drink less than 12 grams of pure alcohol daily,
- Men drink less than 24 grams of pure alcohol daily.