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Pros vs. Cons
No one can deny that are both health and social pros to drinking. But there is a strong tendency for the cons to greatly outweigh those pros.

Pros
Cons

Health -

  1. Reduce risk of developing heart disease and conditions
  2. Reduce risk of dying of a heart attack
  3. Possibly reduce risk of certain kinds of strokes
  4. Lower risk of gallstones
  5. Possibly reduce risk of diabetes

Social -

  1. More assertive
  2. Gives sense of belonging
  3. Helps have a good time
  4. Ability to forget worries
  5. Helps to relax

Other -

  1. Enjoy the taste
  2. Enjoy the drunken feeling

Health -

  1. Cancer of the pancreas, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and liver, as well as breast cancer
  2. Pancreatitis, especially in people with high levels of triglycerides in their blood
  3. Sudden death in people with cardiovascular disease
  4. Heart muscle damage leading to heart failure
  5. Stroke
  6. Brain atrophy (shrinkage)
  7. Cirrhosis of the liver
  8. Miscarriage
  9. Fetal alcohol syndrome in unborn children, including impaired growth and nervous system development
  10. Injuries due to impaired motor skills
  11. Unhealthy weight gain or loss
  12. Severe dehydration
  13. Suicide
  14. Hangover/nausea
  15. Addiction
  16. Death due to alcohol poisoning

Social -

  1. Disrupts good sleep
  2. Guilt
  3. Embarrassment
  4. Upsets ability to fulfill responsibilities
  5. Fights, both physical and otherwise
  6. Depressant

Other -

  1. Monetary cost
  2. Illegal acts, especially those ending in fines and/or jail time
  3. Causing the death/injury of another person

Source fo some of the health benefits & risks: http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/SC/00024.html.

All in all, the cons can be avoided almost entirely and the pros can still be beneficial if one drinks in moderation. Often, the heavy consequences are caused by excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

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Blood Alcohol Concentration
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol in a person's blood, measured by weight per unit of volume. Typically, this measurement is converted to a percentage, such as .10 percent, which indicates that one-tenth of a percent of a person's blood is alcohol. Because alcohol in the bloodstream travels directly to the brain, cognitive function is affected, resulting in an increased risk of many kinds of injuries and hazards.

Research on the effects of alcohol has found that many important cognitive functions involved in driving (e.g., information processing, decision making, eye-hand coordination) are at least somewhat degraded in many individuals at BACs as low as .04%. Although it is not known how much any of these functions contribute to driving, other evidence obtained from carefully controlled studies of drivers in crashes indicates that at BACs above .08%, the risk of a crash begins to increase sharply.

Taken from http://www.hsrc.unc.edu/safety_info/alcohol/blood_alcohol_concentration.cfm.

This is an online chart for estimating BAC level quickly using your weight and the number of drinks consumed. SMART hands out weight-specific, color-coded cards at hall programs, so if you do not have one, attend a program!

Below is a table to find out what BAC numbers really mean in terms of feeling and effects. A "good buzz" is typically experienced when your BAC slowly rises to a level no higher than .06.

.02 Mellow feeling. Slight body warmth. Less inhibited. It is illegal for those under 21 to drive at this level of BAC, and can lead to a revoked license.
.05 Driving ability impaired.
.06 Judgment is somewhat impaired. People are less able to make rational decisions about their capacities.
.08 Definite impairment to driving and illegal to do so (DUI).
.10 Reaction time and muscle control is impaired. Social drinkers rarely, if ever, reach this BAC level. Noisy. Mood swings. Possibly embarrassing behavior.
.15 Balance and movement are substantially impaired. The person has difficulty with normal walking or talking although a person may think they are fine. Risk of injury. Risk of choking on vomit.
.20 "Alcohol blackout" likely in which person is unable to recall what happened while they were intoxicated.
.25 All mental, physical, and sensory functions impaired. Increased risk of asphyxiation from choking on your own vomit and of seriously injuring yourself by falling or other accidents.
.30 Little comprehension of where you are. Many people lose consciousness, either falling asleep or passing out.
.35 This BAC is similar to surgical anesthesia.
.40 Most people lose consciousness. Nerve centers controlling the heart slow down.
.45 Fatal BAC in about 50% of the population. Alcohol at this level can paralyze the portion of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate. Vital functions cease and the person dies of respiratory or cardiovascular failure. This can happen even when someone has passed out after drinking a large amount of alcohol very rapidly. Though the person is passed out, the alcohol in the stomach continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream causing a fatal dose to accumulate.

When a person consumes moderate amounts of alcohol slowly, the alcohol produces a mild "up" feeling (a "good buzz"). There is a point when drinking - the point of diminishing returns, which is a BAC no greater than .06 - when the buzz will not get better with more alcohol. In fact, drinking more alcohol at this point can lead to more negative feelings, like fatigue. This "up" feeling, followed by a "down" feeling if you drink too much, has been described as the biphasic response to alcohol.

Taken from http://www.gannett.cornell.edu/top10Topics/alcohol-tobacco-drugs/AOD/whatToKnow_alcohol.html.

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Statistics
Almost half of Americans 12 or older reported being current drinkers of alcohol, which translates to an estimated 109 million people (2001 survey). Of those people, one fifth participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey. Repeated heavy drinking was reported by 12.9 million of those 109 (5.7 percent of population). The highest prevalence of both binge and heavy drinking in 2001 was for young adults aged 18 to 25, with the peak occurring at age 21.

Approximately 14 million Americans (7.4 percent of population) meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. More than one-half of adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism. Approximately one in four children younger than 18 years old in the U.S. is exposed to to alcohol abuse or alcoholism in the family.

Taken from http://ncadistore.samhsa.gov/catalog/facts.aspx?topic=3.

Centre College
These results are based on the e-CHUG survey that 549 Centre students have taken from the Student Health Center website.

For freshman, the estimated highest BAC (blood alcohol concentration) during a typical week was .09, with the average number of drinks per month around 42. For sophomores and juniors, these numbers increase to a typical week's BAC at .11 and average number of drinks per month around 64. For seniors, these numbers drastically rise to a typical week's BAC at .15 and the average number of drinks per month around 90.

Freshman spent an average of $335 on alcohol per year, sophomores $489, juniors $654, and seniors spent nearly $800. Females on average spent almost exactly $100 less than males.

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Legal Issues
Centre College has its own alcohol policy that is strictly enforced by the Department of Public Safety and is often referred to as a "zero tolerance" policy. The use of alcoholic beverages by students under 21 and the use of illicit drugs are prohibited on campus and at campus-sponsored events. The College regards intoxication as irresponsible behavior both because of its effects on an individual's ability to exercise sound judgment and because of its potential threats to health and safety. The DPS and other officials are authorized to issue citations to those who are intoxicated in public.

The use of alcoholic beverages by students is a matter of individual choice and involves the student's acceptance or responsibility for whatever legal and personal consequences may ensue. Students who violate the standards of the drug and alcohol policy will be subject to disciplinary action, including possible suspension/expulsion. In addition, violators may be subject to prosecution or imprisonment and/or referral for mandatory treatment/educational services under establish laws, which make such violations misdemeanor or felony crimes. (The College does not accept legal liability for student violations of the law.) Specific guidelines are provided to students at the start of each fall term. Also, educational programs about drug and alcohol abuse are presented during new student orientation each year, and new students are required to complete an online alcohol education program before arriving on campus.

Adapted from Centre's website and the 2007-2008 handbook.

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Alcohol Poisoning
Some people comment that they enjoy being around people that are drunk simply because they like to laugh at their behavior. Passing out? Inevitable, and hilarious. But there is nothing funny about alcohol poisoning. There is nothing funny about asphyxiating on your own vomit or poisoning the respiratory center of the brain which can both result in death.

Binge drinking can be hazardous to everyone's health, not just the person consuming the alcohol. It can take a serious toll on mental health if you are the sober one trying to simultaneously take care of a vomiting roommate and study for a big exam. And sadly enough, most college students either do not recognize or choose to ignore the signs of alcohol poisoning, and too many say that they wish they would have sought medical attention for a friend. This leads to too many people feeling responsible for alcohol-related tragedies that could have been prevented.

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions altogether.

Since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach, it is common for someone who has drank excessive amounts of it to vomit. If respiratory functions are depressed or halted completely, the likelihood of choking on one's own vomit becomes a real danger, especially if the person is also unconscious.

Also, just because a person is passed out does not mean that their BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is stabilized. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestines continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is then very dangerous to assume that a person will be fine by sleeping it off.

Critical Signs for Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature, bluish skin color, paleness

What to do if You Suspect Alcohol Poisoning

  • Know danger signals (see above)
  • Do not wait for all symptoms to be present
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die
  • If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help - DO NOT worry about getting them in trouble! Their life is much more important!

Untreated Alcohol Poisoning

  • Victim can choke on their own vomit
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death

Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (often precursored by a bet or dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR A FRIEND WHO HAS HAD TOO MUCH TO DRINK! Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed - remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.

Taken from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/OtherAlcoholInformation/factsAboutAlcoholPoisoning.aspx.

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Myths
Myth #1: I can drink and still be in control.
Fact: Drinking impairs your judgment, which increases the likelihood that you will do something you'll regret later such as having unprotected sex, being involved in date rape, damaging property, or being victimized by others.

Myth #2: Drinking isn't all that dangerous.
Fact: One in three 18- to 24-year-olds admitted to emergency rooms for serious serious injuries is intoxicated. And alcohol is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drownings.

Myth #3: I can sober up quickly if I have to.
Fact: It takes about 3 hours to eliminate the alcohol content of two drinks, depending on your weight. Nothing can speed up this process, not even coffee or cold showers.

Myth #4: As a woman, it's okay for me to drink to keep up with my boyfriend.
Fact: Women process alcohol differently. No matter how much he drinks, if you drink the same amount you will be more intoxicated and more impaired.

Myth #5: I can manage to drive well enough after a few drinks.
Fact: About one-half of all fatal traffic crashes among 18- to 24-year-olds involve alcohol. If you are under 21, driving after drinking any alcohol is illegal and you could lose your license. The risk of a fatal crash for drivers with positive BACs compared with other drivers (i.e., the relative risk) increases with increasing BAC, and the risks increase more steeply for drivers younger than 21 than for older drivers.

Myth #6: I'd be better off if I learn to "hold my liquor."
Fact: If you have to drink increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to get a "buzz" or get "high," you are developing tolerance. Tolerance is actually a warning sign that you're developing more serious problems with alcohol.

Myth #7: Beer doesn't have as much alcohol as hard liquor.
Fact: A 12-ounce bottle of beer has the same amount of alcohol as a standard shot of 80-proof liquor (either straight or in a mixed drink) or 5 ounces of wine.

Taken from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/CollegeStudents/alcoholMyths.aspx.

Myth #8: Beer before liquor, never been sicker - liquor before beer, you're in the clear.
Fact: This is an old urban legend used to explain why people get sick when they drink, but it's just not true. Your BAC is what determines how drunk you are, and it doesn't matter what type of alcohol you choose to consume. A drink is a drink, and too much of any combination can make you sick.

Myth #9: Everyone who gets drunk acts the same.
Fact: There are lots of factors that affect the body's reactions to alcohol, including weight, age, gender, body chemistry, genetics, amount of food and alcohol consumed, etc. The way one person reacts can be vastly different from how another person reacts. You can't predict how alcohol will affect you.

Myth #10: Alcohol makes sex better.
Fact: Alcohol can make people feel less uncomfortable in a social situation, but the reality is that alcohol can actually keep guys from getting or keeping an erection, and it can lower a girls' sex drives, too. More importantly, alcohol can affect your decision-making ability: You might put yourself in a risky situation; you might think you're ready to have sex when you're not; you might forget to use a condom - which can result in pregnancy and/or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Myth #11: If I drink too much, the worst that can happen is I get my stomach pumped.
Fact: If alcohol is drank excessively, it can lead to alcohol poisoning which can cause death. Also, drinking excessively can cause vomiting. When drunk and unconscious a person can inhale fluids that have been vomited, resulting in death by asphyxiation. Long-term, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction (alcoholism), and can even cause a heart attack or stroke.

Taken from http://www.checkyourself.org/AlcoholMyths.aspx.

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Health/Body Effects


Picture source: http://www.girlshealth.gov/substance/alcohol.htm.

Liver
The earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease is called "fatty liver." In this condition, the liver cells become swollen with fat globules and water. If drinking is stopped at this point, the liver is capable of healing itself.

Cirrhosis can develop from exposure to harmful chemicals, like alcohol. Alcoholic cirrhosis causes the cells of the liver to be damaged beyond repair. As liver cells die, scar tissue forms. Normally, toxins and wastes in the blood get filtered out when blood passes through the liver. If scar tissue keeps blood from flowing normally through the liver, the blood doesn't get filtered. Toxins and wastes can build up in the body. This can lead to mental confusion, agitation, or tremors (shaking). In serious cases it can even lead to a coma. Once scarring has progressed, nothing can be done to repair the liver or cure cirrhosis. Treatment is aimed at avoiding further damage to to the liver and preventing and treating complications such as bleeding from broken blood vessels. Liver transplantation is the only option.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, which causes soreness and swelling. While it can be caused by many things, overexposure to alcohol is at the top of the list. Advanced liver damage makes it difficult for your body to break down waste products in your blood, therefore causing jaundice (condition causing yellowish-orange skin). Wastes in the bloodstream can also cause itching, nausea, fever, and body aches.

Heart
While some research has shown that moderate drinking can provide health benefits for the heart, it can still create health risks such as a slight increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure from heavy drinking makes the heart work harder than it needs to and can be a key risk factor for coronary heart disease (which can lead to heart attacks and strokes).

Binge drinking can also lead to stroke and other serious health problems. These other problems can include cardiomyopathy (disease of heart muscle), cardiac arrythmia (abnormal contraction patterns of the heart), and sudden cardiac death.

Stomach
After ingestion, alcohol travels down the esophagus into the stomach, where some of it is absorbed into your bloodstream. The unabsorbed alcohol continues to move throught he GI tract. The majority of it will enter the small intestine and get absorbed into the bloodstream through the walls there, or it can stay in the stomach and cause irritation.

Alcohol acts as an irritant and increases digestive juices (hydrochloric acid) that are secreted from the stomach lining. Intoxicating amounts of alcohol can halt digestive processes, robbing the body of vital vitamins and minerals. Chronic irritation may lead to damage to the lining of the stomach.

Taking alcohol along with medication that is known to cause irritation (such as aspirin) can cause gastritis (inflammation of stomach lining), ulcers, and severe bleeding.

Brain
It only takes 30 seconds for the first amounts of alcohol to reach the brain after ingestion. Once there, alcohol acts primarily on nerve cells deep in the brain.

Alcohol acts as a depressant to the central nervous system and causes some neurotransmitters (enables nerves to "talk" to each other by electrical impulse) to become inhibited. Judgment and coordination, two processes of the central nervous system, become impaired.

Heavy drinking can inhibit the firing of the nerve cells that control breathing, a condition known as respiratory depression. This condition can be fatal. Even if the inhibition of the respiratory nerve cells does not cause death, drinking excessive alcohol may cause vomiting. When drunk and unconscious, a person may inhale fluids that have been vomited, resulting in death by asphyxiation.

Taken from http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/CollegeStudents/interactiveBody.aspx.

 

Click image below to get a good visual on the long term health effects of alcohol.

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Alcohol Addiction
Alcholism includes the following four symptoms:

  1. Craving - a strong urge/need to drink
  2. Loss of control - unable to stop drinking once begun
  3. Physical dependence - withdrawal symptoms (e.g., nausea, sweating, shakiness, and ansiety)after stopping drinking
  4. Tolerance - need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get a buzz

It is a disease, which means that it is chronic and lasts a full lifetime. The development of it is greatly influenced by a person's genes, as well as their lifestyle (e.g., amount of stress, peer pressure, etc.). The craving for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water, and an alcohol will continue to drink despite serious family, health, or legal problems.

This disease has no cure, but it can be treated through counseling and medication. While it works for many different people, there are still varying amounts of success when it comes to treatment. The longer a person stays sober, the greater the chance that they will stay sober. Also, if a person is an alcoholic, the problem drinker cannot just "cut down" by themself!

You do not have to be an alcoholic to experience problems from personal alcohol abuse. You can drink too much, too often and still not be dependent on it. Some of the problems related to this type of abuse are not being able to meet responsibilities, drunk-driving arrests, car crashes, and drinking-related medical conditions.

In the United States, about 1 in every 12 adults (17.6 million people) abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. While alcohol abuse and alcoholism cut across gender, race, and nationality, men are more likely to suffer from either of these two things than women. Alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18-25, and people who start drinking earlier (age 14 or younger) are at a much higher risk than those that wait until they are around legal drinking age or after.

Do you feel like you need to cut down on your drinking? Are you unsure if you are drinking too much or are at a risk for alcoholism/alcohol abuse? Check out this website for tips on how to cut down.

If an alcoholic is unwilling to get help, there are steps suggested by alcohlism treatment specialists to help an alcoholic get treatment:

  1. Stop all "cover ups." Family members often make excuses to others or try to protect the alcoholic from the results of his or her drinking. It is important to stop this so that they experience the full consequences of drinking.
  2. Time your intervention. The best time to talk to a drinker is shortly after an alcohol-related problem has occurred. Choose a time when he or she is sober, both of you are fairly calm, and you have a chance to talk in private.
  3. Be specific. Tell them that you are worried about their drinking. Use examples of the ways in which drinking has caused problems, including the most recent incident.
  4. State the results. Explain to the drinker what you will do if he or she does not get help. This is not a punishment for them, but a protection of yourself from their problems. What you say may range from refusing to go with the person to any social activity where alcohol will be served to moving out of the house. Do not make any threats you are not fully prepared to carry out.
  5. Get help. Gather information in advance about treatment options in your community. If the person is willing to get help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment counselor. Offer to go with them on the first visit to a treatment program and/or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
  6. Call on a friend. If they still refuse to get help, ask a friend to talk with him or her using the steps described above. A friend who is a recovering alcoholic may be particularly persuasive, but any person who is caring and nonjudgmental may help. The intervention of more than one person, more than one time, is often necessary to coax an alcoholic to seek help.
  7. Find strength in numbers. With the help of a health care professional, some families join other relatives and friends to confront an alcoholic as a group. This approach should only be tried under the guidance of a professional who is experienced in this kind of group intervention.
  8. Get support. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Support groups offered in most communities included Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults in the alcoholic's life, and Alateen, which is geared to children of alcoholics. These groups help family members understand that they are not responsible for an alcoholic's drinking and that they need to take steps to take care of themselves, regardless of whether the alcoholic chooses to get help.

You can call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) toll-free for information about treatment programs in your local community, information, and to speak to someone about an alcohol problem. Visit the help page on this website for more options.

Taken from http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/FAQs/General-English/default.htm.

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