Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the intoxicating ingredient found in alcoholic beverages, which are divided into three general groups: beer, wine and spirits. Ethanol is produced through the fermentation of sugar with yeast; a process used by humans for thousands of years for consumptive purposes.
Known as one of the oldest recreational drugs, alcohol is a depressant and psychoactive drug. Alcohol can only be metabolized by the liver in small quantities at a time, so any excess alcohol is left to circulate throughout the body. Chemically speaking, alcohol attacks the central nervous system and effects brain function, which results in altered perception, behaviour, mood, and consciousness. The intensity of these effects is directly correlated with how much alcohol is consumed.
Short-term effects of alcohol consumption include intoxication and dehydration. It can also effect normal brain function, which can result in delayed reflexes, slurred speech, clumsiness, inhibition, loss of motor control and coordination, double vision, low blood pressure, irritability, etc. Excessive alcohol consumption can result in alcohol poisoning, a comatose state and/or death.
Long-term effects of alcohol consumption can change the way in which the liver metabolizes, permanently effect brain functionality and/or lead to alcoholism. Alcoholism is a highly addictive condition that can result in severe malnutirition, as the body is eventually no longer able to digest nutrients properly. Other symptoms can include nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure and in some cases may result in the development of nerve disorders or depression. If untreated, severe alcoholism can result in a possible stroke, heart attack, the development of dementia and, in many cases, death.
Withdrawal symptoms, depending on the level of abuse, can cause tremors, sweating, loss of appetite, nausea, high blood pressure, hallucinations, convulsions and death.