Slang names include booze, drink.
Alcoholic drinks consist mainly of water and ethanol produced as a result of fermentation by yeast, sugars from fruits, vegetables or grain. Alcohol is found in widely differing concentrations in many different beverages. Beer contains about 5 grams ethanol to 100grams of water (5%), wine is about twice that and sherry about four times as strong. Spirits such as whiskey or vodka can contain about half ethanol and half water (50%).
Alcohol is a depressant: that is, it depresses, or slows down, the central nervous system. Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug in Europe. Alcohol is also responsible for a large proportion of drug-related health problems and deaths.
Alcohol is absorbed very quickly from the stomach into the blood stream and begins to take effect within five to ten minutes. The effects however depend largely on the kind of alcohol (beer, wine etc), the amount that’s drunk, over what period of time and also by the gender and build of the drinker. In small doses (average 2-3 drinks) a person can feel relaxed, less inhibited and more talkative.
Because alcohol is a depressant, its primary effect is to slow down the brain and nervous system. This leads to reduced inhibitions, as well as a deterioration in co-ordination and reflexes. People who have consumed large amounts of alcohol can become aggressive, get involved in fights, or engage in atypically risky behaviour, including unsafe sex. Heavy doses of alcohol can lead to confusion, nausea, vomiting, and passing out. In extreme cases, someone who has drunk a very large amount of alcohol may even stop breathing. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can result in hangovers, memory loss and blackouts.
Higher levels can lead to slurred speech, lack of concentration, blurred vision and staggering. After a heavy episode of drinking the drinker may suffer from a hangover where they feel tired, nauseous with severe headache.
In the individual long term regular heavy drinking can lead to physical and psychological dependency. Deaths from suicide, overdoses, accidents and cirrhosis of the liver are common among alcohol dependants, as is permanent brain damage.
Chronic heavy use of alcohol can lead to dependence (known as alcoholism) and can cause liver complaints (including cirrhosis of the liver), brain damage, hallucinations (including "DT's"), shaking, high blood pressure and many other health problems. Women who drink while pregnant run a risk of harming their baby (e.g. foetal alcohol syndrome).
Alcohol's effects on co-ordination and reflexes make it a major factor in accidents: alcohol is reckoned to be involved in a third of serious car crashes and a third of drownings. At a wider level alcohol is implicated in fires in the home, unsociable behaviour, vandalism, unplanned pregnancies and domestic violence. Alcohol is strongly linked to violence: an estimated three-quarters of assaults are related to alcohol.
Alcohol affects the body and mind in many different ways. When someone drinks a lot you can actually see changes in them.
In the centre of your brain there is an area which controls your ability to reason and to make judgements. The nerves in these parts of the brain talk to each other thanks to something called a Neurotransmitter (like cables which go from place to place).
One of the most common neurotransmitters is prevented from working properly when someone drinks alcohol. This means that your brain cannot think or function as fast as normally.
Alcohol also acts as a sedative, so it can make you drowsy. You may hear that alcohol also alters your perceptions and how you feel your emotions, which may become exaggerated.
Alcoholism is a disease but having this disease is nothing to be ashamed of and many people in Ireland suffer from it. Some people get help from their doctors and/or from groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
There are various legal restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol. Only licensed persons can sell alcohol and then only under specified conditions. Persons under the age of 18 are forbidden to buy or drink alcohol. It is illegal to sell alcohol to persons who are already drunk. It is an offence to be "drunk and disorderly" in a public place. It is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above a certain level.