Ethyl alcohol is the chemical name for alcohol as it is commonly found in intoxicating beverages such as beer, wine and hard liquor. Experts classify alcohol as a depressant, and the effects of alcohol can vary depending on the individual, including physical size, gender, age, weight and the amount of food consumed with the alcohol. As with most drugs, prolonged use increases tolerance, and symptoms change with extended and increased use as well.
Alcohol impacts the brain by reducing overall coordination. This is why strict legislation in every state has been enacted against drinking and driving. Specific brain effects include impaired memory, problems walking, reduced reaction time, slurred speech and blurry vision.
The liver functions to break down alcohol and cleanse the body. Eventually, liver function is reduced as the alcoholic continues to drink. Most people associate cirrhosis of the liver with heavy, long-term drinking, but what is less commonly known is that liver cirrhosis can also damage the brain, reports the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Other Physical Effects
The initial effects of alcohol reduce inhibitions and increase relaxation. These generally pleasing effects can attract many people to social drinking, which might open the door to continued use or addiction. Continued use results in talkativeness, possible nausea and vomiting and disturbed sleep. Aggression may increase, resulting in domestic violence and child abuse.
Hangovers, with the resulting headache, fatigue, thirst and upset stomach, also result, depending on the alcohol intake amount. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that thiamine deficiencies are common in as many as 80 percent of alcoholics, which can lead to additional health issues.
Alcohol use tends to enhance the user's mood. If a person is sad or reflective, alcohol emphasizes this and makes him sadder. If he is happy, alcohol might increase that euphoria. Alcohol use can also result in overall depression.
Extended use of alcohol and addiction can result in tremors, delirium, convulsions, hallucinations and overall confusion. Blackouts, or not being able to remember specific episodes of time, might be common. Extended use can require that the addict needs permanent long-term care.
Alcohol and Pregnancy
Fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that results when pregnant mothers drink heavily, affects children and might cause life-long learning and behavior problems. Even reduced alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause negative fetal changes in baby size and ability, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.