ETOH is an abbreviation for the chemical composition of ethyl alcohol or ethanol. All of these terms are titles for what most people refer to as simply “alcohol.” Alcohol is a substance used in beverages to enhance their flavor & affect the drinker’s inhibitions. It is a legal substance, often used in social scenarios & popular in marketing and entertainment spheres. This makes ETOH abuse a complicated subject.
Is Alcohol a Stimulant or a Depressant?
The word “stimulant” is an overarching term that covers many drugs, including those that increase activity of the central nervous system (CNS) and the body, as well as drugs that are pleasurable and invigorating. Alcohol users are known to experience a stimulating effect from alcohol when it first enters the body. However, the effects of alcohol as a depressant surpass and outlast any stimulation.
The stimulating effects of alcohol peak at about 45 min, then wear off, drastically swinging the drinker’s mood from very high to very low. Although it initially causes a rush of dopamine, once this wears off, drinkers will feel less motivated and more fatigued. Many people report a loss of interest in doing things they once enjoyed. All of these feelings and behaviors are characteristic of depressants.
A depressant is a chemical substance that decreases activity in the CNS. Also known as a “downer,” it interferes with a person’s ability to think and move at a normal pace. An alcohol user might consider this effect desirable, as it can cause them to feel relaxed, but this feeling can also encourage ETOH abuse.
The Dangers of ETOH Abuse
When someone drinks any amount of alcohol, the brain releases dopamine – a “feel good” chemical – as part of its initial interaction with ETOH. As an agent of the brain’s “reward center,” this dopamine release essentially encourages repetition of this behaviour. This is where the dangers of alcohol abuse can begin.
The body essentially becomes the plot setting for an Ocean’s 11-style heist. While dopamine is occupying the brain with one singular behaviour (“I think I want more of this stuff…”), ETOH is hijacking motor skills & shutting down the inhibition centers. This clouds the ability to make decisions & increases the likelihood of risky behaviour, including driving under the influence and the threat of alcohol poisoning.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that doctors diagnose when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. It ranges from mild to severe and is characterized by clinically significant impairments in health and social function.
Long-term ETOH abuse often results in a person experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which generates a dangerous cycle where that person is dependent upon more and more alcohol to avoid them. These side effects include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Brain damage
- Liver failure/disease
- Inflamed Pancreas
- High Blood Pressure
- Increased risk of cancer
Most people don’t realize that alcohol is one of few substances with a risk of death during withdrawal. This is why it is important to seek assistance from professionals in the process of recovery from AUD.
If It’s So Risky, Why do People Drink Alcohol?
Alcohol has long been a regular part of most societies in the world. According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, early 90 percent of adults in the United States report that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime, and more than half report drinking in the last month. In addition to its presence at social gatherings and celebrations, the ease of access & legal status of alcohol also make it a readily available coping mechanism to calm the mind, numb pain, and keep from dwelling on negative events. These social norms can make it difficult for someone who struggles to control their drinking to know how to stop. It also makes it harder to know the difference between relatively harmless drinking and harmful alcohol abuse.
How do I Know if I Suffrer from ETOH Abuse?
How much alcohol affects someone can vary greatly, depending on a variety of personal factors such as weight, age, & genetics. Additionally, the medications a person is taking at the time, the presence & amount of food consumed before, during, or after alcohol & the rate of drinking are all situational factors that can make a difference.
Signs of a Drinking Problem
While the lines blur between moderation and overuse, below are some questions you can ask to evaluate whether you or a loved one exhibits signs of AUD:
- Do you experience feelings of guilt before, during, or after consuming alcohol?
- Do you make attempts to hide, “down-play” or lie about how many drinks you have or how often they are consumed?
- Have you developed a high tolerance for alcohol? I.e. does it take larger amounts or higher concentrations to feel the effects?
- Do you find that you have to drink alcohol regularly to avoid suffering from withdrawal symptoms? (see list above)
- Would you or your friends say you use alcohol to cope with certain emotions?
- Do you or your friends find that you black out often?
- Once you’ve started drinking, do you have a hard time stopping?
- Do you drink in situations where it’s dangerous to do so (e.g. before driving)?
- Could you or your family/friends recall you getting into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt on more than one occasion (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Would you or your family members say that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interferes with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Have you tried cutting back on drinking (in amount or frequency) & find that you can’t?
Any of these symptoms may be a cause for concern. The more symptoms one has, the more urgent the need for change.
What Resources Are Available for Help?
Compared to other addictive substances, alcohol’s legality & common social use make it difficult to detect the transition from abuse to dependence to addiction. The stigma of addiction increases the difficulty for AUD sufferers to seek help.