ThedaCare Health Matters

Always think before you drink

Alcohol use is prevalent in our society. Interestingly, it was outlawed by the 18th amendment to the constitution in 1920. People at that time recognized the potential harm that alcohol use could cause. However, in 1933 the 21st amendment was passed and reversed the 18th amendment. Today, alcohol can legally be consumed by people 21 years or older. Although alcohol can be consumed legally, I see unwanted consequences of alcohol use about every time I work at the emergency room.  

Alcohol is a chemical that acts like a drug to cause both short-term and long-term effects on the consumer. Alcohol accumulates in the bloodstream after it is consumed. It generally is absorbed rapidly and remains in the body for hours. Alcohol causes sedation and people tend to use it to “unwind” or “loosen up.” Unfortunately, inappropriate use can be dangerous.  

Excessive consumption will cause toxic effects on several organ systems. The most noticeable acute consequence is the effect on the brain causing unsteadiness, sleepiness, slurring of words, changes in behavior and even loss of consciousness or “passing out.” The effects on the brain can affect judgment such that an intoxicated person is more likely to engage in risky activities or do things that they would not do sober. 

The kidneys lose the ability to concentrate urine so the kidneys start putting out excessive amounts of urine causing frequent urination and dehydration. The dehydration is what is thought to contribute to the symptoms of hangover the next day. The liver, stomach and pancreas are directly poisoned by alcohol and consumption can lead to acute abdominal pain.  

How much alcohol is too much? The law defines it as a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. How much alcohol needs to be consumed to reach that level will vary depending on gender, size, how quickly the alcohol is consumed and how often an individual consumes alcohol. Generally, it is recommended that men limit consumption at any one time to two drinks and women to one drink.

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