Friday, December 30, 2011

Alcohol and the Body

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Alcohol and the Body

Most of us enjoy a drink. And theres no reason why we shouldnt, as long as we drink within sensible limits. However, most people have no idea what the limit is. And unfortunately, what the body can handle is a lot less than most of us imagine. Thats mainly because the effects can remain invisible until later on in life - and its then that the troubles can start. We all know about liver problems. But the brains short-term memory, the heart, and the stomach, can also be affected.

Alcohol primarily interferes with the ability to form new memories, particularly memories that are explicit in nature. Explicit memories are memories for facts, for example names, phone numbers, and events (e.g., what you did last night). The impact of alcohol on the formation of new explicit memories is far greater than the drugs impact on the recollection of previously established memories. For instance, alcohol would have a much bigger impact on the ability to learn a new persons name than on the ability to remember the name of someone that you already know. R.S. Ryback (171) believed that alcohol’s effects on memory could best be characterized as a continuum, with subtle memory impairments at one end and profound impairments in the ability to encode new information on the other end. Consistent with Ryback’s hypothesis, low doses of alcohol primarily disrupt the ability to form memories for small pieces of information, like items on a word list, while high doses of alcohol can produce blackouts, an inability to recall entire events that occurred while intoxicated.

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While a glass or two of wine is actually beneficial to the heart, excessive drinking weakens the heart muscle and it’s ability to pump blood through the body (Cardiomyopathy). Heart enlargement, abnormal heart signs and irregular heartbeats are also effects of excessive drinking. Increased blood pressure, risk of heart attack, and strokes may also accompany. Over indulgence also inhibits production of white and red blood cells and the overall effect is the reduction in the immunity system.

Alcohol taken in concentrated amounts can irritate the stomach lining to the extent that it produces a sticky mucous which delays absorption. The pylorus valve, which connects the stomach and small intestine, may go into spasm in the presence of concentrated alcohol, trapping the alcohol in the stomach instead of passing it on to the small intestine where it would be more rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. The increase in acid can also result in stomach ulcers, gastritis or intestinal ulcers.

Millions of Americans enjoy the relaxed, euphoric feeling that alcohol gives them. While the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better health and longer life, the heavy consumption of alcohol, especially over a period of many years, can lead to serious health problems and even death.


Ryback, R. S., The continuum and specificity of the effects of alcohol on memory. A review. QUART. J. STUD. ALCOHOL 5-1016 (171).

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