Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This Week In Science: Alcohol and Addiction

From casual drinking, people have learned how alcohol will affect you under certain conditions. Most people know that mixing a carbonated drink, with a whiskey for instance, may tend to speed up getting a "buzz"; hence the popularity of Jack and Coke. If you don't want to get hammered, eat bread before you drink. These common social realizations are probably hanging on a plaque above Ted Kennedy's bar.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two, or three, there is a point where alcohol can seriously be abused and impair judgment, as well as a point where it can significantly affect a person's brain chemistry in such a way that dependence is formed. For the latter, this is the point where alcohol addiction becomes a disease.

The basic science behind alcohol absorption is simple. When you sit down for a drink, about 20 percent of it is absorbed by your stomach. The other 80 percent is taken by your small intestine. After alcohol is absorbed it enters your bloodstream, where it dissolves within the water base due to its high affinity. As your heart beats, blood clearly flows throughout your body where alcohol can readily enter the tissues of your body. We see the effects externally expressed as drunken staggering and cheesy pick-up-lines, to the quintessential guy at the party who likes to pick fights. You know who you are, guy.

While it's basically accepted, though oft times overlooked, we know the abuse of alcohol is not something to take lightly. In just the US alone, over 100,000 deaths are directly related to alcohol abuse. In that total, nearly half of all traffic deaths are related to alcohol, as reported by the National Council on Alcohol and Dependence.

What's often overlooked, however, is that chronic use and dependence on alcohol can cause such changes in your body that it's a disease, not just a simple matter of questionable behavior. As stated by expert Dr. Carl Erickson, of Pfizer College of Pharmacology, “The problem with alcohol dependence is not in the bottle and it’s not in the glass. The disease is in the brain. The uncontrolled drinking is just the symptom.”

Alcoholism As A Disease, and Women Get Addicted Easier?

Take your right hand and point your pointer finger in the middle of your forehead. Now, above either ear, point your other hand. Like a brave pirate explorer of the old ages, you've just navigated to an often unseen and unknown part of your brain that alcohol effects; the pleasure center.

Where the lines, made with your hands, crossed in the middle of your brain is where the disease of alcoholism occurs. As stated by Dr. Erickson, "It's also called the mesolimbic dopamine system. Scientifically, this tells us that it runs on dopamine, the ‘pleasure transmitter'".

While the field of studying addictive substances and their expression and effect on chemical pathways in the human genome is a continuing field, it's been accepted by official medical councils that alcoholism is indeed a disease.

So what's with women and addiction? New studies by Columbia University indicate that more than 20 million girls and women, from the US alone, abuse drugs and alcohol. Though good ol' Bubba at the bar is the typical scapegoat for such stats, the study found that women regularly get drunk and high faster than men and become addicted more easily. A key part of women's susceptibility to drunkenness may be having a low level of alcohol dehydrogenase, ADH, which helps break down alcohol.

How To Cure Hangover

Suffice it to say with Thirsty Thursday and the weekend coming up, be safe and be smart if partying. We only want to hear about fun stories, not tragic.

That said there are often many old tales about treating and preventing a hangover. Here are some points that may help those of you who need to wake up, chipper, for class or work.

Despite what your buddy at the bar will tell you, drinking more alcohol does not help sober you up or prevent hangovers. While nothing but natural breakdown and expulsion of alcohol will help your body's alcohol content go down, with a hangover your body is likely suffering from low blood sugar, dehydration and deficiency of key minerals such as magnesium and potassium.

The best solution is usually rest for your body as you recover. As many don't have that luxury, there are a few steps you should take to help. Drink water and sports drinks, both before going out and moderately while drinking. This will help keep your body hydrated. As you may know, snacking helps slow the absorption of alcohol into your body, which keeps the amount of alcohol in your blood (and thus tissues) lower.

You should always have a nice pack of Ritz crackers, or other saltine, on hand. This helps keep your blood sugar level up, which can prevent headaches and grogginess, and can help you with nausea. Eating fruits can help your body keep up on key minerals and nutrients, lowering the effects of a hangover.

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6

1 comment: said...


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Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager

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