Yes, alcohol is considered a drug and has a variety of short-term and long-term adverse effects. It enters your bloodstream as soon as it is consumed. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects.
Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?
Alcohol is classified as a depressant, meaning that it slows down brain functioning and neural activity – resulting in slurred speech, unsteady movement, disturbed perceptions and an inability to react quickly. It also reduces the functioning of various vital functions in the body. This is due to the increased production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
However, although alcohol is classified as a depressant, the amount consumed can drastically impact whether the user experiences depressant or stimulant effects. In small quantities, alcohol is more likely to act as a stimulant, resulting in increased talkativeness, overconfidence, increased heart rate and improvements in mood. But if a person consumes more than the body can handle, then he or she is more likely to experience alcohol’s depressant effect.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Alcohol can actually cause physical changes in the brain’s chemistry and functioning, which also plays a major role in the development of alcohol dependence. When a person consumes alcohol regularly, the brain reward and pleasure centers become overloaded with increased levels of dopamine. This “high” users experience keeps them hooked, causing them to repeat their drinking habits and behaviors.
In addition, alcohol also can compromise one’s ability to make decisions, as well as impact one’s impulse control. Often times, this results in a compulsion to drink. This also makes relapse more likely when one attempts to quit drinking. What may begin as recreational alcohol consumption can easily transition into an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence – all due to the fundamental changes caused in the brain.
But, the brain isn’t the only place in the body that alcohol can negatively affect. Alcohol consumption can cause problems with the heart – leading to high blood pressure and stroke and the liver – leading to cirrhosis and steatosis (fatty liver). It can also cause serious issues within the pancreas. More specifically, regular alcohol consumption can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
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