Humans have been producing and consuming alcoholic beverages almost since civilization began.
The drinking of alcohol is so deeply ingrained into many cultures around the globe- to the extent that alcohol is the most widely consumed drug in the world.
But what precisely is alcohol? Well, first of all it is important to point out that there are numerous different kinds of alcohol, and generally when people use the word they are actually referring to the chemical known as ethanol.
Ethanol is a by-product of the fermentation process, which is the reaction of natural sugars and yeast. We can produce alcoholic beverages, drinks containing the compound ethanol, by fermenting different kinds of starch-rich foods.
Drinks such as beer, whiskey and vodka are made by fermenting grains like barley or rye, whereas ciders and wines are produced via the fermentation of different sorts of fruits. Mead, which is one of the earliest known alcoholic drinks to have been invented, is made by fermenting honey.
Humans have been fermenting grains, fruit juice and honey for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians are known to have produced alcoholic drinks, and there is evidence of drinking in China from as early as 7000 BC.
Alcohol has been so integral to so many cultures that ancient pantheons often have their own drinking gods. Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine, is possibly the most famous alcoholic god, but he is far from alone. People were praying to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, as far back as 5000 years ago.
But why exactly are we so determined to produce alcoholic drinks? Put simply, alcohol can make us feel good. It is a depressant, which means that it slows down the nervous system and the brain.
This can induce feelings of euphoria, and it leads to the suppression of our inhibitions. This can loosen us up, make us feel more confident and less anxious.
However, it can be all too easy to lose control of our drinking- and for all the positive aspects of alcohol, drinking can often lead to more harm than good.
Consistent or heavy drinking can lead to a whole host of nasty consequences. Too much alcohol can take a heavy toll on our physical and psychological health, and lowered inhibitions can cause you to behave in harmful and dangerous ways.
Alcohol can cause problems both in the short and long term, and it is important that you understand and appreciate the impact that drinking can have on your life.
Most of the short term effects of drinking are behavioural rather than medical. The NHS warns that alcohol misuse can lead to uncharacteristically aggressive or violent behaviour, which can cause significant harm to your personal relationships and could potentially land you in a great deal of trouble.
Impaired judgement also means that you are more likely to lose track of personal possessions such as keys, wallets or phones, and you may find yourself making poor decisions.
While under the influence, drinkers are much more likely to have sex unprotected- increasing the risk of an unplanned pregnancy or catching an STI. There are also more immediate short term risks of alcohol misuse.
Reckless drunken behaviour drastically increases your risk of suffering an accident or injury that requires medical treatment, such as head trauma. In the worst case, excessive alcohol intake may lead to alcohol poisoning. This is a very serious issue, one which often proves fatal.
The long term effects of alcohol misuse can be extremely harmful. Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to a whole host of debilitating health issues, cancer not least among them.
Many different kinds of cancer have been linked to the overconsumption of alcohol, especially cancers of the mouth, throat and liver. Because it is the organ that processes alcohol, drinking too much can cause irreversible damage to the liver- leading to diseases such as liver fibrosis and steatosis.
Alcohol abuse can also be incredibly damaging to the brain, leading to memory issues, strokes, and even permanent shrinkage of the brain.4
The most dangerous thing about alcohol, arguably, is that it is an addictive substance. Over time, if you drink too much and too often, you can find yourself becoming dependent on alcohol.
If you cannot go a day without drinking, if you often find yourself craving your next drink, if you feel uncomfortable, strange or ill when you are sober, it is likely that you have developed the substance abuse disorder known as alcoholism.
Due to the increased intake inherent with alcoholism, addicts are far more likely to fall victim to the health consequences lifted above. Addiction can also have a devastating impact on your social life, leading to estrangement and relationship breakdowns with those closest to you.
It can interfere with your work life, which in turn can lead to financial hardship. If you are not careful, it is all too possible that alcohol will begin to take over your life.
Once an addiction has taken hold, it can be extremely hard to break yourself out of the cycle. When there is no alcohol in an addict’s system, they will suffer through what is known as withdrawal.
This can be very painful, and most sufferers find themselves giving in to their cravings.
If you find yourself suffering from an alcohol addiction, the best thing you can do is seek treatment at a dedicated rehabilitation clinic. Alcohol is a harmful drug, and like any other drug it can be incredibly difficult to overcome on your own.
Getting help for addiction is easier than you might think, and offers the safest, most efficient way to sober up. Clinically treating alcohol addiction entails full detoxification and a holistic programme of counselling and therapy.