There are many mind-altering substances frequently abused today. In fact, just when you think you’ve heard of all of them, something new — and deadly — comes along to completely change convention. However, some of the most problematic of all substances are ones with which we have an extremely long and detailed history, such as alcohol. It’s been said that alcohol is even the most dangerous mind-altering substance, which is largely due to its legal status and availability. On the other hand, the physiological effects of alcohol make it one of the most difficult diseases to treat and overcome.
Although alcohol is pretty much ubiquitous in today’s culture, many people aren’t familiar with its extensive history or how it’s made. Further, there are many who know little about the specific effects of alcohol beyond the fact that it’s addictive. For these and other reasons, let’s review what could be the most addictive of all chemical substances.
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Our extended history with alcohol
It’s interesting to look back at various points in humanity’s history to compare the various similarities and differences that exist between how things were then and how they are today. Over the years, technology has taken a prominent place in the cultural zeitgeist, created mostly for the purpose of making our lives significantly easier or to make other people more accessible. However, in spite of the many differences between humanity then and humanity today, there are a number of constants, too, including the enjoyment of alcohol.
The first evidence of humans creating and storing alcohol dates back to about 7000 BCE, or “before common era”. This early alcohol was a fermented liquid made from grapes, berries, honey, and rice and it was stored in jars, parts of which have been found via archaeological excavations. At about the same time, people living in the Middle East had begun producing the equivalent of barley beer and grape wine although the first actual wine — comparable to the wines made today — didn’t show up until 6000 BCE. The first evidence of wine production in the form of tools were found in Iran and dated to 5400 BCE. Collectively, this shows us that the production and enjoyment of alcohol extends pretty far back into humanity’s history.
We’ve seen a lot of other evidence of the production and enjoyment of alcohol at various points in human history, including from Egypt (dated to 3150 BCE) and in Sumerian and Hebrew texts (dated to around 2100 BCE). And to further put this into perspective, most Native American tribes had been producing and drinking alcohol long before the Europeans colonized the Americas. Among Native Americans, the process of creating alcohol involved making a mash out of corn — created by chewing the corn and spitting it out — and letting it sit and ferment; this is even how the Japanese began to make sake.
By the sixteenth century, alcohol — often referred to as “spirits” — was largely used for medicinal purposes; however, a British law passed in the eighteenth century encouraged the production of alcohol, resulting in various types of alcohol flooding the market. In fact, Britain experienced epidemic levels of alcoholism by the mid-eighteenth century due to how much alcohol has become available. For quite some time, public perceptions of alcohol use remains fairly permissive. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that temperance began to be encouraged when it came to alcohol consumption. Over a period of time just a few decades, the general populace went from considering alcohol as ubiquitous and acceptable as water to the United States’ Prohibition in the 1920s; however, due to the severity of the illegal alcohol trade, this was eventually overturned in 1933.
Today, it’s estimated that over 15 million Americans suffer from alcoholism and more than 40 percent of all deaths that occur in car accidents are actually caused by alcohol.
Effects of alcohol
As a powerful depressant, alcohol serves to dampen or dull the central nervous system. In effect, a person who consumes alcohol often becomes much less energetic, but the effects are far more profound than lack of energy. Alcohol acts as a neurotransmitter known as GABA, which is activated during situations of high school. When a person consumes large amounts of alcohol, the brain is essentially experiencing a flood of GABA, which is largely to blame for the delayed reaction and poor motor coordination that individuals exhibit when intoxicated. A person under the influence often slurs his or her speech, experiences a decrease in body temperature, and potentially some even worse effects, including blackouts (periods during which a period is unable to remember his or her actions), loss of control of bladder, temporary loss of consciousness, and other such negative effects.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
Like virtually all other mind-altering substances, alcohol is quite addictive, especially when it’s consumed irresponsibly. In fact, many teens and young adults abuse alcohol on purpose specifically to become intoxicated. Unfortunately, after abusing alcohol frequently over a period of time, the brain comes to rely on the alcohol for GABA functionality while producing and activating far less GABA on its own. As mentioned previously, GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps an individual feel more calm as a response to stressful situations; therefore, GABA is an extremely important neurochemical. In effect, a brain that’s dependent on alcohol experiences a deficit when there’s no GABA in the body, and this deficit has the potential to be quite dangerous. Those who suffer from alcoholism are at risk of conditions like delirium tremens, seizures, or even death if they stop drinking alcohol too abruptly.