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FAQs: The Effect of Alcohol on the Body
Dr Ajay Kumar
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down the central nervous system, decreases motor coordination, reaction time and intellectual performance.

When partying, be particularly cautious about not mixing alcohol with other depressants, tranquilizers or sleeping pills because combining depressants multiplies the effects of both drugs and can lead to memory loss, coma or even death. Alcohol by itself has a varying effect on individuals that is based on gender, body weight, food consumed and even how fast you drink – factors that affect blood alcohol concentration.

What kind of effect does alcohol have on the body? Is it a ‘pick-me-up’ or a depressant?
Alcohol is toxic to the liver, heart and brain. Its primary effect is depressive on the brain. The visible euphoric effect is because it inhibits the depression centre also.

How does alcohol move in the body after one consumes it? How is it metabolized?
Alcohol is absorbed from the intestine and is carried to the liver where it undergoes major metabolization by enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, and creates toxic metabolites. These reach the blood from where they are carried to the kidneys and are excreted in urine.

Should one sip his / her drink, or is it ok to gulp it down?
Sipping and gulping are both harmful. It is the total quality of alcohol consumed that matters the most, though blood alcohol levels may rise faster with gulping.

How do we quantify “one” drink?
One drink is usually 30 ml of hard liquor, 1 glass of wine or 1 pint of beer.

What is Blood Alcohol content (BAC) and how do we measure it?
Blood alcohol content (BAC) denotes the alcohol levels in circulating blood. Blood alcohol content is measured by gas chromatography. But for clinical purposes, breath levels are frequently used.

Does alcohol affect men and women differently? How?
Yes, females are affected by lesser dose of alcohol than males. This is because of lower concentration of alcohol metabolizing enzyme in females.

What other factors affect response to alcohol?
Food acts by buffering alcohol in the stomach and may cause less damage to the stomach. But systemic effects are not altered by food. Some people are more susceptible to damage by alcohol than others. Some will develop liver disease, while some others develop pancreatic disease, and some, no organic disease at all. This is considered to be determined by genetic factors. Older people are found to be more susceptible.

What is ‘alcohol amnesia’ and how is it different from ‘passing out’?
Alcohol amnesia means loss of recent memory after alcohol consumption. This is different from passing out, in which the person actually suffers loss of consciousness.

What is a hangover? How can one prevent it?
‘Hangover’ occurs after heavy consumption of alcohol, and is manifested by headache, nausea, tiredness etc. Plenty of methods have been used to prevent it. Scientific evidence suggests that nothing works satisfactorily, but drinking plenty of water before sleep is considered to be the best method to avoid it.
Dr Ajay Kumar is Senior Consultant – Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi

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