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Alcohol

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alcohol (AL-kuh-hol) is a chemical substance found in drinks such as beer, wine, and liquor. It is also found in some medicines, mouthwashes, household products, and essential oils (scented liquid taken from certain plants) . It is made by a chemical process called fermentation that uses sugars and yeast. There are different types of alcohol. The type used to make alcoholic drinks is called ethyl alcohol (ethanol) . Drinking regular or large amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, colon, and rectum.

Overview of Alcohol Consumption

People drink to socialize, celebrate, and relax.  Alcohol often has a strong effect on people – and throughout history, we’ve struggled to understand and manage alcohol’s power.  Why does alcohol cause us to act and feel differently?  How much is too much? Why do some people become addicted while others do not?

Here at NIAAA, we are constantly researching the answers to these and many other questions about alcohol.  Here’s what we know:

Alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • How much you drink
  • How often you drink
  • Your age
  • Your health status
  • Your family history

While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem – drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.

Consequences of drinking too much

Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol’s immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. 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.  These effects can include:

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
  • Motor impairment
  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Coma
  • Breathing problems
  • Death

Other risks of drinking can include:

  • Car crashes and other accidents
  • Risky behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicide and homicide

People who drink too much over a long period of time may experience alcohol’s longer-term effects, which can include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Health problems
  • Increased risk for certain cancers

In addition, long-term alcohol use disorder may result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder due to thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Lack of vitamin B1 is common in people with alcohol use disorder. For more information visit MedlinePlus.


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