Before you get your swerve on...
I will never forget my 21st birthday. It was my senior year in college and a group of friends took me out to various bars. (I went to College in Erie, PA and back then there wasn’t any real nightclubs, just bars.) I drank, and drank and drank some more. We had lots of fun.
A close friend, who was male, drove me back to my apartment on campus, helped me up the stairs, into my apartment and helped me on the couch. He was such a gentleman and didn’t try anything. He made sure I was ok and left.
Next thing I know I woke up in my bed the next morning with my PJ’s on and the worst hangover ever! (Ouch!) I blacked out! That was the first and last time I have ever drank so much that I lost all memory. It was not a fun feeling, a little scary in fact.
Blacking out can be a common occurrence for some. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older (6.2 percent of this age group) had Alcohol Use Disorder. This includes 9.8 million men (8.4 percent of men in this age group) and 5.3 million women (4.2 percent of women in this age group).1
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), defines binge drinking as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.2
Alcohol is considered a toxin and your body tries to metabolize it as soon as possible. It cannot store alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t require digestion, so it can be absorbed by simple diffusion into the bloodstream.
As soon as alcohol enters the blood stream it travels throughout the body and is distributed through the watery tissues. It reaches the brain quickly.
About 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach, the rest in the small intestine. When it hits the stomach the gastric cells secret ADH – alcohol dehydrogenase- an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. A woman has 20 – 30% less ADH then men, that is why ladies can have a higher concentration of alcohol in their blood stream when drinking the same amount as a man.
Another cool fact is women have less muscle mass then men, thus less body water to distribute the ingested alcohol. That means women will feel the affects of alcohol sooner than men. Ladies we can’t keep up drink for drink with a man. (We shouldn’t even want to try).
The bulk of alcohol is metabolized in the liver. There are two processes but that is beyond the scope of this post. However, alcohol gets metabolized before drugs, so if drugs and alcohol are consumed together the drugs can build up to lethal effects waiting for the liver to metabolize them. Please don’t consume drugs (yes, I did tell you what not to do).
Alcohol is a depressant, it slows down communication between neurons of the central nervous system. The first part of the brain affected is the cerebral cortex. When it hits this part of the brain we become more talkative, less inhibited and have more confidence. Making good judgements are reduced.
As more alcohol is consumed other areas of the brain are affected. When the Hippocampus is reached our memory is affected, thus the blacking out affect. It prevents short term memory from becoming long term memories.
There are a few more areas affected but the last area is the brain stem. This controls breathing and circulation – impairing those can result in death.
I’m not telling you to not drink. It is ok to drink in moderation. I’ll have a little glass every now and then on the weekends. But when you start drinking more often, or waking up not knowing what happened, is when you need to start asking yourself what’s up and get the help you need.
Alcoholism affects everyone around you. I will be talking more about that in my next post.
Please be safe this Christmas season. Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy all the parties and have fun celebrating the saviors birth.
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Christina Leeman, MPH, CHES
Blake, J.S, Munoz, K D, Volpe, S. Alcohol in Nutrition From Science to You. Second edition. Boston, MA: Pearson;2014. 252-263
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Christina Leeman MPH, writer and health educator, emboldens women to be the She Who Honors God with her all - body, thoughts, words, actions.
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