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Alcohol is a substance that is both legal and socially acceptable in many circles, putting some people at a higher risk for abuse and addiction due to its prevalence in society. Alcoholic beverages are created from the fermentation of grains or fruit in most cases. The fermentation process produces ethanol, which is the drinkable form of alcohol. Ethanol causes a host of short-term effects, as well as long-term damage if consumption increases in amount and frequency.


Fermented drinks have been around for thousands of years, with a variety of cultures across the globe developing their own types of alcohol for consumption. Rice, honey and grapes were some of the first ingredients seen in these beverages. By the middle of the 18th century, inexpensive spirits began to circulate, and alcoholism started to become an expanding problem. The 19th century saw a change in attitudes toward alcohol consumption, leading to the prohibition in the early 1900s.

Today, alcohol is legal and perceived as a way to relax and socialize. A 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 86.4 percent of people age 12 and over said they had consumed alcohol at some point during their lifetime. Unfortunately, the acceptance of alcohol has also led to an alarming prevalence of alcohol abuse and dependency as well. The same survey found that 15.1 million adults age 18 and over had an alcohol use disorder or AUD.

Types of Alcohol

Alcohol can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Beer, which contains two to six percent alcohol
  • Wine, which has eight to 20 percent alcohol
  • Spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, etc.), which is 40-50 percent alcohol
  • Liqueurs, which contain 15 to 60 percent alcohol

Moderate alcohol use, as defined by the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020” consists of one drink daily for women and two drinks for men. A standard serving is 12 ounces of beer, six ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Any amount over this guideline could put a person at risk for alcohol abuse over time.

Short-Term Effects

Because alcohol is a depressant, it slows down the body’s processes. Short-term effects might include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impaired judgment
  • Unconsciousness and blackouts

Long-Term Damage

When alcohol abuse continues over an extended period, the damage to the brain and body can be significant. Specific effects might include:

  • Increased risk of injury due to accidents
  • High blood pressure and heart disease
  • Liver damage and disease
  • Damage to the brain, which may be permanent
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Nerve damage
  • Inflammation in the digestive system
  • Higher risk for some types of cancer

Signs of Addiction

Not everyone that consumes alcohol will develop an AUD. Signs of abuse or dependency might include:

  • Increased isolation – time away from friends and family
  • More focus on drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
  • Continued use of alcohol even if it is causing personal, professional or financial problems
  • Inability to stop using alcohol or using more than you intended
  • Consuming more alcohol to achieve the same effect (tolerance)
  • Physical symptoms if alcohol consumption is stopped (withdrawal)

High-Functioning Alcoholics

Some people that abuse alcohol can continue to keep up with personal and professional obligations for some time, despite their chronic alcohol use. Known as high-functioning alcoholism, this is commonly seen among professionals like doctors, lawyers and pilots. According to a report in the New York Times, as many as half of all people struggling with alcohol abuse may be high-functioning alcoholics. The danger is that the problem can persist for an extended period before the person seeks help for the dependency. At that point, the individual may be seeing severe alcohol-related problems in their health, relationships or profession that force them to obtain professional treatment for the disorder.

Getting Treatment

AUDs do not discriminate among different members of the population and those in high-profile or high-pressure professions are just as vulnerable, due to the stress and strain of their jobs. At the Center for Professional Recovery, we specialize in helping individuals in professional fields like law, medicine and aviation find help for their addiction through treatments targeted to their precise needs. To learn more about the treatment programs at the Center for Professional Recovery, contact us today at 866.298.0056.

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