Stress Busters: Chemical Coping – Drink, Downers, and Dope
Humans have enjoyed alcohol for at least 6,000 years of recorded history. Today, alcohol plays a pivotal role in society and in economics, with 2.3 billion alcoholic drinks consumed each week in the United States alone.
What happens when you take a drink? Within minutes, that first glass of the evening begins to loosen you up, to lower your inhibitions, and to put you in a cheery and gregarious mood. This effect is due to the release of dopamine, which stimulates you, quickly followed by endorphins, which make you feel high, and then GABA, which helps you relax. The alcohol also gives your blood sugar a boost. Sounds good, doesn't it? That's why we do it. This pleasant effect usually lasts for an hour or so.
Several drinks later, though, you might notice you're feeling irritable, depressed, or even hostile (or others will). Your thinking and memory may become fuzzy. You could end up unsure of where you are, whom you're with, and why you're there. You might then get sleepy or, on a bad night, pass out.
A "hangover" nausea, headache, and/or stomach upset may greet you the following morning. You also may have forgotten much of what happened the night before, a phenomenon known as a "blackout." This can be a serious problem especially if you really abandoned your inhibitions. You may now wonder whether the good time was worth it.
Here are some sobering statistics on alcohol consumption:
- A recent study revealed that hangover-induced absenteeism and poor job performance cost the U.S. economy about $148 billion a year.
- Researchers found that people with hangovers posed a danger to themselves and others long after their blood alcohol levels had returned to normal, suggesting that hangovers could be more insidious than the actual inebriation.
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the year 2000, 40 percent of all fatal car accidents were alcohol-related (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 2001).
- Impaired memory: You're not sure where you left your keys, or your car, or who you flirted with (or more) the night before.
- Blackouts: You can recall nothing due to the toxic by-products of alcohol the information was not stored.
- Impaired sexual function.
- Inappropriate behavior, dehydration, and accidents including fatal ones.
- Morning-after hangover.
- Addiction: Though the stimulation caused by alcohol may feel good initially, the brain seeks internal balance, or homeostasis. When you keep pushing the brain to release a neurotransmitter, it responds by "downregulating" that is, reducing production of that specific chemical. The result is that over time, you will need to drink more to keep getting the same effect.
- Long-term alcohol use can lead to a host of health problems such as gastritis, ulcers, liver problems (including cirrhosis, where scar tissue replaces liver cells), pancreatic disease, and permanent brain and nerve damage.
- Pregnant women who abuse alcohol can seriously damage their unborn infants.
- Causes depletion of neurotransmitters and nutrients.
- During acute alcohol withdrawal, chronic alcoholic patients may suffer convulsions from a life-threatening condition called "the DTs" (delirium tremens). DTs can cause hallucinations, convulsive shaking, and other serious physiological changes.
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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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