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Alcohol – A Major Health and Social Problem

The alcohol in beverages is ethyl alcohol or ethanol. It is produced by the action of yeast on carbohydrates. We call it grain alcohol because a mash produced from ground corn, rye, barley, wheat, or other cereals is used in making it. The sugar in fruit juices is another common source of ethyl alcohol.

Wines are produced by the action of yeast on fruit juices. They contain from 10-20 percent alcohol. Beer and ale have a lower alcoholic content. They are made by the action of yeast on a mash containing ground grain and malt. Whiskey, brandy, gin, rum, vodka, and liqueurs are distilled beverages, which have a much higher alcoholic content, usually 40-55 percent. Naturally, the effect of an alcoholic beverage on the body depends largely on the amount of alcohol the drink contains.

Alcohol in the Body

Within two minutes after drinking it, alcohol begins to leave the stomach and enter the blood. It is not digested. The blood receives (absorbs) it without any change. The rate of absorption speeds up greatly as alcohol enters the intestine at the lower end of the stomach. When alcohol is mixed with food, the rate of absorption is reduced. This explains why a person feels the effects of alcohol more quickly if he drinks on an empty stomach than if he drinks during or after a meal.

The blood delivers alcohol to the brain, liver, muscles and other body tissues. Here it is absorbed in the water the tissues contain. Body tissues normally “burn” part of the digested foods by the chemical process oxidation. This is similar to what happens when a piece of wood burns in air. Energy is released from the wood is used to keep the tissues alive. The speed of food oxidation depends on the energy on needs. If a person runs around the block, oxidation speeds up. If he takes a nap, it slows down.

How Do We Fight An Alcohol Fire?

Blood picks up heat in the tissues and carries it to the skin. The skin turns pink (flushes) with its extra blood supply. Heat pours from the skin surface. The nerves in the skin send forth an impression of body warmth, but the warmth is all on the surface. Capillaries in the skin enlarge and give off excess heat. Many people are fooled by this false feeling of body warmth registered in the skin.

The average adult can oxidize only about one tablespoonful of alcohol in his tissues in an hour. At this rate, it takes nearly twenty-four hours to use up the alcohol in a pint of whiskey.

   
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