Alcohol and Alcoholism

I shall advise all of us to be patient and read me for the next three Sundays. So as to understand the intricacies of alcohol and alcoholism.

Dr Ojum Ekeoma Ogwo

I have noticed something very frightening. Most of the people who consult me, are gradually becoming drunks . The frightening aspect is that they are mostly young people viz – undergraduates, drivers and civil servants. Most of them come for consultation during evening clinics.

READ ALSO: Inside the world of drunks

There is an unwritten law that identifies an early alcoholic. If you see anybody staggering with unstable gait and slurred speech, who when confronted, vehemently protests, “I am not drunk” – you have struck gold. Monitor that person, he is gradually becoming an alcoholic. On the other hand, anybody that boldly tells you “ I think I am drunk”, or “I think I am a little tipsy, I have taken more than enough and I need to go home and rest”. That person is just an accidental drinker. He is not yet an alcoholic. He could still be salvaged.

I shall advise all of us to be patient and read me for the next three Sundays. So as to understand the intricacies of alcohol and alcoholism. We could still return some souls back to sanity. That could be ourselves, our friends or some neighbours, who are unintentionally getting addicted to alcohol.

I shall methodically define , what alcohol is, and then discuss the stages of alcoholism, which include;
i) Social drinking.
ii) Early alcoholism.
iii) Basic alcoholism.
iv) Chronic alcoholism,
v) Terminal alcoholism &
vi) Recovery & Procedures of treatment.

Chemically, alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs known to man . But, over centuries of experience, society has managed to develop cultural attitudes, which allow alcohol to be available without causing too great disruption or harm.

However legal restrictions are needed, especially in Nigeria to reinforce these attitudes. Most countries I know, have minimum age for alcohol purchase, but not in Nigeria, where a 5-year-old, could be sent to buy kai-kai (gin) for the father. In some countries strong liquors are sold late at night, to avoid the young ones indulgence.

To start with, Nigeria should ban sales of alcohols in motor parks, children amusement centres and fast food restaurants. Then strictly ensure compliance.

What is alcohol?

Alcohols are volatile colourless, pungent liquids, composed of three chemical elements: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is the type taken in alcoholic drinks. It may also be prescribed medically, to stimulate the appetite, or form a medicinal base in which other ingredients are dissolved.

Methyl alcohol (methanol, or “wood alcohol”) is used commercially as a fuel and solvent. It is poisonous, and drinking it causes blindness and death. How are alcohols made?

READ ALSO: 13 die after drinking toxic alcohol in India – Police

In the domestic and industrial production of alcohol drinks, ethyl alcohol is produced by “fermentation””; that is, the degeneration of a starch (such as maize, barley, rice, potatoes grapes, millet(gyoro, dawa), by bacterial action. The drinks that results depends on the starch used; eg malt and barley give beer, grapes give wine, millet(gyoro and dawa) give burukutu and pito. Beers and wines are produced by fermentation alone. Only about a 15% level of alcohol is possible by this method.

“Spirits”, with their higher alcoholic level ( whiskey, gin, vodka, liqueurs, etc), require “distillation”.That is, the alcohol is evaporated off, leaving water behind, and resulting in a higher alcoholic concentration in the eventual liquid. Distilled alcohol may also be added to wines (sherry, campari, port, etc). and beers to strengthen them.

What is the strength of each alcohol?

This is very important, so that we would know the strength of whatever we are drinking, and how easily we could get drunk.

Commercially, the strength of an alcoholic beverage is expressed as so many “degrees proof” or “degrees volume”. This refers to the liquid’s specific gravity – not to the percentage of alcohol it contains. “Proof” measurement regulations vary between countries. In USA proof measures, the percentage of alcohol is half the figure for “degrees proof”. For example, a spirit that is “100 proof( written ’100’)”, contains 50% alcohol. And this is the method adopted by Nigeria, using volume(vol).

Typical alcohol contents
■ Burukutu/Pito………………..up to 8% vol.
■ Beer……………………up to 8% vol.
■ Wines………………….9 to 15% vol.
■ Fortified Wine………20% vol.
■ Aperitif (morulla)….25% vol.
■ Spirits (gin, whiskey, vodka)……40 to 50%vol.

What this then means is that the higher the percentage or volume of any alcoholic drinks, the easier it is, for one to get drunk depending on your carrying capacity. Now let me sound a note of warning. While consuming spirits, it does not matter what quantity of fruit juice used to dilute it, note that the same quantity taken “neat (undiluted)”, will still get you drunk. The difference is that, while the one taken neat, might start intoxicating you in 15 minutes, the diluted one might start in 30 minutes. The danger is that the diluted one will lure you into taking more than your carrying capacity.

Effects of alcohol in the body

About 20% of any alcohol drunk is absorbed in the stomach, and 80% in the intestines. The liver breaks down (oxides) the alcohol at an almost constant rate; usually 120mls (2 bottles) of beer or 40 mls of whiskey per hour. 90% of body alcohol is disposed this way, the remaining 10% is eliminated through the lungs and sweat. Alcohol in the body has 4 main effects viz ;-

1) It provides energy (alcohol has high calorific value, but contains no nutrients).

2) It acts as an anaesthetic on the central nervous system, slowing it down and impairing its efficiency.

3) It stimulates urine production. With heavy alcohol intake, the body loses more water than is taken in, and the body cells become dehydrated.

4) Alcohol puts part of the liver temporarily out of action. After heavy drinking, as much as 2/3 of the liver can be non-functioning – but it is usually fully recovered within a few days.

READ ALSO: Unregistered drugs likely cause of kidney, liver diseases –NAFDAC

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