alcoholAccording to National Geographic, alcohol is one of the oldest drugs known to mankind. Archaeologists, for example, have found potential evidence of alcoholic beverages that were brewed 9,000 years ago in China. Evidence of the creation of alcohol have been found throughout the rest of the world, as well, showing that the beverage has been used for cultural, religious and social purposes from ancient times up to the present.

While alcoholic beverages are a legal and common part of life for people throughout the world, drinking too much can quickly create serious health problems. It’s not just the individual that is drinking that can get hurt, either: reports that tens of thousands of people die every year from car accidents, and many of these deaths are caused by drunk driving.

Protect yourself from the potential damage of drinking by reading through the following facts about alcohol.

What Is Alcohol

Alcohols are members of a group of organic chemicals that can form naturally or can be created by man. Some alcohols are used as cleaning products, fuels or for other industrial purposes, but when we talk about drinking alcohol, we’re talking about ethanol.

Ethanol is a clear, lightly scented liquid. It is the main intoxicating component of beer, wine and spirits such as vodka, whiskey, rum, gin and tequila. When a winemaker, brewer or distiller creates an alcoholic beverage, yeast is introduced to a mixture of water and some sort of fruit or grain. The yeast consumes sugars in the fruit or grain and converts it to ethanol and carbon dioxide. This process, called fermentation, is also why alcoholic beverages are usually carbonated or bubbly.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Although it is legal and widely consumed, ethanol is actually toxic to the human body, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many of the desired effects that alcohol creates are actually byproducts of the fact that a drinker has ever-so-slightly poisoned himself. The intoxicating effect of alcohol wears off once the body is able to remove all of this poison from the bloodstream and engage in the process of breaking it down in the liver.

One of the first effects of alcohol is that it starts interfering with the brain’s communication pathways. This can alter a person’s ability to think and make decisions, changing your mood and perception of your surroundings. In small doses, this is often what a drinker is aiming for—the ability to relax in social situations or to reduce inhibitions.

In larger doses, however, alcohol starts affecting the body on a much more damaging level. A large amount of alcohol introduced to the body all at once (such as in binge drinking) can create alcohol poisoning. Too much, too quickly can cause cardiac arrest and kill you.

Drinking a lot over longer periods of time has more drawn-out effects. You can damage your heart and create high blood pressure; an irregular heart beat or even have a stroke. The liver can become inflamed and scarred due to trying to process so much poison so frequently.

A lifetime of drinking has even been shown to increase your risk of developing mouth, throat, liver or breast cancer. In general, frequent drinking can weaken your immune system and cause your body to become an easy target for many different diseases.

Alcohol Addiction Help

It’s easy to miss the warning signs of simple, recreational drinking turning into full-blown alcohol abuse. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, contact a professional drug and alcohol rehabilitation center to get help before it’s too late.