Over half of Americans drink alcohol on a regular or semi-regular basis but how much is too much? It’s hard to say. There are guidelines for “moderate” drinking: one drink a day for women and two per day for men. More than half of the people who drink, at some point in their lives, admit to drinking too much. It appears some short term effects of alcohol affect people differently—why?
Each person’s tolerance level—which means how quickly or slowly a person’s body metabolizes the alcohol—is different. Having a drink on an empty stomach can cause you to feel the effects of alcohol quicker and with more intensity because food slows the metabolism of alcohol. A larger, heavier man will feel the effects of alcohol differently than a petite woman. So what happens when the effects of alcohol hit?
We will explore the short term effects of alcohol—some of them may surprise you.
Why Do People Drink Alcohol?
People drink alcohol for a wide variety of reasons. Some people crave the short term effects of alcohol, such as the warm feeling that flushes over them as the first sips go down. Here are other reasons people may drink:
Whatever the reason, except for addiction, alcohol can be a fine addition to a social setting, quiet night at home or even enhancing a meal. There are many socially acceptable reasons to have a drink. Here are common situations in which someone may have a drink or two.
As you can see, alcohol is everywhere and acceptable in almost every situation.
Is There a Need for Alcohol?
The jury is still out on this one. There is a school of thought that says if you need a cocktail at night to relax, then yes, why not? There’s some truth to that. If you are home, or out to dinner and the warm blanket of a drink calms and relaxes you, go for it—this can be one of the mild and harmless short term side effects of alcohol in moderation.
The other school of thought is that if you “need” alcohol, there may be a bigger issue at play. The inability to relax, have fun or feel content without alcohol shows a dependence of sorts on alcohol. A person “depends” on alcohol to feel certain things most people feel with or without having a drink.
Alcohol is Big Business
There are businesses that absolutely hang their hats and ability to keep their doors open on selling alcohol. Most bars need alcohol to stay afloat and therefore they count on people wanting to drink on a fairly regular basis. Alcohol sales in restaurants can account for upwards of 30% of their business. Local, state and federal governments make a ton of money from issuing licenses to sell alcohol to businesses and rake in taxes on the retail sale of alcohol. Those governments invest those dollars into infrastructure, schools and other government-run programs that many people enjoy. These examples show that there is an overarching societal need for alcohol in business.
Key Short Term Effects of Alcohol
There’s a lot of discussion about the long-term effects of alcohol consumption and once a person crosses over the moderation line, those effects become adverse and sometimes life-altering. There are short term effects of alcohol that can have the same consequences but more immediate and acute. The short term effects of alcohol will vary in severity and degree based on:
This is also one of the main reasons people drink. You’ve heard the saying “liquid courage”. Sometimes a drink can boost someone’s bravery to talk to someone they find attractive, have a difficult conversation, do something exciting that they have apprehension about or try something scary but safe. These situations can end in positive experiences.
Lowered inhibitions can also lead to very poor judgment and dangerous decisions. It may cause people to feel brave to a fault. This can result in agreeing to take part in an unsafe activity, engaging in unsafe sex, saying something inappropriate that can have personal or professional negative consequences or not knowing when to say no to the next drink.
Slower Brain Activity
This leads to all sorts of problems when someone drinks in excess but can be one of the short term effects of alcohol even after one drink. Finer motor skills start to break down and doing things like writing, texting and even speaking become more difficult. Once a person drinks more than one or two, the blood alcohol content (BAC) rises and makes things like driving very dangerous and even illegal. It is the inability to react quickly enough or your brain’s ability to concentrate on the intricacies of driving that are diminished and lead to accidents and arrests.
When someone has multiple drinks, you’ll notice they start to ask people to repeat what they’ve said, sometimes multiple time. You’ll also notice they need to focus differently on something they’re reading or looking at and even complain of double vision. This is all due to an increasing BAC.
Loss of Coordination
This side effect is generally noticeable after someone has one too many. They may stumble, sway, drop things or even fall—sometimes repeatedly. Even though this is one of the short term side effects of alcohol that can get the most laughs, it is also one of the more dangerous. Falling can cause injury but when you couple lack of coordination with alcohol-induced bravery, people can cause major injury by being in unsafe or unstable conditions. Loss of coordination when mixed with driving a car—or even a jet ski or snowmobile—can become fatal very quickly. If you’re swerving while you’re walking you will do the same behind any wheel.
There are many phrases like “Whiskey makes me angry” or “wine makes me happy” because alcohol is a mood changing substance. Alcohol, while not classified as such in America, is understood to be a drug because of the effect it has on the brain and mood. It changes the levels of serotonin in the brain and can cause different mood swings based on the individual’s chemistry.
Some people experience a drowsy feeling after just a few sips while others feel immediately invigorated. Like many short term effects of alcohol, the result is individual. Many people “pass out” after a few drinks while others toss and turn because they are unable to sleep.
The short term effects of alcohol are short lived and most people rebound quickly. Some may experience a hangover that will go away in a day and serve as a warning to take it easier next time they drink. Once the BAC reaches a certain level, it is comparable to anesthesia and becomes dangerous. Alcohol poisoning is associated with binge drinking. If you notice one of your friends drinking to excess, the short term effects of alcohol can quickly turn deadly. When someone drinks between five to eight drinks in an hour or their BAC reaches .15, they may show signs of alcohol poisoning. These include:
If you or someone you’re with experience any of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Emergency medical attention can save the life of the person experiencing alcohol poisoning.
Some studies show that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease but a step beyond moderate and the exact opposite is true. Long-term health effects of excessive drinking can be devastating and even result in premature death. Keep an on your drinking, pull back if you’re drinking too much, and learn how to regulate yourself.
If you or anyone you know feels you need help to stop drinking, there are many resources available to help you quit. Alcoholics Anonymous requires no money, medication or time off work or away from your family. There are other options if you need more one-on-one attention. Always ask for help if you feel your drinking is negatively affecting your life, relationships or livelihood.
Most people are moderate drinkers and can go their entire lives enjoying a healthy relationship with alcohol. No matter what your relationship with alcohol, it’s always important to drink responsibly, avoid binge drinking and never, ever get behind a wheel impaired. If you like to have a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at the game or a nice glass of scotch now and then, enjoy—just be safe while you’re relaxing and having fun.