Thesis: Alcohol and Alcoholism by Definition

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Alcohol and Alcoholism

By definition, alcohol "is a legal depressant... obtained by the fermentation of carbohydrates by yeast or distillation. There are many different types of alcohol, but ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the type that is generally used to make alcoholic beverages," such as wine, beer and whiskey ("Alcohol," Internet). In chemistry terms, alcohol, in this instance ethyl alcohol, is a compound "derived from a hydrocarbon by replacing one or more hydrogen atoms with an equal number of hydroxyl radicals" and is classified as either monohydric, dihydric or trihydric (Glanze, 2003, p. 39). It should be pointed out that most alcoholic beverages like wine and beer usually contain less than 15% alcohol, while beverages like whiskey, gin and vodka generally contain more than 40% alcohol.

ALCOHOL and the HUMAN BODY:

Much like any other drug, alcohol affects the human body in many different ways. The most frequent medical consequences related to the consumption of alcohol includes damage to the central nervous system and what is known as cirrhosis of the liver, "a chronic degenerative disease in which the lobes of the liver are covered with fibrous tissue, thus leading to the excessive buildup of fat" (Glanze, 2003, p. 262). Also, as a result of consuming too much alcohol, the vital functions of the liver, such as vitamin absorption, gastro-intestinal function and hormonal metabolism, deteriorate.

In the late stages of alcoholism, the human body experiences other medical conditions which hold the potential to lead to a premature death. These include pancreatitus, "an inflammatory condition of the pancreas which results in damage to the biliary tract," gastritis, "an inflammation of the lining of the stomach which is either acute or chronic," anemia, cardiomyopathy (heart disease), malnutrition, ulcers and gastro-intestinal bleeding ("Alcohol," 2008, Internet).

ALCOHOL and the HUMAN BRAIN:

Three of the most common conditions related to consuming alcohol and the human brain are Korsakoff's dementia, Wernicke's encephalopathy and central pontine myelinolysis. With the first condition, this is a form of amnesia often found in chronic alcoholics and is characterized by a loss of short-term memory and the inability to learn new skills. The causes of this condition can often be traced to degenerative changes in the thalamus as a result of a deficiency of B. complex vitamins, especially thiamin and B12 (Jefferson, 2004, p. 216).

With the second condition which is similar to Korsakoff's dementia, the human brain experiences inflammation and degenerative processes which are characterized by lesions in several parts of the brain including the hypothalamus and tissues surrounding ventricles and aqueducts. Wernicke's encephalopathy is also caused by a thiamin deficiency and is usually present in chronic alcoholics who have consumed large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time (Masterson, 2004, p. 167). As to central pontine myelinolysis, this condition is a process which dissolves the myelin sheaths that surround specific nerve fibers in the brain, such as the pons, "a prominence on the ventral surface of the brain stem, located between the medulla oblongata and the cerebral surface of the mid-brain" (Jefferson, 2004, p. 218). Of course, all three of these brain disorders can lead to a premature death but can be somewhat lessened by ceasing all intake of alcohol.

ALCOHOL ABUSE and ADDICTION:

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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