Acute alcoholism simply refers to the intoxication that occurs from drinking a significant amount of alcohol. It refers to the short-term effects of drinking, rather than the long-term physical and mental affects of drinking.
Alcohol consumption, especially during periods of binge drinking, has significant short-term physical effects on both teens and adults. The acute effects of alcohol include interference with digestion in the small intestine that may cause diarrhea. Heavy drinking can cause swelling and closure of the pyloric valve, which is the opening between the stomach and the small intestine, and this causes vomiting.
Other symptoms of acute alcoholism include the conglomeration of unpleasant symptoms that comprise a hangover: headaches, nausea, dry mouth and dizziness. Hangovers are actually a form of alcohol withdrawal caused by, among other things, a water imbalance in the body.
The body organ most affected by alcohol is the brain. Alcohol is a depressant and suppresses the production of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. This works to slow down the functions of the brain and the nervous system. Among the noted effects are “blackouts” or loss of memory, as well as decreased mental sharpness and impaired judgment.
The changes alcohol enacts on the brain can be greatly multiplied if consumption is combined with medicines or other drugs.
As explained by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being at the University of Notre Dame, blood alcohol concentration is the amount of alcohol in the blood stream. Blood alcohol concentration can also be measured with a breathalyzer.
As a drinker’s blood alcohol level increases, so do the effects of the alcohol, as detailed below. In many states, a person is considered legally drunk, and therefore not permitted to drive, with a blood alcohol concentration of .08. However, the effects of alcohol can vary from person to person, based on numerous factors, and one can be quite impaired even with a lower blood alcohol concentration.
The typical impact of alcohol based on blood alcohol concentration:
.01 to .04 - Decrease in inhibitions and a sense of elation or relaxation.
.05 to .07 - Alertness is diminished and feelings of anxiety and depression may be increased. Hand-eye coordination and reaction time can also be affected. May have difficulty driving safely, even if below the legal limit for intoxication.
.08 to .1 - Signs of intoxication include clumsiness, loss of balance and slurred speech. Legally drunk in most states, meaning it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle. Definitely not safe to drive.
.15 to .2 - Emotions such as fear, anger and joy may become uncontrollable. Persons may insist they are not drunk, explode in a rage and not remember anything later.
.2 to .25 – Needs help walking, seems very confused, nausea and vomiting often occur, may blackout.
.25 to .4 – Alcohol poisoning results. Persons may lose consciousness. Anyone experiencing this level of intoxication and alcohol poisoning needs medical attention as soon as possible to prevent serious brain injury or even death.
.4 and above – Onset of coma may occur. Areas of the brain that control the heart and lungs fail to function properly, which may result in death.
Although death by alcohol poisoning is relatively rare, acute alcoholism causes impairment of the brain and its functions that can lead to many problems ranging from minimal to severe, even fatal in some instances. Alcohol poisoning can also cause permanent brain injury or other lasting health problems.
Note that these are only the short-term, or acute, effects of drinking alcohol. Long-term alcohol use, especially heavy alcohol use, can lead to additional health problems, many of them chronic and quite serious, such as ulcers, liver disease and nutritional deficiencies.
It’s important to remember that the number of drinks it takes before someone becomes impaired by the effects of acute alcoholism or legally intoxicated can vary widely and depends on many different factors, including gender, age, weight, whether or not you’ve eaten recently, and any medical problems you may have. According to the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being, a woman weighing 125 pounds might reach a blood alcohol level of .08 after just two drinks, while a man weighing 150 pounds might reach a blood alcohol level of .08 after only three drinks. These are only estimates, however, and it is possible for someone to become impaired after drinking less than these amounts.
To be safe, drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all, and never drive when you’ve been drinking. If you have questions about how much alcohol you can safely consume or concerns about whether you might be drinking too much, talk to your doctor or another qualified healthcare professional.