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Definition: Alcohol is a label used to describe beverages containing ethyl alcohol. Background: Alcohol includes such beverages as beer and wine. It is one of the oldest known psychoactive substances, and is currently the most widely used recreational drug in our society. It is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which means that it slows down mental and physical activity of the body. Taken in small doses, it can relax individuals. However, if one consumes large amounts in a short time period, the body is unable to break it down that quickly. Although the effects of alcohol include a sense of relaxed euphoria, there can also be negative consequences with intoxication. These include problems with cognitive processes such as memory and judgement, as well as emotional changes and motor incoordination. The financial costs related to alcohol abuse are significant, and include costs related to work absenteeism and treatment for alcohol abuse. Excessive and chronic alcohol consumption can lead to cognitive impairments, and in some cases to disorders such as Korsakoff's syndrome (metabolic disorder of the CNS due to a lack of thiamine) or alcoholic dementia. Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to symptoms including fever, chills, tremors, vomiting and pains. Further Reading:
Ryan, C., and Butters, N. (1983). Cognitive deficits in alcoholics. In B. Kissen and H. Begleiter (Eds.), The pathogenesis of alcoholism. New York: Plenum press.
Segal, B. (1988). Drugs and Behavior. New York: Gardner Press.
Related Terms: Cannabis
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