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How Alcohol Works

Introduction to How Alcohol Works
Alcohol affects brain chemistry.
Alcohol affects brain chemistry. See cocktail pictures.

In 1997, Americans drank an average of 2 gallo­ns (7.57 liters) of alcohol per person. This translates roughly into one six-pack of beer, two glasses of wine and three or four mixed drinks per week (see MMWR: Apparent Per Capita Ethanol Consumption for details). About 35 percent of adults don't consume alcohol, so the numbers are actually higher for those who do -- alcohol is an amazingly popular social phenomenon.

If you have ever seen a person who has had too much to drink, you know that alcohol is a drug that has widespread effects on the body, and the effects vary from person to person. People who drink might be the "life of the party" or they might become sad and droopy. Their speech may slur and they may have trouble walking. It all depends on the amount of alcohol consumed, a person's history with alcohol and a person's personality.

Even though you have seen the physical and behavioral changes, you might wonder exactly how alcohol works on the body to produce those effects. What is alcohol? How does the body process it? How does the chemistry of alcohol work on the chemistry of the brain? In this article, we will examine all of the ways in which alcohol affects the human body.­