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The Effect of good Sex on Our Brains

Sex! Sex! Sex! Having sex can flavor our nights, and days, with sweet pleasure and excitement, relieving stress and worry. And, of course, sex has been key to ensuring that the human race lives on. In this article, we ask, “How does sex impact what happens in the brain?” To Install Our Application Click HERE

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Sexual intercourse is known to impact the way in which the rest of our body functions.

Recent studies have shown that it can have an effect on how much we eat, and how well the heart functions.

As we have reported on Medical News Today, sex has been cited as an effective method of burning calories, with scientists noting that appetite is reduced in the aftermath.

Also, a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2016 found that women who have satisfying sex later in life might be better protected against the risk of high blood pressure.

Many of the effects of sex on the body are actually tied to the way in which this pastime influences brain activity and the release of hormones in the central nervous system.

Here, we explain what happens in the brain when we are sexually stimulated, and we look at how this activity can lead to changes in mood, metabolism, and the perception of pain.

Brain activity and sexual stimulation

For both men and women, sexual stimulation and satisfaction have been demonstrated to increase the activity of brain networks related to pain and emotional states, as well as to the reward system.

This led some researchers to liken sex to other stimulants from which we expect an instant “high,” such as drugs and alcohol.

The brain and penile stimulation

A 2005 study by researchers at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands used positron emission tomography scans to monitor the cerebral blood flow of male participants while their genitals were being stimulated by their female partners.

The scans demonstrated that stimulating the erect penis increased blood flow in the posterior insula and the secondary somatosensory cortex in the right hemisphere of the brain, while decreasing it in the right amygdala.

The insula is a part of the brain that has been tied to processing emotions, as well as to sensations of pain and warmth. Similarly, the secondary somatosensory cortex is thought to play an important role in encoding sensations of pain.

As for the amygdala, it is known to be involved in the regulation of emotions, and dysregulations of its activity have been tied to the development of anxiety disorders.

An older study from the same university — which focused on brain regions that were activated at the time of ejaculation — found that there was an increase in blood flow to the cerebellum, which also plays a key role in the processing of emotions.

The researchers liken the activation of the cerebellum during ejaculation to the pleasure rush caused by other activities that stimulate the brain’s reward system.

"Our results correspond with reports of cerebellar activation during heroin rush, sexual arousal, listening to pleasurable music, and monetary reward."

The brain and the female orgasm

In a study of the female orgasm that was conducted last year, scientists from Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, monitored the brain activity of 10 female participants as they achieved the peak of their pleasure — either by self-stimulation or by being stimulated by their partners.

The regions that were “significantly activated” during orgasm, the team found, included part of the prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula, the cingulate gyrus, and the cerebellum.

These brain regions are variously involved in the processing of emotions and sensations of pain, as well as in the regulation of some metabolic processes and decision-making.

Another study previously covered on MNT suggested that the rhythmic and pleasurable stimulation associated with orgasm puts the brain in a trance-like state. Study author Adam Safron compares the effect of female orgasms on the brain to that induced by dancing or listening to music.

“Music and dance may be the only things that come close to sexual interaction in their power to entrain neural rhythms and produce sensory absorption and trance,” he writes.

“That is,” he adds, “the reasons we enjoy sexual experiences may overlap heavily with the reasons we enjoy musical experience, both in terms of proximate (i.e. neural entrainment and induction of trance-like states) and ultimate (i.e. mate choice and bonding) levels of causation.”

Sex and hormonal activity

So what does this all mean? In essence, it means that sex can impact our mood — normally for the better, but sometimes for the worse.

couple kissing in bed

Having sex has repeatedly been associated with improved moods and psychological, as well as physiological, relaxation.

The reason behind why we may feel that stressimpacts us less after a session between the sheets is due to a brain region called the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus dictates the release of a hormone called oxytocin.

Higher levels of oxytocin can make us feel more relaxed, as studies have noted that it can offset the effects of cortisol, the hormone linked with an increased state of stress.

Not only does oxytocin make us calmer, but it also dampens our sense of pain. A study from 2013 found that this hormone could relieve headaches in individuals living with them as a chronic condition.

Another study from 2013 suggested that a different set of hormones that are released during sexual intercourse — called endorphins — can also relieve the pain associated with cluster headaches.

Can sex also make us feel down?

The answer to that, unfortunately, is “yes.” While s3x is generally hailed as a great natural remedy for the blues, a small segment of the population actually report an instant down rather than an instant high after engaging in this activity.

This condition is known as “postcoital dysphoria,” and its causes remain largely unknown. One study conducted in 2010 interviewed 222 female university students to better understand its effects.

Of these participants, 32.9 percent said that they had experienced negative moods after sex.

The team noted that a lifelong prevalence of this condition could be down to past traumatic events. In most cases, however, its causes remained unclear and a biological predisposition could not be eliminated.

“This draws attention to the unique nature of [postcoital dysphoria], where the melancholy is limited only to the period following sexual intercourse and the individual cannot explain why the dysphoria occurs,” the authors write.

Sex may lead to better sleep

Studies have shown that sexual intercourse can also improve sleep. After an orgasm, the body also releases higher levels of a hormone called prolactin, which is known to play a key role in sleep.

Researchers from Central Queensland University in Australia also hypothesized that the release of oxytocin during sex may act as a sedative, leading to a better night’s sleep.

In the case of men, ejaculation has been found to reduce activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a brain region known to benefit particularly from a good night’s sleep.

In sleep, the prefrontal cortex exhibits the slowest brainwave activity compared with other brain regions, which supports the proper execution of cognitive functions during the daytime.

Researchers say that sex may lead to better cognitive functioning in older age, protecting people from memory loss and other cognitive impairments. Studies have shown that “older men who are sexually active […] have increased levels of general cognitive function.”

For women, being sexually active later in life appears to sustain memory recall, specifically. These effects may be due to the action of hormones such as testosterone and oxytocin, which are influenced by intercourse.

So, next time you’re about to slip between the sheets with that special someone, just know that this moment of passion will spark a whole neural firework show, releasing a special hormonal cocktail that will, at its best, charge a whole set of biological batteries.

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All you need to know about orgasms

The orgasm is widely regarded as the peak of sexual excitement. It is a powerful feeling of physical pleasure and sensation, which includes a discharge of accumulated erotic tension.

Overall though, not a great deal is known about the orgasm, and over the past century, theories about the orgasm and its nature have shifted dramatically. For instance, healthcare experts have only relatively recently come round to the idea of the female orgasm, with many doctors as recently as the 1970s claiming that it was normal for women not to experience them.

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In this article, we will explain what an orgasm is in men and women, why it happens, and explain some common misconceptions.

Fast facts on orgasms

  • Medical professionals and mental health professionals define orgasms differently.
  • Orgasms have multiple potential health benefits due to the hormones and other chemicals that are released by the body during an orgasm.
  • Orgasms do not only occur during sexual stimulation.
  • People of all genders can experience orgasm disorders.
  • An estimated 1 in 3 men have experienced premature ejaculation.

 

What is an orgasm?

Orgasms can be defined in different ways using different criteria. Medical professionals have used physiological changes to the body as a basis for a definition, whereas psychologists and mental health professionals have used emotional and cognitive changes. A single, overarching explanation of the orgasm does not currently exist.

Influential research

Couple sharing an orgasm

Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) sought to build “an objectively determined body of fact and sex,” through the use of in-depth interviews, challenging currently held views about sex.

The spirit of this work was taken forward by William H. Masters and Virginia Johnson in their work, Human Sexual Response (1986) – a real-time observational study of the physiological effects of various sexual acts. This research led to the establishment of sexology as a scientific discipline and is still an important part of today’s theories on orgasms.


Orgasm models

Sex researchers have defined orgasms within staged models of sexual response. Although the orgasm process can differ greatly between individuals, several basic physiological changes have been identified that tend to occur in the majority of incidences.

The following models are patterns that have been found to occur in all forms of sexual response and are not limited solely to penile-vaginal intercourse.

Master and Johnson’s Four-Phase Model:

  1. excitement
  2. plateau
  3. orgasm
  4. resolution

Kaplan’s Three-Stage Model:

Kaplan’s model differs from most other sexual response models as it includes desire – most models tend to avoid including non-genital changes. It is also important to note that not all sexual activity is preceded by desire.

  1. desire
  2. excitement
  3. orgasm

Potential health benefits of orgasm

Nurse holding prostate model

The male orgasm may protect against prostate cancer.

A cohort study published in 1997 suggested that the risk of mortality was considerably lower in men with a high frequency of orgasm than men with a low frequency of orgasm.

This is counter to the view in many cultures worldwide that the pleasure of the orgasm is “secured at the cost of vigor and wellbeing.”

There is some evidence that frequent ejaculation might reduce the risk of prostate cancer. A team of researchers found that the risk for prostate cancer was 20 percent lower in men who ejaculated at least 21 times a month compared with men who ejaculated just 4 to 7 times a month.

Several hormones that are released during orgasm have been identified, such as oxytocin and DHEA; some studies suggest that these hormones could have protective qualities against cancers and heart disease. Oxytocin and other endorphins released during male and female orgasm have also been found to work as relaxants.

Types

Unsurprisingly, given that experts are yet to come to a consensus regarding the definition of an orgasm, there are multiple different forms of categorization for orgasms.

The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud distinguished female orgasms as clitoral in the young and immature, and vaginal in those with a healthy sexual response. In contrast, the sex researcher Betty Dodson has defined at least nine different forms of orgasm, biased toward genital stimulation, based on her research. Here is a selection of them:

  • Combination or blended orgasms: a variety of different orgasmic experiences blended together.
  • Multiple orgasms: a series of orgasms over a short period rather than a singular one.
  • Pressure orgasms: orgasms that arise from the indirect stimulation of applied pressure. A form of self-stimulation that is more common in children.
  • Relaxation orgasms: orgasm deriving from deep relaxation during sexual stimulation.
  • Tension orgasms: a common form of orgasm, from direct stimulation often when the body and muscles are tense.

There are other forms of orgasm that Freud and Dodson largely discount, but many others have described them. For instance:

  • Fantasy orgasms: orgasms resulting from mental stimulation alone.
  • G-spot orgasms: orgasms resulting from the stimulation of an erotic zone during penetrative intercourse, feeling markedly different to orgasms from other kinds of stimulation.


The female orgasm

The following description of the physiological process of female orgasm in the genitals will use the Masters and Johnson four-phase model.

Excitement

When a woman is stimulated physically or psychologically, the blood vessels within her genitals dilate. Increased blood supply causes the vulva to swell, and fluid to pass through the vaginal walls, making the vulva swollen and wet. Internally, the top of the vagina expands.

Heart rate and breathing quicken and blood pressure increases. Blood vessel dilation can lead to the woman appearing flushed, particularly on the neck and chest.

Plateau

As blood flow to the introitus – the lower area of the vagina – reaches its limit, it becomes firm. Breasts can increase in size by as much as 25 percent and increased blood flow to the areola – the area surrounding the nipple – causes the nipples to appear less erect. The clitoris pulls back against the pubic bone, seemingly disappearing.

Orgasm

The genital muscles, including the uterus and introitus, experience rhythmic contractions around 0.8 seconds apart. The female orgasm typically lasts longer than the male at an average of around 13-51 seconds.

Unlike men, most women do not have a refractory (recovery) period and so can have further orgasms if they are stimulated again.

Resolution

The body gradually returns to its former state, with swelling reduction and the slowing of pulse and breathing.

The male orgasm

The following description of the physiological process of male orgasm in the genitals uses the Masters and Johnson four-phase model.

Excitement

When a man is stimulated physically or psychologically, he gets an erection. Blood flows into the corpora – the spongy tissue running the length of the penis – causing the penis to grow in size and become rigid. The testicles are drawn up toward the body as the scrotum tightens.

Plateau

As the blood vessels in and around the penis fill with blood, the glans and testicles increase in size. In addition, thigh and buttock muscles tense, blood pressure rises, the pulse quickens, and the rate of breathing increases.

Orgasm

Semen – a mixture of sperm (5 percent) and fluid (95 percent) – is forced into the urethra by a series of contractions in the pelvic floor muscles, prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and the vas deferens.

Contractions in the pelvic floor muscles and prostate gland also cause the semen to be forced out of the penis in a process called ejaculation. The average male orgasm lasts for 10-30 seconds.

Resolution

The man now enters a temporary recovery phase where further orgasms are not possible. This is known as the refractory period, and its length varies from person to person. It can last from a few minutes to a few days, and this period generally grows longer as the man ages.

During this phase, the man’s penis and testicles return to their original size. The rate of breathing will be heavy and fast, and the pulse will be fast.

Causes

It is commonly held that orgasms are a sexual experience, typically experienced as part of a sexual response cycle. They often occur following the continual stimulation of erogenous zones, such as the genitals, anus, nipples, and perineum.

Physiologically, orgasms occur following two basic responses to continual stimulation:

  • Vasocongestion: the process whereby body tissues fill up with blood, swelling in size as a result.
  • Myotonia: the process whereby muscles tense, including both voluntary flexing and involuntary contracting.

There have been other reports of people experiencing orgasmic sensations at the onset of epileptic medicine, and foot amputees feeling orgasms in the space where their foot once was. People paralyzed from the waist down have also been able to have orgasms, suggesting that it is the central nervous system rather than the genitals that is key to experiencing orgasms.

Disorders

A number of disorders are associated with orgasms; they can lead to distress, frustration, and feelings of shame, both for the person experiencing the symptoms and their partner(s).

Although orgasms are considered to be the same in all genders, healthcare professionals tend to describe orgasm disorders in gendered terms.

Female orgasmic disorders

Female orgasmic disorders center around the absence or significant delay of orgasm following sufficient stimulation.

The absence of having orgasms is also referred to as anorgasmia. This term can be divided into primary anorgasmia, when a woman has never experienced an orgasm, and secondary anorgasmia, when a woman who previously experienced orgasms no longer can. The condition can be limited to certain situations or can generally occur.

Female orgasmic disorder can occur as the result of physical causes such as gynecological issues or the use of certain medications, or psychological causes such as anxiety or depression.

Male orgasmic disorders

Also referred to as inhibited male orgasm, male orgasmic disorder involves a persistent and recurrent delay or absence of orgasm following sufficient stimulation.


Male orgasmic disorder can be a lifelong condition or one that is acquired after a period of regular sexual functioning. The condition can be limited to certain situations or can generally occur. It can occur as the result of other physical conditions such as heart disease, psychological causes such as anxiety, or through the use of certain medications such as antidepressants.

Premature ejaculation

Ejaculation in men is closely associated with an orgasm. Premature ejaculation is a common sexual complaint, whereby a man ejaculates (and typically orgasms) within 1 minute of penetration, including the moment of penetration itself.

Premature ejaculation is likely to be caused by a combination of psychological factors such as guilt or anxiety, and biological factors such as hormone levels or nerve damage.

Common misconceptions

Young happy couple

A happy relationship is based on more than just the orgasm.

The high importance that society places on sex, combined with our incomplete knowledge of the orgasm, has led to a number of common misconceptions.

Sexual culture has placed the orgasm on a pedestal, often prizing it as the one and only goal for sexual encounters.

However, orgasms are not as simple and as common as many people would suggest.

It is estimated that around 10-15 percent of women have never had an orgasm. In men, as many as 1 in 3 reports having experienced premature ejaculation at some point in their lives.

Research has shown that orgasms are also not widely considered to be the most important aspect of sexual experience. One study reported that many women find their most satisfying sexual experiences involve a feeling of being connected to someone else, rather than basing their satisfaction solely on orgasm.

Another misconception is that penile-vaginal stimulation is the main way for both men and women to achieve an orgasm. While this may be true for many men and some women, many more women experience orgasms following the stimulation of the clitoris.

A comprehensive analysis of 33 studies over 80 years found that during vaginal intercourse just 25 percent of women consistently experience an orgasm, about half of women sometimes have an orgasm, 20 percent seldom or ever have orgasms, and about 5 percent never have orgasms.

In fact, orgasms do not necessarily have to involve the genitals at all, nor do they have to be associated with sexual desires, as evidenced by examples of exercise-induced orgasm.

The journey to an orgasm is a very individual experience that has no singular, all-encompassing definition. In many cases, experts recommend avoiding comparison to other people or pre-existing concepts of what an orgasm should be.

 

The cure of a hangover

A hangover is a collection of signs and symptoms linked to a recent bout of heavy drinking. A person with a hangover typically experiences a headache, feels sick, dizzy, sleepy, confused, and thirsty.

Hangovers can occur at any time of day, but are usually more common in the morning directly after a night of heavy drinking.

As well as physical symptoms, the person may experience elevated levels of anxiety, regret, shame, embarrassment, and depression. The severity of a hangover is closely linked to how much alcohol was consumed, and whether the sufferer had enough sleep; the less sleep, the worse the hangover.

It is impossible really to say how much alcohol can be safely consumed to avoid a hangover – it depends on the individual and other factors, such as how tired they were before they began drinking, whether they were already dehydrated before the drinking began, whether they drank plenty of water during their drinking session, and how much sleep they got afterward.

Fast facts on hangovers:

  • Hangovers are caused by overconsumption of alcohol.
  • Symptoms include headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, and fatigue.
  • The best method of prevention is to drink alcohol in moderation, or avoid it altogether.
  • The most effective cures are rest, rehydration, and sleep.

Cure

woman drinking whiskey

Unfortunately not. Symptoms can be alleviated by drinking water, replacing electrolytes in the body through food, and resting. In the vast majority of cases, hangovers go away after about 24 hours. Responsible drinking can help avoid hangovers.

There is no “treatment” for a hangover – the best way to avoid one is either not to drink, or to drink sensibly and within the recommended limits. Our article what is the best hangover cure? features some of the common myths and suggests some methods of prevention.

A hangover has to run its course, and that can be best done with rest, drinking plenty of water, perhaps some painkillers, and simply waiting.

Do not go for a “hair of the dog” – an alcoholic drink to get rid of a hangover. This is a myth, and will likely just prolong hangover symptoms.

The following tips may help:

Drink: Sip water throughout the day. Water is the best fluid.

Eating: Go for bland foods, such as crackers or bread, which may raise blood sugar and are easy on the stomach. Fructose-containing foods might help metabolize (break down and get rid of) the alcohol more rapidly.

Pain: Some people may take a painkiller. Be aware that certain painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol) attack the liver in high concentrations, while aspirin might not be ideal for a very delicate stomach. If you are not sure what to choose, ask a qualified pharmacist.

Rest: Sleep may help speed up recovery. Have some water next to the bed.

In short, you should not drink more than you know your body can handle.

Symptoms

woman with bloodshot eye

Bloodshot eyes are one of the most visible symptoms of a hangover.

The signs and symptoms of a hangover generally start to occur when the blood alcohol drops considerably.

Typically, this happens in the morning after a night of high alcohol consumption, and may include:

  • accelerated heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • bloodshot eyes
  • body and muscle aches
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • headache
  • hypersalivation
  • flatulence
  • lethargy, tiredness, fatigue, listlessness
  • nausea
  • photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • problems focusing or concentrating
  • sensitivity to loud sounds
  • depression (dysphoria)
  • irritability
  • moodiness
  • stomachache
  • thirst
  • trembling or shakiness, erratic motor functions
  • vomiting

If the individual has the following more severe signs and symptoms when or after drinking, they may have alcohol poisoning. This is a medical emergency. Seek medical help as soon as possible if any of the following occur:

  • breathing loses its regular rhythm
  • breathing slows down to less than eight inhalations per minute
  • confusion or stupor – the drinker is in a daze
  • fits
  • the body temperature drops
  • passing out
  • the skin becomes pale, or takes on a blue tinge
  • vomiting continues and does not stop

The symptoms vary in severity, and some people may experience some more strongly than others.

Causes

A hangover is a consequence of having consumed too much alcohol, which causes several adverse effects:

Urination: Alcohol makes a person urinate more, which raises the chances of dehydration. Dehydration can give the individual that sensation of thirst and lightheadedness.

Immune system response: Alcohol may trigger an inflammatory response from the immune system. This can affect appetite, concentration, and memory.

Stomach irritation: Alcohol consumption raises the production of stomach acids; it also slows down the rate at which the stomach empties itself – this combination can lead to nausea, vomiting, or stomachache.

Drop in blood sugar: Some people’s blood sugar levels can fall steeply when they consume alcohol, resulting in shakiness, moodiness, tiredness, general weakness, and even seizures in some cases.

Dilation of blood vessels: Alcohol consumption can cause the blood vessels to dilate, which can cause headaches.

Sleep quality: Although sleeping when drunk is common, the quality of that sleep will often be poor. The individual may wake up tired and still sleepy.

Congeners: These are substances that are produced during fermentation and are responsible for most of the taste and aroma in distilled drinks (whisky or gin, for example). They are known to contribute to symptoms of a hangover. Examples of congeners include esters and aldehydes.

Toxic byproducts: Alcohol metabolism produces toxic substances that can cause many of the symptoms of hangovers.

The body processes alcohol at a certain rate. Consuming more alcohol before the body has had time to recover means the likelihood of a hangover increases.

Prevention

The easiest way to prevent a hangover is to moderate or avoid alcohol intake.

Drinking plenty of water alongside alcoholic beverages or consuming a late-night meal after a session of heavy drinking may also temper the hangover that may occur the following morning.

What to know about alcohol poisoning

A person has alcohol poisoning if they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period. Their blood alcohol level is so high it is considered toxic (poisonous).

The person can become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, have shallow breathing, and can even pass out or go into a coma.

Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening and usually requires urgent medical treatment.

Binge drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. However, it can also occur if somebody intentionally or unintentionally drinks alcohol-containing household products (much less common).

Fast facts on alcohol poisoning

  • Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition.
  • Even when someone stops drinking, there is risk of alcohol poisoning for some time afterward.
  • Symptoms include confusion, abnormal breathing, and vomiting.
  • In severe cases, alcohol poisoning is life-threatening.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning

A man passed out in the street from alcohol consumption.

Alcohol poisoning can cause drinkers to lose consciousness when their blood alcohol concentration reaches a certain level.

Even when someone stops drinking, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise for 30-40 minutes, resulting in worsening symptoms.

The following signs and symptoms may indicate a progression from being drunk to alcohol poisoning:

  • confusion
  • hypothermia (the person’s body temperature drops)
  • pale skin, sometimes it may take on a bluish tinge
  • the individual is unresponsive but conscious (stupor)
  • the individual passes out
  • abnormal breathing – sometimes up to 10 seconds between breaths
  • very slow breathing
  • vomiting – potential to choke on vomit when confused

In serious cases:

  • breathing might stop completely
  • a heart attack may occur
  • there is a risk of choking on their own vomit – vomit might be inhaled into the lungs causing a serious infection
  • hypothermia
  • if the individual loses too much fluid (severe dehydration), there is a risk of brain damage
  • if blood glucose levels drop (hypoglycemia), they might develop seizures

If the alcohol poisoning is extreme, the patient can go into a coma and potentially die.

This article focuses on the medical aspects of alcohol poisoning, rather than other environmental dangers of alcohol abuse such as getting into fights, losing possessions, or having problems with the law.

Treatment for alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a significant medical condition. It requires immediate treatment if suspected.

If a person is thought to have alcohol poisoning, an ambulance should be called. Before the ambulance arrives, the following assistance should be given:

  • try to keep the individual awake
  • try to keep them in a sitting position, not lying down – if they do lie down, turn their head to the side
  • if they can take it, give them water
  • if the person is unconscious, put them in the recovery position and check they are breathing
  • do not give them coffee; caffeine will worsen the dehydration
  • do not lie them on their back
  • do not give them any more alcohol to drink
  • do not make them walk

In the hospital, depending on the patient’s BAC level and severity of signs and symptoms, staff may just monitor them until their alcohol levels gradually drop. However, depending on the severity of symptoms, other treatments may include:

  • a tube inserted into their windpipe to help with breathing
  • an intravenous drip to manage hydration, blood glucose, and vitamin levels
  • a urinary catheter if they become incontinent
  • in some cases, the patient’s stomach may be pumped – fluids are flushed through a tube that goes down their mouth or nose

If the person – who may sometimes be a child – has unintentionally drunk methanol or isopropyl alcohol and has alcohol poisoning they may need dialysis to speed up the removal of toxins from their system.

What causes alcohol poisoning?

A group of young people drinking together

College drinkers are statistically the most at risk of alcohol poisoning.

When somebody consumes an alcoholic drink, their liver has to filter out the alcohol, a toxin, from their blood.

We absorb alcohol much more quickly than food – alcohol gets to our bloodstream much faster.

However, the liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol; approximately one standard drink of alcohol every hour.

If a person drinks two in 1 hour, there will be an extra drink’s worth of alcohol in the bloodstream. If during the next hour, the person consumes another two drinks, they will have two standard drink’s worth of alcohol floating around in their bloodstream 2 hours after the drinking session.

The faster someone drinks, the higher the BAC becomes. Rapid drinking can bring BAC so high that mental and physical functions are negatively affected. If BAC is high enough, physical functions such as breathing and the gag reflex (that prevents people from choking) can be affected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are “2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States each year – an average of six alcohol poisoning deaths every day.”

Those at highest risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning are college students, chronic alcoholics, and those taking medications that clash with alcohol.

Recovery from alcohol poisoning

During recovery from alcohol posioning, the individual may experience:

  • headache
  • somach cramps
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • tremors

It is important to keep hydrated and avoid drinking any alcohol.

What effects does alcohol have on health?

Alcohol is the intoxicating ingredient that is present in wine, beer, and spirits. It is a depressant, which means that when it reaches the brain, it slows down the body’s systems.

It can also be difficult for the body to process, putting extra pressure on the liver, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, and other functions.

Alcohol is a legal recreational substance for adults and one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States. People consume alcohol to socialize, to relax, and to celebrate.

It is commonly misused among individuals of all ages, resulting in significant health, legal, and socio-economic damage.

In 2017, around half of all Americans aged over 18 years had consumed alcohol in the last month. Just over 9 percent of those aged 12 to 17 years had done so.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15.1 million people aged 18 years and over in the U.S. had alcohol use disorder (AUD), or 6.2 percent of this age group.

Fast facts about alcohol

  • Pure alcohol is a colorless, odorless, and flammable liquid.
  • Fruits and grains are the foods most commonly used foods to make alcohol.
  • Alcohol is the number one abused drug by minors in the U.S.
  • The liver can only oxidize about one drink per hour.
  • Alcohol is known to be harmful to developing brains, from before birth to adolescence.
  • No amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy.
  • Combined with other medications, whether over-the-counter (OTC) or prescribed, alcohol’s effects can be deadly.

Short-term effects

moderate drinking

One to two drinks can make you feel relaxed.

Within minutes of consuming alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream by blood vessels in the stomach lining and small intestine.

It then travels to the brain, where it quickly produces its effects.

The short-term effects of alcohol depend on:

  • how much is consumed
  • how quickly
  • the weight, sex, and body fat percentage of the individual
  • whether or not they have eaten

Drinking with a meal slows the rate of absorption, resulting in fewer side effects and less intoxication.

Signs of intoxication

At first, the person may feel relaxed, uninhibited, or giddy. As they consume more alcohol, intoxication may result.

Other signs of intoxication include:

  • slurred speech
  • clumsiness and unsteady gait
  • drowsiness
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • distortion of senses and perception
  • loss of consciousness
  • lapses in memory

How much alcohol?

One drink is the equivalent of:

  • 12 ounces of beer that is around 5 percent alcohol, depending on the type
  • 5 ounces of wine that is around 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5-ounces of spirits, or a “shot,” at about 40 percent alcohol
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor, at around 7 percent alcohol

In other words, these servings all contain the same amount of alcohol: 0.6 ounces.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. It is expressed as the weight of ethanol in grams per 100 milliliter (ml) of blood.

The University of West Virginia suggests that a person may experience the following, depending on individual factors:

Number of drinks BAC Effect
1-2 Up to 0.05 The person feels relaxed, less inhibited, with a slower reaction time and reduced alertness.
3-4 0.05 to 0.10 Fine motor skills, reaction time, and judgment are reduced.
5-7 0.10-0.15 Vision, perception, reaction times, and judgment are affected; the person may become argumentative or emotionally irrational.
8-10 0.15-0.30 The person may stagger, speech become slurred, and vision blurred. Motor skills are severely affected, and the person may vomit or feel nauseated.
Over 10 0.30 and above The person may lose consciousness or be conscious but unaware of what is happening. Breathing rate is slow.

The body absorbs alcohol relatively quickly, but it takes longer to get the alcohol out of the body. The liver needs about 1 hour to process one drink. Consuming several drinks in a short time causes the alcohol builds up in the body. This puts the body’s systems under pressure. It can lead to illness and, in severe cases, death.

Alcohol toxicity

After 8 to 9 drinks, vision becomes blurred and the person is likely to feel nauseated.

It also increases the risk of blackouts, especially on an empty stomach. During this time, a person may do things that they do not remember later.

Binge drinking is defined as drinking within 2 hours:

  • Five or more drinks for a man
  • Four or more drinks for a woman

This is because women and men metabolize alcohol differently.

Intoxication impairs judgment and can result in inappropriate and illegal behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated and acts of violence.

In 2014, 31 percent of all driving fatalities in the U.S. were alcohol-related.

Alcohol toxicity

When the amount of alcohol in the blood exceeds a certain level, this can lead to alcohol toxicity, or poisoning. This is a dangerous condition.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it can slow the breathing, leading to a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • slow breathing
  • blue tint to the skin
  • low body temperature
  • loss of consciousness
  • coma

If blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.4, there is a 50 percent chance of death.

Alcohol intolerance

Some people will feel unwell immediately after drinking alcohol. They may have an intolerance, insensitivity, or allergy to alcohol or another ingredient in a drink.

Symptoms include:

  • facial flushing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • worsening of asthma
  • diarrhea
  • low blood pressure

Alcohol intolerance can be a sign of Hodgkin lymphoma. Anyone who suddenly develops an intolerance may be advised to see a doctor, in case there is an underlying condition.

Combining alcohol with other depressant-type medications—whether over-the-counter preparations, prescription, or recreational drugs—can have serious effects on the respiratory and central nervous systems.

It is especially dangerous to mix alcohol with GHB, rohypnol, ketamine, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.

Hangover

After drinking too much in an evening, a person may continue to feel the effects of the alcohol on waking up, with what is commonly called a “hangover.”

This is because alcohol is toxic to the body, and the body is still working to get rid of the toxin.

Many of the symptoms are caused by dehydration, but some chemicals in alcoholic drinks can cause a reaction in the blood vessels and the brain that make symptoms worse.

Symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • racing heart
  • dry mouth and eyes
  • difficulty concentrating
  • restlessness

Around 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach. Most of the remaining 80 percent is absorbed through the small intestine. Around 5 percent of the alcohol consumed leaves through the lungs, kidneys and the skin. The liver removes the rest.

Since the liver can only process the equivalent of one drink at a time, the body may remain saturated with the alcohol that has not yet left the body.

It can take from 2 to 3 hours for the body to metabolize alcohol from one to two drinks, and up to 24 hours to process the alcohol from eight to ten drinks.

A hangover can last up to 24 hours. Doctors advise not drinking again within 48 hours of a heavy drinking session, to allow the body to recover.

Long-term effects

Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions including dependence and addiction, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and unintentional injuries such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns, assaults, and drowning.

Around 88,000 people in the U.S die from alcohol-related causes every year. This makes it the third leading preventable cause of death.

Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with the following health problems:

alcohol and depression

Drinking too much too often can lead to depression.

  • liver disease
  • pancreatitis
  • cardiomyopathy, or damage to the heart muscle
  • other cardiovascular problems
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • stomach ulcers
  • cancer
  • immune system dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • brain and nerve damage
  • vitamin deficiencies
  • mental health problems such as anxiety and depression

Alcohol affects every body system, so it can cause health problems throughout the body.

Research shows that women who drink more alcohol than is recommended on a regular basis tend to develop liver disease, cardiomyopathy and nerve damage after fewer years than men who do the same.

Of major concern is the number of young people who consume alcohol. Research suggests that 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for AUD, and the condition affects some 623,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years.

Alcohol can have a serious effect on the developing brain, from fetal development to the end of adolescence. If a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, the child may be born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). In 2015, this was believed to affect between 2 and 7 newborns in every 1,000.

Symptoms can be similar to those of ADHD.

Addiction and withdrawal

If a person consumes large amounts of alcohol regularly, their tolerance can increase, and the body requires more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.

As the body adapts to the presence of the drug, dependency and addiction can result. If consumption stops suddenly, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol addiction is a disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and continued use despite a negative impact on health, interpersonal relationships, and ability to work. If the person stops drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of withdrawal generally occur between 4 and 72 hours after the last drink or after reducing intake. They peak at about 48 hours and may last up to 5 days.

They may include:

  • mild tremors
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • depressed mood

Many people will take a drink to stop the discomfort of withdrawal.

In more severe cases, the person may experience Delirium tremens, or “the DTs.”

This condition involves:

  • body tremors (shaking)
  • hallucinations or changes in mental status
  • confusion
  • extreme sleepiness
  • seizures that can result in death

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency. Anyone with an alcohol dependency disorder who desires to stop drinking should seek professional medical care or a treatment center specializing in safe alcohol detoxification.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder

The treatment of alcohol dependency involves a variety of interventions, and it requires medical, social, and family support.

Strategies include:

  • individual and group counseling
  • medication, such as disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone and acamprosate (Campral)
  • participation in support networks such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • A detoxification program in a hospital or medical facility is another option for those who need a higher level of care.

Contacts for help

If anyone who is concerned about their own or a loved one’s drinking habits, they can call or contact the following organizations for confidential help:

  • Alcohol and Drug Helpline: 800-527-5344
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.: 800-622-2255
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Making screening part of regular health visits can help with making an early diagnosis.

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