From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"One must be for ever drunken: that is the sole question of importance."--"Get Drunk" (1869) by Charles Baudelaire
Alcohol, also known by its chemical name ethanol, is a psychoactive drug found as the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits. It is one of the oldest and most common recreational drugs, causing the characteristic effects of alcohol intoxication or "drunkenness". Among other effects, alcohol produces euphoria, decreased anxiety, increased sociability, sedation, impairment of cognition, memory, and motor function, and generalized depression of central nervous system function. Ethanol is the only type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages and is commonly used for recreational purposes.
Alcohol works in the brain primarily by increasing the effects of a neurotransmitter called γ-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and by facilitating its actions, alcohol suppresses the activity of the central nervous system. The drug also directly affects a number of other neurotransmitter systems including those of glutamate, glycine, acetylcholine, and serotonin. The pleasant effects of alcohol ingestion are the result of increased levels of dopamine and endogenous opioids in the reward pathways of the brain.
Alcohol can be addictive to humans, as in alcoholism, and can result in dependence. It has a number of adverse effects on health. The drug has been adjudged to be neurotoxic when consumed in sufficient quantities. In high doses or overdose, alcohol may cause loss of consciousness or, in severe cases, death. It is a causative factor for many traffic accidents and fatalities due to intoxicated driving.
An alcoholic drink, or alcoholic beverage, is a drink that contains a substantial amount of ethanol (informally called alcohol), a depressant which in low doses causes euphoria, reduced anxiety, and sociability and in higher doses causes intoxication (drunkenness), stupor and unconsciousness. Long-term use can lead to alcohol abuse, physical dependence, and alcoholism.
Drinking alcohol plays an important social role in many cultures. Most countries have laws regulating the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages; some countries ban such activities entirely. However, alcoholic drinks are legal in most parts of the world. The global alcoholic drink industry exceeded $1 trillion in 2014.
Alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world. For instance, in 2015, among Americans, 89% of adults had consumed alcohol at some point, 70% had drunk it in the last year, and 56% in the last month. Alcoholic drinks are typically divided into three classes—beers, wines, and spirits—and typically contain between 3% and 40% alcohol by volume.
Discovery of late Stone Age jugs suggest that intentionally fermented drinks existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (cir. 10,000 BC). Many nonhuman animals also consume alcohol when given the opportunity and are affected in much the same way as humans, although humans are the only species known to produce alcoholic drinks intentionally.
The purposeful production of alcoholic beverages is common in many cultures and often reflects their cultural and religious peculiarities as much as their geographical and sociological conditions.
The discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that purposely fermented beverages existed at least as early as c. 10,000 BC. It has been suggested that beer may have preceded bread as a staple.
Alcohol and animals
It is widely believed that some animals eat rotting fruit (from the marula tree, as purported in the documentary Animals Are Beautiful People) for this to ferment and make them drunk, however, this has been refuted in the case of at least elephants.
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