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Alcohol is one of the most widely used, and widely misunderstood, substances in today's society. It has myriad effects on the mental and physical well being of the human body. Many effects are very well known, including its ability to make people lose their inhibitions, their reflexes, and depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, their mental and physical faculties. The main effect of alcohol, and a major reason why many people enjoy moderate drinking, is a gradual dulling of the reactions of the brain and nervous system. One or two drinks act as a tranquilizer or relaxant. Even in small quantities, alcohol is not a stimulant as many people believe.

It is easy to notice that when someone has consumed enough alcohol they become flushed. This is due to the fact that alcohol is a strong vasodilator, meaning it increases the diameter of blood vessels. And while this does in fact cause the drinker to have the sensation of warmth, it actually causes the loss of body heat. When one is thirsty, therefore, it is not a good idea to drink an alcoholic beverage. Alcohol is a strong diuretic, meaning it increases the amount of water removed from the blood by the kidneys and, therefore, increases urination. Heavy drinking causes the level of sugar in the blood to fall rapidly. This may lead, a few hours after a drinking session, to hypoglycemia, causing the drinker to feel weak, dizzy, confused, and abnormally hungry. Drinking tends to increase sexual desire, but it also decreases a man's ability to maintain an erection, possibly because alcohol dulls the nerves that control erection and ejaculation.

Prolonged, heavy intake of alcohol almost inevitably leads to cirrhosis of the liver. A diseased liver can no longer process nutrients from digestion or handle drugs. Symptoms of cirrhosis are numerous and widespread, including edema and jaundice. A single heavy drinking session may give one the unpleasant symptoms of acute gastritis. Continued high intake of alcohol may lead to the more serious form of the disorder, chronic gastritis.

For those who believe the best cure for a hangover is a stiff drink, they are right but probably not for the reason they suspect. The feeling of a hangover is actually the symptoms of the body going through withdrawal after alcohol has been removed from the body. Taking a drink to reduce the discomfort only increases the body's dependence on the substance. Also, and perhaps most importantly, alcohol, when mixed with many common drugs, both legal and illegal, can be fatal. Never drink when on medication unless a doctor has given an OK.