Anyone who tries to bring up for discussion the effects of alcohol on the human body is sure to invite controversy. This is because a discussion on this topic almost always stirs up prepossessions and emotions, and our lack of thorough cognizance of the subject compounds the situation. More serious is the fact that this subject carries moral and social implications.
But braving all these, we often find ourselves asking that very question of what the effects of alcohol on the human body really are. Specifically, we want to know if alcohol is both a food and a drug. Of course the alcohol referred to here is ethanol, the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages.
Does alcohol qualify as a food?
To answer this question, we must have a complete accord on one specific definition of “food”: a substance which, when ingested, provides the body with energy, essential components of the cell environment, or building blocks for the manufacture of body parts. Obviously, any amount of alcohol obtained by drinking the substance cannot be considered a vital or valuable constituent of the body’s internal environment; neither can it supply the building blocks necessary for the manufacture of body parts.
But alcohol qualifies as a food in that it can be burned, as it is so burned during the process of digestion, producing energy which the body can use. It has long been established in numerous studies that consumption of alcohol in moderate quantities can add to the body’s fat storage and make the person gain weight. This fact, however, is not due to alcohol being converted into fat. Rather, it is because the instance of burning of alcohol relieves the body of the need for burning all the fat and carbohydrate ingested, storing some amount in the process.
It must be made clear here that alcohol is not ordinarily used because it is a food. As a matter of fact, ranged against glucose in terms of providing the body with energy, alcohol does not have any advantage at all, especially since it cannot be stored in the body.
Does alcohol qualify as a drug?
Again to answer this question, we must agree upon an explicit definition of “drug”: any substance which, when introduced into the body, alters the normal or natural function of the body organs in some respects other than by augmenting the provisions of obtainable energy. Some people use alcohol mainly due to certain effects – much like those of some drugs – they consider gratifying.
The central nervous system, particularly the brain, is that part of the body which is the most affected by alcohol. Now and then, some people liken alcohol to a stimulant, observing that a person who has consumed a moderate amount may become uncommonly alert and intense, often talking without reservation or restraint. On the contrary, alcohol is really more like a depressant, lessening the strength or activity of certain parts of the nervous system.
When ingested, alcohol’s first targets of subjugation are the body’s highest vital faculties. By depressing these “mind powers,” alcohol may embolden even the most timid of persons to exhibit a rowdy behavior. This mind-subduing characteristic of alcohol is what makes some people use alcohol as a means, albeit dubiously, of getting away from the cares and realities of life.
Alcohol cannot cure or treat any infection or disorder. Other than being used extensively as a drug solvent, alcohol has practically no use in medicine other than as an anesthetic in some minor surgeries, when it is not possible to use other anesthetics. This is as far as the medical value of alcohol goes; thanks to its ability of dulling the body’s senses.