Effects On The Central Nervous System
Ethanol is a central nervous system depressant and has significant psychoactive effects in sublethal doses; for specifics, see "Effects of alcohol on the body by dose". Based on its abilities to change the human consciousness, ethanol is considered a psychoactive drug. Death from ethanol consumption is possible when blood alcohol level reaches 0.4%. A blood level of 0.5% or more is commonly fatal. Levels of even less than 0.1% can cause intoxication, with unconsciousness often occurring at 0.3–0.4%.
The amount of ethanol in the body is typically quantified by blood alcohol content (BAC), which is here taken as weight of ethanol per unit volume of blood. The table at the right summarizes the symptoms of ethanol consumption. Small doses of ethanol, in general, produce euphoria and relaxation; people experiencing these symptoms tend to become talkative and less inhibited, and may exhibit poor judgment. At higher dosages (BAC > 1 g/L), ethanol acts as a central nervous system depressant, producing at progressively higher dosages, impaired sensory and motor function, slowed cognition, stupefaction, unconsciousness, and possible death.
Ethanol acts in the central nervous system by binding to the GABA-A receptor, increasing the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (i.e., it is a positive allosteric modulator).
Prolonged heavy consumption of alcohol can cause significant permanent damage to the brain and other organs. See Alcohol consumption and health.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2002 about "41% of people fatally injured in traffic crashes were in alcohol related crashes". The risk of a fatal car accident increases exponentially with the level of alcohol in the driver's blood. Most drunk driving laws governing the acceptable levels in the blood while driving or operating heavy machinery set typical upper limits of blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.05% and 0.08%.
Discontinuing consumption of alcohol after several years of heavy drinking can also be fatal. Alcohol withdrawal can cause anxiety, autonomic dysfunction, seizures, and hallucinations. Delirium tremens is a condition that requires people with a long history of heavy drinking to undertake an alcohol detoxification regimen.
The reinforcing effects of alcohol consumption are also mediated by acetaldehyde generated by catalase and other oxidizing enzymes such as cytochrome P-4502E1 in the brain. Although acetaldehyde has been associated with some of the adverse and toxic effects of ethanol, it appears to play a central role in the activation of the mesolimbic dopamine system.
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