The Poisoned Chalice of Alcohol

Matthias Ngwangwama

Since time immemorial, people from different nationalities and across racial divides have been indulging in alcoholic beverages of all types.

A warning often printed in tiny letters on alcohol bottles invariably states that “alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health” or “beware of the dangers of alcohol”.

Why these warnings are never printed in big, bold letters remains a mystery.

How an individual consuming strong alcoholic beverages is expected to heed this veiled warning is puzzling.

As often cautioned, alcohol can be good, but only if used in moderation.
Alcohol can be a monster if abused.

Oddly, the meaning of ‘in moderation’ and ‘abuse’ is not always explicitly clarified.

Alcohol’s potent power seems to exist in the denialism by the person caught in its sticky web.

Moreover, an alcoholic would want to keep it a secret, yet it is often clear to all and sundry.

To understand the impact of alcohol, one has to consider its effects on the brain.

Just one glass of beer or wine already interferes with the brain.

According to researchers, alcohol affects a person in gradual but powerful phases.

First it affects the frontal lobes of the brain, which are important for voluntary movement, expressive language and managing cognitive skills, such as the capacity to plan, organise, initiate, self-monitor and control one’s responses.

Anyone can experiment with this: Finish 750ml of beer and coherent speech is already negatively affected.

This is because beer impairs the frontal lobes.

Thereafter, alcohol affects what is known as the reward centres of the brain.

Reward centres consist of neural structures responsible for desires or craving rewards – particularly those involving pleasure.
Alcohol gives the reward centres a lift or ‘high’.

In real life, this manifests in a person having more confidence or losing their inhibitions, including wanting to drink more, dance, talk non-stop, and wanting to be centre of attention.

These are all manifestations of alcohol affecting the human brain at stage two.

The reward centres of the brain become impaired during this stage.

Next it affects the amygdala of the brain, which controls how a person reacts to the world around them.

Then it affects the cerebellum at the back of the brain, which governs balance and coordination.

After this stage, one’s ‘alarm system’ is turned off, because alcohol has now affected many critical parts of the brain.
This is a stage of extreme danger for oneself and others.

People become altered versions of themselves, capable of doing anything.

If one consumes alcohol very quickly, it affects the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming memories.

The legally allowed blood-alcohol level for drivers in Namibia is 0,05mg of alcohol for every 100ml of blood.
At high levels the hippocampus starts struggling and shuts down, which causes blackouts.

That is why, for instance, one can remember meeting someone at a social event, but cannot remember their name or the conversations held when one had too much to drink.

To imagine a person reaching blackout stage and attempting to perform critical tasks, such as driving or office work, is scary.

The solution alcohol producers often shy away from could be to implement consistent educational programmes on the dangers of alcohol.

Alcohol abuse has destroyed many careers, wrecked marriages, and has seriously disturbed society’s overall happiness and harmony.

  • Matthias Ngwangwama is the managing director of Namibia Wildlife Resorts, but writes in his own capacity.

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