Alcohol is a type of drug known as a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant, meaning that it tends to decrease neuronal activity occurring in the brain and spinal cord.

This decrease in activity contributes to some of the slow, sedating side effects the drug imparts on its consumers, like slurred speech and stumbling movements.

Alcohol is able to cause this decrease in neuron activity by increasing the activity of an important cell-signaling chemical in the nervous system called y-aminobutyric acid, otherwise known as “GABA.” This neurotransmitter is the body’s main inhibitory signaler. It moves around interacting with neurons and instructing them to “calm down” or decrease activity. The GABA system specifically works to relieve anxiety, act as a sedative-hypnotic, inhibit memory storage, and more. Alcohol simultaneously enhances the depressing effects of GABA by decreasing the activity of “glutamate,” the body’s most ubiquitous excitatory neurotransmitter. The more alcohol one drinks, the more insistent GABA becomes in telling the nervous system to calm down. Drinking alcohol reduces inhibitions and continued drinking leads to sedation. Drinking past that point can cause sedation, then unconsciousness, then general anesthesia, and eventually death if the neurons critical to survival in the brainstem become inhibited.

A serving of alcohol is any drink that contains 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol. The following portions count as a single serving size:

  • 12 fl oz of beer (an average can size)
  • 8-9 fl oz of malt liquor
  • 5 fl oz of wine
  • 3-4 fl oz of fortified wine (ex. sherry, port)
  • 2-3 fl oz of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif
  • 5 fl oz of brandy or cognac
  • 5 fl oz of an 80 proof distilled spirit (ex. a shot of liquor)

What are some of the potential negative health effects of alcohol?

  • Injury
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Diabetes

How do I know if I have alcohol use disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), individuals must meet at least 2 out of 11 criteria during a 12-month period to receive a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. The severity of the disorder is based on the number of criteria met (2-3 for mild, 4-5 for moderate, 6+ for severe.) The criteria are as follows:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while, or after, drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

What should I do if I have alcohol use disorder?

Please call us here at Two Dreams if you find yourself struggling with alcohol use disorder; our lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Two Dreams offers a safe, judgment-free place to start the healing process. There are many different ways to start managing addiction, and we understand that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. We provide inpatient, intensive outpatient, and outpatient services based on the unique needs of each individual and the level of care needed. Our trained counselors, under the supervision of a physician, are happy to talk through these options with you and help decide which placement will best fit your needs. We ensure that the transitions into and out of treatment are as stress-free as possible by guiding you through each process step-by-step. Additionally, we provide step-down transition programs to help you shift out of the treatment center setting.

Our expert staff has been helping people with addiction for decades, so you can be sure that you and your loved ones will be in good hands. Dr. Andrea Barthwell, founder and CEO of Two Dreams, is widely regarded as one of the “Best Doctors in America” in the field of addiction medicine. She served as president of the American Addiction Society of Medicine (ASAM), as well as Deputy Director for Demand Reduction in the White House under President George W. Bush. Her renowned status and experience in the field have allowed her to shape Two Dreams into the outstanding recovery center that it is today—one that is able to provide state-of-the-art care and services to those in need. We are here to help you in any way that we can; we are on your side.


Alcohol Education Resources

Two Dreams encourages everyone to utilize the many alcohol education resources available online and in your local libraries and bookstores. The following is a compilation of alcohol education resources that we find to be particularly useful and informative:

Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.

This organization caters to adults who were raised in dysfunctional environments and who exhibit traits characteristic to survivors of past abuse and/or neglect. The group implements the 12-step model, one of the most well-known and celebrated methods of recovery support in the world, and emphasizes the importance of emotional healing through meeting attendance, sponsorship, and intensive self-reflection.

Al-Anon/Alateen Family Group

These support systems are meant to encourage fellowship between the friends and families of alcoholics. Regular meetings give members a chance to heal through sharing common experiences and instilling hope and strength in one another. Affiliates utilize the 12-step model, taking less

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

AA is a support group based on honest self-evaluation and the affirmation of certain virtuous principles. Members follow the 12-step program and attend regular meetings to keep each other accountable. They serve as a source of continuing encouragement for each other, and reference “The Big Book” and other materials that teach about the disease of addiction.

American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

ASAM is a professional society for addiction medicine specialists. The group strives to improve the quality of care provided to individuals struggling with substance use disorders. Members are dedicated to increasing access to treatment and providing alcohol and drug-related education resources to the general public. They are also well known for their research and prevention initiatives. The CEO of Two Dreams, Dr. Andrea Barthwell, is a former president of this impressive organization.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

The CDC provides valuable information and research on alcoholism as it relates to public health, along with other topics of interest. The CDC Alcohol Program is part of the Division of Population Health in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health promotion. It works to improve public health outcomes related to excessive alcohol use through the use of scientific research and methodology. The program particularly focuses on the study of underage and binge drinking, as well as the epidemiology of alcoholism and the promotion of leadership in the field of addiction.

Faces & Voices of Recovery

This activist organization advocates for the millions of Americans recovering from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The group promotes the right to treatment resources and education while holding events to combat the stigma of active addiction. Individuals who have experienced addiction in some form or another are welcome to share their recovery stories on the website and become a permanent installation in the gallery of faces and voices of recovery.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

The NIAAA is a sect of the National Institute of Health (NIH) entirely devoted to alcohol addiction and misuse. The organization shares self-help strategies, practical tips for recovery, relevant statistics and research results, and more. They also host an annual “National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week” and hold conferences to further discussion and research throughout the year.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

The NIDA is the leading authority on drug abuse and addiction in the United States of America. They conduct research on, and respond to, emerging drug trends, addiction pathology, treatment and prevention approaches, and more. They provide support for career development, public health awareness, research training and dissemination efforts, and collaboration between research institutes around the globe. Professionals in the field of addiction medicine, including ours at Two Dreams, use the NIDA’s “Principles of Effective Treatment Guide” as a reference to ensure that clients receive the high quality care they deserve.

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)

The ONDCP is the branch of the White House that establishes policies related to substance use in the United States of America. Our CEO, Dr. Andrea Barthwell, previously worked as Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the ONDCP under George W. Bush. The organization provides up-to-date information and statistics on the current state of drug and alcohol use in the USA.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA is an agency dedicated to behavioral health and addiction within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It spearheads efforts to improve public health outcomes related to substance abuse and mental illness in the United States of America. According to the group, “slightly more than half of Americans aged 12 or older report being current drinkers of alcohol.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)

The NLM is the largest biomedical library in the world. It contains tens of thousands of pages of alcohol and drug research, serving as a reliable source of educational materials for professionals and for the general public.