Alcohol is among the most popular psychoactive drugs in the world alongside caffeine and nicotine. One of its primary pharmacological effects is the inhibition of the central nervous system (CNS), for which reason it was used as an anesthetic in the past. The mechanism of the anesthetic effect lies in the enhancement of GABA and GABA-A receptors (similarly to barbiturates) (Ksir & Hart, 2015). However, it suited poorly for medical use due to its pharmacological properties. First, it absorbs and metabolizes at an impractically slow rate. Second, it is not effective for surgical procedures unless taken in dosages dangerous for health.
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Nevertheless, despite the early pharmacological use, alcohol is most widely known for its effects on behavior, for which reason it is currently used as a legal recreational drug. The best-known effects of alcohol include euphoria and reduced anxiety. In addition, alcohol consumption often results in increased activity even though stimulation is not among its pharmacological properties (Ksir & Hart, 2015).
Instead, the activity is attributed to the inhibitory effect, in particular, the inhibition of certain behavioral patterns. With the increase in dosage, several undesirable effects are observed, such as slower reaction time, lowered caution, and, eventually, major motor disruption and stupor (Ksir & Hart, 2015). Another well-known effect of alcohol is the disinhibition of sexual behavior. However, studies show that the effect is at least partially determined by the expectations of the individuals (Ksir & Hart, 2015).
There is also evidence that alcohol abuse also has a significant effect on the behavior of future generations. While it is tempting to ascribe the effect to the well-studied and understood effect of prenatal exposure, in some cases, the behavioral effects are observed even in its absence (Vassoler, Byrnes, & Pierce, 2014). Considering the information above, it would be interesting to explore the question of why alcohol remains popular despite having more adverse effects than some of its illegal alternatives.
Ksir, C., & Hart, C. L. (2015). Drugs, society, and human behavior (16th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Vassoler, F. M., Byrnes, E. M., & Pierce, R. C. (2014). The impact of exposure to addictive drugs on future generations: Physiological and behavioral effects. Neuropharmacology, 76, 269-275. Web.