Ethanol (CH3CH2OH), or beverage alcohol, is a two-carbon alcohol that directly affects many different types of neurochemical systems and signaling cascades and has rewarding and addictive properties. It is the oldest recreational drug and likely contributes to more morbidity, mortality, and public health costs than all illicit drugs combined. The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) integrates alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder (AUD), with mild, moderate, and severe subclassifications (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). This chapter presents an overview of the effects of ethanol on various physiological systems, then focuses on the mechanisms of ethanol’s effects in the CNS as the basis for understanding the rewards, disease processes, and treatments for ethanol-related conditions.
ADH: alcohol dehydrogenase
ALDH: aldehyde dehydrogenase
ARBD: alcohol-related birth defect
ARND: alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder
AUD: alcohol use disorder
BEC: blood ethanol concentration
CHD: coronary heart disease
CYP: cytochrome P450
FAS: fetal alcohol syndrome
FASD: fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
GABA: γ-aminobutyric acid
HDL: high-density lipoprotein
IHD: ischemic heart disease
LDL: low-density lipoprotein
nAChR: nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
NF-κB: nuclear factor kappa B
PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder
SNP: single nucleotide polymorphism
SSRI: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
TLR: toll-like receptor
HUMAN CONSUMPTION OF ETHANOL: A BRIEF HISTORY AND PERSPECTIVE
The use of alcoholic beverages has been documented as far back as 10,000 BC. By about 3000 bc, the Greeks, Romans, and inhabitants of Babylon were incorporating ethanol into religious festivals, while also using it for pleasure and in medicinal practice. Over the last 2000 years, alcoholic beverages have been identified in most cultures, including pre-Columbian America about AD 200 and the Islamic world in the 8th century.
The dangers of heavy consumption of alcohol have long been recognized by almost all cultures, with most stressing the importance of moderation; yet, problems with ethanol are as ancient as the use of this beverage itself. The increase in ethanol consumption in the 1800s, along with industrialization and the need for a more dependable work force, contributed to the development of more widespread organized efforts to discourage drunkenness, including a constitutional ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933.
Today, AUD is one of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders worldwide. In the U.S. among adults 18 years and older, AUD is associated with other substance use and psychiatric disorders; despite its prevalence and comorbidity, AUD often goes untreated (Grant et al., 2015). The highest quantities of ethanol intake per occasion are usually observed in the late teens to early 20s (CDC, 2012). Older adults drink more often but consume fewer total drinks each month (White et al., 2015). In ...