Moderate alcohol use, a tonic; immoderate use, a toxin
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a friend who drinks too much. How much alcohol can the body handle? Does a person's height make any difference? If someone drinks 15 shots of vodka, what can happen? What is the treatment of alcohol poisoning? Why do people become addicted to alcohol? How long does it take to get alcohol out of the body? Why does alcohol make some people friendly and others aggressive? -- J.S.
ANSWER: In moderation, alcohol is good for the heart. In excess, it's a poison. The safe amount of alcohol for a man is two drinks a day; for a woman, one drink. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof whiskey, vodka or gin.
A person's height makes little difference in the amount of alcohol a person can handle. Weight and muscle mass do make somewhat of a difference.
Fifteen shots of vodka is a dangerous amount of alcohol to consume, even for one who has developed a tolerance to it. It would put most people into a coma.
Alcohol poisoning is something best left to doctors and hospitals to treat. Such amounts of alcohol depress breathing, cause irregular and potentially lethal heartbeats and make blood pressure erratic. Poisoning requires close monitoring and treatment by professionals.
People become addicted to alcohol in the same way they become addicted to other substances, like cocaine. Alcohol helps them cope with many problems. In time, the brain becomes so used to being saturated with alcohol that it reacts badly when the source of alcohol dries up. It must have its daily fix.
It takes 90 minutes to two hours for the body to metabolize one alcoholic drink.
Alcohol removes inhibitions. A normally friendly person becomes excessively friendly under its influence. A normally grouchy individual becomes even grouchier when inhibitions have been subdued.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My sister works outdoors a lot and gets many ticks on her body. We wonder if this could be prevented if she wore animal anti-tick collars, a large, dog-size one around her neck and two cat-size ones on her ankles. Would this be safe and effective? -- G.W.
ANSWER: That's an imaginative idea. I don't know if the tick collars would work, but I do know they're not necessary. Your sister can prevent tick attachment by wearing pants tucked into her socks and a long-sleeve blouse or shirt. She increases the protective factor of her clothes by applying the insect repellent permethrin to them.
She also should wear repellent on her skin. Ones containing DEET are very effective. She has to read the label to see how often the repellent needs to be reapplied.
A final step is to carefully examine her body at the end of the day for any ticks. If she finds some, she should remove them with tweezers or forceps.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had shingles in 1975 at age 35, and the pain lingered for one full year. I realize there is a shingles vaccine available; however, I have fear that if I get the vaccine, it will awaken the virus. I do not want to go through that again.
My primary doctor suggests I have the vaccine. What is your opinion? -- B.R.
ANSWER: My opinion is to have the vaccine. It doesn't awaken the shingles virus that still lurks in your body's nerve cells. It stimulates your immune system to up its protection against the virus and keep the dormant virus dormant.
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Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.
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