179. Alcohol

Alcohol is the oldest drug that is used in Western countries.
For thousands of years, people have made alcoholic beverages.
These beverages are made by allowing a process called fermentation to occur.
Alcoholic fermentation happens when yeasts or bacteria break down the sugars that occur in some liquids, and convert some sugars into alcohol.
Many liquids, such as fruit juices, can ferment.
Thousands of years ago, alcoholic drinks were common in the Middle East.
However, the Islamic religion forbids alcohol, so very little alcohol is consumed in this part of the world.
In European countries, and in other parts of the world, many different kinds of alcoholic beverages are produced and consumed.
In warmer areas of Europe, people make wine by allowing grape juice to ferment.
In cooler areas of Europe, people make beer by fermenting liquids made from water and various grains.
The process of fermentation is also used to make stronger drinks known as "spirits".
These drinks include vodka, whiskey, and rum.
The techniques for making good wine, beer, and spirits have been developed over hundreds of years, and require scientific precision.
Some people have developed a great appreciation for well-made wine, beer, or spirits, and have become experts about the many different varieties of these beverages.
Many people appreciate the taste of alcoholic beverages, but many also enjoy the feelings that alcohol causes.
Alcohol belongs to a category of drugs called "depressants" because it "depresses" the central nervous system, causing a person to feel less inhibited or restrained.
Many people enjoy this feeling, but when a person drinks a lot of alcohol, he or she loses co-ordination, balance, and judgment.
Speech may become unclear, and the person may speak too much.
Some people become aggressive or depressed.
When a person is under the influence of alcohol, the person is said to be drunk.
One of the problems that can result from alcohol consumption is known as "drunk driving".
Some people try to drive a car after having consumed alcohol, but this is extremely dangerous.
Each year, thousands of people are killed by drunk drivers who lose control of their cars.
In recent years, attempts have been made to reduce this problem, by public education campaigns and by strict laws and punishments.
If you drink, don't drive!
Another problem associated with alcohol is addiction, and it's known as alcoholism.
Some people drink so frequently that they develop a psychological addiction to alcohol.
This problem can have terrible consequences for a person's health, personal relationships, and career.
Alcoholic beverages are firmly a part of Western culture, and of many other cultures also.
On one hand, drinks provide many people with much enjoyment and appreciation.
On the other hand, alcohol is a drug that can be abused, leading to accidents and addiction.

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