Risks of alcohol misuse - #ALCOHOLFREE
As touched upon previously (Alcohol awareness – The 100% proof) whether we be a man or woman, we are recommended to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. Believe it or not, this number isn’t arbitrary but rather acts to shield you from both the short and long-term consequences of consuming alcohol, without you having to go completely cold turkey, ‘cause for cluck sake who would want that.
The short and long-term effects of drinking alcohol - An overview
Generally speaking, the negative effects of alcohol can be split into two camps, short-term and long-term. We believe it’s essential to paint an all-encompassing picture that highlights the short and long-term effects that alcohol consumption on one’s physical and mental wellbeing.
By knowing the many plots of alcohol, hopefully, you’re more convinced to stop alcohol in its tracks.
Short term effects of excessive alcohol consumption - An overview
Alcohol and its effect on driving
Slowed reactions and reflexes are common ramifications of having consumed alcohol, which believe it or not increases the likelihood of dangerous and potentially fatal road accidents, where a mother’s crushed windpipe has left a child with a hole in their heart.
This should be reason enough to never get behind the wheel whilst drinking.
Hangovers due to excessive alcohol consumption
You spent the night head-banging, and now you’ve got a banging headache. This should be the slogan for a hangover.
The severity of a hangover varies from person to person, and usually involves symptoms of dry mouth, fatigue, headache, irritability, nausea, sensitivity to light, stomach ache, thirst, and if these don’t sound bad enough, the list goes on.
What causes hangover symptoms
In short, alcohol has a diuretic effect on the body, meaning it stimulates your body to remove water by making you want to pee more. By losing water you become dehydrated, which contributes a great percentage to hangovers.
Moreover, this removal of water creates an imbalance, which sways our electrolytes out of whack, making it that much harder for our bodies to function normally.
Alcohol and insomnia
This may seem contradictory considering the depressant effect of alcohol on our cognitive state. The common practice of having a drink to facilitate sleep may seem promising in the initial phase, however, this is only temporary. This comes down to the broader effect that alcohol has on the quality of your sleep, making it more likely that you will wake throughout the night.
This disruption in sleep is owed to alcohol’s effect on the intricate sleep cycle, namely the important stage of sleep termed REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
REM sleep is the stage of sleep in which our body acts to revitalise and recharge itself, and if we forget to plug in, we will inevitably run on empty during the waking hours.
Less interesting, alcohol’s diuretic effect may cause you to wake during the night for a leak, in turn disturbing their sleep.
Blacking out on alcohol
“What happened last night?”. If you’ve ever caught yourself asking this question, then there’s a strong chance you blacked out whilst drinking.
This phenomenon is theorised to occur on the back of an impairment in chemical messengers and their signalling within the brain, essential for the development of new memories.
Vomiting and diarrhoea
In brief, excess alcohol intake can irritate the lining of your throat, stomach, and intestines, and in defence, your body calls on the defence of mucus and bile, which act to protect these areas from further damage. However, too much mucus and bile bring about the urge to vomit.
Additionally, alcohol has a tendency to trigger inflammation of the large intestine, and as a result impairs the absorption of vital nutrients, potentially triggering diarrhoea.
Alcohols effect on sex hormones
You may not know this, but males and females share the same sex hormones, with the only difference of which being the fine balance in which they are present.
In females, there are higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone, and lower levels of testosterone, with the opposite being the case for males. Bearing this in mind, you can imagine the negative impacts once a balance is disrupted.
In males – Alcohol has the potential to raise the levels of naturally occurring oestrogen and progesterone, an effect that has the potential to reduce sperm count and in turn fertility. Additionally, this imbalance may impact one’s ability to gain an erection.
With oestrogen being wildly seen as a ‘female’ hormone, it’s unsurprising that excessive levels in males may trigger the development of secondary female sexual characteristics, for example in the form of breast tissue (Gynaecomastia).
In females – Alcohol can raise testosterone levels, potentially leading to abnormal menstrual periods, increased aggression, and irritability. In those experiencing menopause, if it wasn’t hard enough already, alcohol has been shown to worsen symptoms.
Bear in mind that this section only covers short-term symptoms of hormonal changes, and that long-term symptoms may be more varied, and possibly more serious.
Long term effects of excessive alcohol consumption - An overview
Alcohol and heart-related problems
Drinking excessive quantities of alcohol can cause a rise in blood pressure, a major risk factor for suffering a heart attack and/or stroke. Alcohol acts to
trigger these heart-related problems by stimulating the release of particular hormones, which act to cause constriction (narrowing) of blood vessels, with the negative implication of restricting blood supply to vital organs.
The extent of this effect increases in a dose-dependent manner, in other words as the pints pile up, so do the detrimental consequences to the heart.
Additionally, alcohol is unassumingly very calorific, with regular consumption being the main protagonist to weight gain. An accomplice to weight gain is heightened blood pressure (hypertension), another risk factor for heart disease. Not to mention the fact that consuming excessive calories over time may lead to a raised level of fat within the bloodstream, in turn increasing the possibility of plaque formation within said blood vessels.
The eventual dislodgment of these plaques, and their movement towards, and blocking of major blood vessels can restrict blood flow, oxygenation, and the supply of vital nutrients to the heart and brain, only adding to the aforementioned risk of heart attack and stroke.
Alcohol-related brain damage
Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome, have fun trying to pronounce that, a type of brain disorder, typically associated with chronic alcoholism. However, alcohol itself is not the causative factor, but rather poor nutrition and diet choices associated with chronic alcoholism take the liability. The most relevant of all alcohol-related nutritional problems is vitamin B deficiency, namely B1 (thiamine).
Complications of alcohol-related brain damage include a long-term decline in memory and/or reasoning. Thiamine has an essential role in providing energy to the body, including the brain and nerve cells, which can explain why a reduction in thiamine takes the onus for the cognitive decline associated with alcohol abuse.
Lastly, people who drink large amounts of alcohol are more prone to falls, which increases the possibility of head injuries and potential brain damage.
Liver cirrhosis as a consequence of excessive alcohol consumption
The liver is the centre of alcohol processing where it is metabolised and eventually removed. The liver can become short-staffed and easily overburdened when the amount of alcohol needed to be processed gets too much. What happens when you’re overworked, eventually you’re bound to break, and in the case of the liver this presents as scarring (cirrhosis) of healthy liver tissue.
As of right now, there are no treatments available for the reversal of liver cirrhosis. Despite this, prompt abstinence from alcohol consumption can prevent further damage from occurring and becomes the only means of prolonging life expectancy in this regard.
Cancer risk associated with excessive alcohol consumption
The first step in breaking down alcohol is its conversion to acetaldehyde, a toxic chemical, and a known carcinogen. As a consequence of its toxicity, acetaldehyde damages cells by binding with their DNA, subsequently triggering a disruption in the cell replication process. A change in the cell replication process can cause cells to grow and reproduce uncontrollably, to a point where they become cancerous.
Moreover, excessive alcohol consumption may trigger liver cancers, thought to occur as a coping mechanism due to the liver becoming overburdened with the increasing amounts of alcohol that needs to be processed. In short, the liver cells must grow and regenerate at a faster rate than normal, an acceleration in cell growth that increases the likelihood of there being a malfunction in the DNA of liver cells, to a point of becoming cancerous.
Social implications of alcohol
Not to downplay the physical consequences of alcohol misuse, because they are of vital importance, but we need to ensure that potential social effects of drinking alcohol are not neglected.
Aggression and violence
Alcohol may encourage aggression or violence by disrupting normal brain function, by for example weakening brain mechanisms that help us with impulse control, including circumstances that provoke feelings of aggression and resolution with violence.
Let’s put this notion into practice. Say you’re at a bar or a football game, and somebody bumps into you. In a sober state, you would most probably brush this off as an accident and go about your day. But add some alcohol to the scenario and all of a sudden that innocent bump may be interpreted as a treat or a deliberate act of aggression, causing you to ball your fist, and duck for an uppercut, as if you’re Mike Tyson.
These changes in brain function could also explain the link between alcoholism and domestic violence.
Risky sexual behavior
Various studies have demonstrated a link between drinking alcohol and the increased likelihood of a person engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse (sex without the use of a condom). The idea that alcohol can negatively influence a person’s decision about whether to use a condom is very disconcerting, as a lack of such measures increases the likelihood of contracting and spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
With this in mind, it may be a smart idea to carry a condom with you the next time you are going to be drinking. Having the condom on your person may act as a prompt to have safe sex, whether that be you or the person you are having sex with.
Reduced quality of life
The many consequences of harmful alcohol use can negatively impact a person’s quality of life, by for example contributing to many diseases (see above), physical injury, and violence (e.g. crime).
To summarise, we hope that part 2 of our ‘road to quitting alcohol’ has opened your eyes to the many angles that alcohol employs to strip you of your physical, psychological, and social identity.
Good job, you’ve reached the end of the second checkpoint, and have confidence in yourself that you can win the war against alcohol.
Tune in next week for part 3, where we cover the science behind alcohol dependence, and withdrawal, as well as giving you some practical tips and advice to help identify if you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, and if so what steps to take.