Ooh, it’s nearing five o’clock Friday – can taste that first glass of rose.. looking forward to a fun weekend in the sun with some beers..Won’t drink all day, don’t want to overload the system, and gotta save myself for a birthday later on..
Four beers over a lazy lunch, and probably polished off the best part of a bottle of wine myself that night.. Sure, need to burn it off tomorrow, after the hangover’s eased, but that’s ok for a weekend isn’t it?
Infact, the above amounts to 28.8 units – a man’s weekly allowance and fifty percent more than a woman’s. Women should have no more than 2-3 units per day (21 units max in a week), men 4 units (28 units over a week). Plus, alcohol is highly calorific – seven calories per gram – almost as much as fat – do you really want to drink your entire daily calories?
But why is alcohol demonised, is it really so bad?
We’ve been home-brewing and enjoying it for thousands of years, it’s part of every culture. Yet too much can play havoc with your system and over the long term, can cause obesity, diabetes as well as malnutrition and disease. When we drink, alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream (much quicker than food), and the liver has to filter it out of. But the body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour, so if you drink more than you can metabolise (dependent on size, sex etc.), you’ll get drunk. Most of us can recount a bad boozy experience – so it’s pretty obvious how alcohol can cause us physical and mental damage.
Short Term Effects of Alcohol
One of the first signs of alcohol in the system is a change to behaviour and it doesn’t take much to lessen inhibitions, rendering you mercy to all manner of risks from drowning to road traffic accidents and non-consensual sex. For every person who gets happy on a drink, another becomes argumentative and confrontational – think of all the unsightly interactions at kicking out time… Because simply, alcohol impairs the senses – eyes struggle to focus, speech slurs and hearing is distorted – culminating in compromised coordination and judgment. The morning after you’ll likely suffer headaches, possibly memory loss, nausea and agitation which can result in reduced productivity and injuries at work, as well as strained relationships.
Excess alcohol causes dehydration, it decreases the body’s production of anti-diuretic hormone, which helps us reabsorb water. With less of this available, the body loses more fluid than normal through urination. Excess alcohol can also cause vomiting, which further depletes the body of fluids. The morning after, you may find yourself needing to run to the loo due to diarrhoea as well as continued vomiting causing yet further dehydration.
The worst case scenario occurs when a toxic amount of alcohol is consumed usually over a short period of time, i.e. on a big night out (binge drinking), when your body simply doesn’t have time to process it all. At these levels, alcohol affects the nerves that control automatic functions, such as breathing, heartbeat and gag reflex (which stops you choking). So, as breathing is impeded, drowsiness may lead to blackouts and a risk of seizures. As body temperature drops, you may fall into unconsciousness, coma and even death.
Long term Effects of Excess Alcohol
Brain and Nervous System
Over the long term, drinking causes nerve damage resulting in pain, numbness, or abnormal sensations in the extremities. In severe cases it can even shrink the frontal lobes of the brain decreasing ability to form memories and can progress to permanent brain damage and dementia. Alcoholism can cause vitamin B1 deficiency, which can result in apathy, weakness and paralysis of the eye muscles – causing involuntary rapid eye movements. Withdrawing from alcoholic intake after long term abuse can cause nausea and vomiting and lead to seizures and delirium.
Alcohol can wreak havoc on your digestive system, from mouth to colon. Even a single incidence of heavy drinking can injure parts of the digestive tract. Heavy drinking can damage the salivary glands and irritate the mouth and tongue, leading to gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss. It can cause ulcers in the oesophagus and stomach, acid reflux, heartburn and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), which can also lead to dangerous internal bleeding. Alcohol also makes it harder to absorb certain nutrients and as such, alcoholics often suffer from malnutrition.
The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes and also helps regulate insulin and glucose.
Excessive alcohol can cause the pancreas to produce toxic substances that disrupt its function and cause inflammation or pancreatitis, which can destroy the pancreas. A lack of insulin may render the body unable to utilise sugar, affecting metabolism and leading to hyperglycaemia.
The liver breaks down harmful substances, including alcohol. Excessive drinking can cause alcoholic hepatitis and jaundice. Chronic liver inflammation can result in severe scarring or cirrhosis, which can cause liver disease. When the liver is failing, toxic substances can’t be excreted from the body, this is life threatening.
Excess drinking can cause anaemia due to deficiencies in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, thiamine, and folic acid. In some cases, a single episode of heavy drinking can damage the heart, and a chronic drinker, may suffer: high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, poisoning of the heart muscle, heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
Skeletal and Muscle Systems
Long-term alcohol use makes it harder for your body to produce new bone. Drinking puts you at increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Muscles become prone to weakness, cramps, and atrophy (wastage).
Alcohol abuse weakens the immune system, predisposing you to all types of illness. Heavy drinkers have a greater propensity to get pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Chronic alcohol use increases your risk of many forms of cancer: mouth, throat, oesophagus, colon and liver; and women’s risk of breast cancer rises with alcohol use.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
In men, alcohol abuse can inhibit hormone production, affect testicular function, cause erectile dysfunction and infertility. In women it can interfere with menstruation and fertility and also can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature- and still birth. Alcohol has a huge effect on foetal development, from physical abnormalities to learning difficulties and emotional problems, which can last a lifetime.