Christmas and New Year festivity is a break when people take time off from work to relax and recuperate. A time of social events and merry-making. People will call up their long-time friends or relatives for a “catch-up time”. Alcohol is almost always in the midst of these social events. Merrymaking aside, the amount of alcohol you consume has a lasting effect on your health.
So, before you hit the call button and link up with your drinking buddies, let us look at alcohol, the risk for alcoholism, and how you can safely interact with alcohol and prevent many health consequences.
Some Basic Facts about Alcohol
Alcohol is a chemical substance found in beer, wine, and spirits. Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol, is produced through the fermentation of sugars and yeast found in cereals, vegetables, and fruits. In humans, alcohol metabolism takes place in the liver. The first stage of metabolism is an oxidative process that leads to a buildup of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is both toxic and carcinogenic. That is why the second stage of metabolism helps reduce this toxicity by converting acetaldehyde into acetic acid. Acetic acid is then broken down into carbon dioxide and water. The inadequate metabolism of acetaldehyde is the root of ill health. It causes hanger-overs, increases heart rate, and can upset the stomach. The brain suffers the most, acetaldehyde disrupts brain activity leading to memory loss.
Alcohol taken in moderation can have some minimal health benefits. Studies find that minimal alcohol intake is cardio-protective, prevents stroke, and reduces the risk of diabetes. Moderate alcohol consumption includes 2 units of alcohol for men and 1 unit for women a day. But how many people can faithfully stick to this menial standard while merry-making? That is why a basic knowledge of the health risks of alcoholism is timely to aid decision-making.
Effects of Alcoholism on Health
Alcoholism is a chronic medical condition characterized by excessive drinking, cravings, continuous alcohol use despite negative results, and the inability to stop drinking. A study by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control indicates that almost 1 in 3 adults consumes excessive alcohol, with most people binge drinking occasionally.
Drinking too much alcohol on a single occasion or over time profoundly affects the body. It weakens the immune system leaving the body prone to opportunistic infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Alcohol interferes with brain structure disrupting communication pathways. These distortions affect behavior and mood. That is why heavy drinkers have difficulty thinking clearly and walk with an unstable gait.
Heavily drinking impacts the heart muscles leading to drooping and stretching of heart muscles, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and stroke. The long-term consequence is heart failure and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Though digestion and absorption of alcohol take place in the stomach and small intestine, alcohol metabolism mainly takes place in the liver. Excessive drinking causes liver inflammation increasing the risk of liver cirrhosis, alcohol hepatitis, and fatty liver disease.
Moreover, alcohol is crucial in propagating cancerous cells. There is ample evidence linking alcoholism to multiple cancers. The risk of cancers increases based on the amount and duration of alcoholism. The longer the higher the risk. Head and neck cancers include mouth, throat, and esophageal; liver cancers, and breast and colorectal cancers.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, alcohol kills over 3 million people every year globally. This translates to 5.3% of all deaths from alcohol-related diseases, injuries, accidents, or suicide. Alcoholic deaths lead to economic losses from premature deaths, lost productivity, medical expenditure, and social and emotional traumas.
Factors that increase the risk of alcoholism
Excessive alcohol consumption does not originate from a single factor. It is a product of multiple factors that are intertwined and interlinked. For example, alcoholism may occur as a result of;
- Psychological factors
Mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder are key factors that increase the risk of alcoholism. Alcohol creates over-dependency to help cope with the illness. In addition, the euphoric feeling of calmness after consuming alcohol may blur the ability of an individual to judge when they have had enough.
2. Personality factors
Some personality traits are likely to drive alcoholism. People who love the limelight and being “the life of party” in social settings may drink excessively compared to less social people. This does not mean that a shy person cannot be a heavy drinker. In a bid to escape the loneliness, such people can turn to heavy drinking to reduce their discomfort in social gatherings.
3. Personal choices factors
A person’s choice to drink or not to drink determines their vulnerability to alcoholism. A person who has chosen to refrain from alcohol is not likely to become an alcoholic. Equally, it is easier for someone who enjoys drinking to become an alcoholic.
4. Drinking history factors
The length of one’s drinking history can predict the likelihood of alcoholism. Alcohol use over time trains the brain to rely more on alcohol.
5. Genetics factors
The genetic factor of alcoholism is rather complex. Multiple genetics interact to influence alcoholism. Research points out that children born of alcoholic parents are more likely to abuse alcohol compared to their non-alcoholic counterparts. At least 51 genes are identified in the development of alcoholism. They influence how easily alcohol is metabolism and the feeling it causes.
6. Family factors
Other than genetics, family behavior can influence or induce one into drinking habits. Children born or brought up in families with alcoholism are likely to be alcoholics themselves. In such families, heavy drinking is glamorized.
7. Environmental factors
The surrounding of an individual determines their exposure to alcoholism. In some countries, alcohol is prohibited. In countries where alcohol is not restricted, people determine their drinking habits with consequential alcoholism.
8. Age factors
Though alcohol consumption may start in their late teens, it is the young adults in their mid-20s who suffer the worst impact of alcoholism. The age at the first interaction with alcohol also determines their risk of alcoholism with those who start early being more likely to suffer alcohol use disorders.
9. Education factors
The higher the level of education, the more likely an individual is to abuse alcohol. Evidence from college students in America indicated that 80% of graduates are more likely to abuse alcohol than their non-college counterparts.
10. Career factors
High-stress careers and high-risk professions are associated with alcohol overconsumption. Equally, young adults starting their careers are more likely to suffer alcohol use disorders than older adults.
Tips for safe Drinking habits
Alcohol consumption carries significant health risks. No amount of alcohol is considered completely risk-free. Current knowledge points out that even moderate drinking carries substantial risks and increases the likelihood of getting cardiovascular diseases, and some types of cancers.
However, you can still have your drinks within a safe range by observing the following tips;
Do not start to drink alcohol if you have not. Giving up alcohol or never starting to drink alcohol has numerous benefits. In addition to better general health, going alcohol-free elevates your moods and better mental health. Ditching alcohol promotes better cognitive function and there is enough evidence to suggest that alcohol affects brain transmission leading to those side effects. Alcoholism is also related to early brain deterioration and memory decline and is a cause of heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and cancers like mouth, throat, stomach, and colon cancers.
- Decide before the event how much alcohol you should take. According to 2020-2025, Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which we can all borrow from) recommend that adults of legal age can choose to abstain from drinking alcohol or drink in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption limits intake to 2 units of alcohol for men and 1 unit for women.
- Eat before and during the drinking session. Include healthy food choices during your drinking escapades. Food in digestion nourishes the body while delaying the fast absorption of alcohol into the blood system. Drinking on an empty stomach is the surest way to get yourself drunk.
- Go slow on excessive alcohol consumption by alternating alcohol with other fluids. Alcohol is a diuretic that removes fluids from the body through urine, and other forms of perspiration that increase the risk of dehydration. To counteract this effect, include fluids in your menu. Water remains the fluid of choice, but because it is the festive season, you can indulge in fresh fruit juices. Take Sodas with caution because of the added sugar.
- Do not drink and drive. This is easy for me to write down than for you to execute. But before we ‘threw away the baby with the birth water’, let’s raid at the effects of drunk driving. Drunk driving carries a huge impact on society. It is a major cause of mortality and morbidity due to road crashes, as well, it impacts the economy by reducing productive years and high medical bills.
- Alcohol causes a lot of disruptions to the brain processes and diminishes motor skills required for timely decision-making. Designate a driver to take you home if you overindulge.
The safest option is to drink alcohol in moderation and to be aware of the many adverse effects alcohol has on your health and the danger to you and others.
- Avoid alcohol if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, a young adult below 21 years, have a health problem, or are on medication. Alcohol interacts with many medicines and can cause serious side effects Do not take alcohol if you are recovering from alcoholism.
So, as you plan your festivity remember to keep your drinking within a safe range. Although moderate alcohol consumption may have some health benefits, excessive drinking is harmful.