For many of us, a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the local bar is a fun way to unwind.
However, alcohol continues to be a problem for millions of Americans. Each year, almost 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, which makes alcohol the fourth major preventable killer in the US.
Binge drinking is a major concern, particularly among younger Americans. College students, in particular, have been shown to be at significant risk: as of 2014, almost 40 percent of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 had partaken in binge drinking. In contrast, just 33 percent of others in the same age range not attending college confessed to binging.
In family homes, over 10 percent of children live with parents suffering from drinking problems. Around 8.7 million people between 12 and 20 admit to drinking, with around 14 percent classed as binge drinkers.
In the US, men are told to drink no more than two units of alcohol and women no more than one per day, but drinking too much in one session or over time can cause severe harm to your body. While many of us have experienced a hangover, with all the headaches and nausea these bring, the ongoing effects are much worse.
Alcohol and Brain Damage
As you drink, alcohol has a negative effect on various parts of the brain and its neurotransmitters, leading to fast-acting cognitive difficulties. You may experience blurred vision, dulled reactions, slurred speech, and even find walking harder than it should be.
In most cases, as alcohol leaves your system, your brain will begin to function as it should. However, excessive drinking can lead to significant problems. Blackouts are one of the most dangerous results of ingesting too much alcohol, particularly if you are alone and left vulnerable.
Memory loss and anxiety can leave you in a bad state. For teenagers, as the mind is still developing and therefore more vulnerable, drinking poses a greater risk to long-term mental health. As a result of frontal lobes becoming damaged, judgment, decision-making, and social skills can all be impaired by alcohol in the long run.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 65 percent of suicides are linked to excessive alcohol-consumption, and close to a third of suicides among young people take place after drinking.
Alcohol and Cancer
Scientists have drawn links between alcohol and certain cancers. While millions of people drink with no concern for developing cancer, the disease can arise in the throat, mouth, esophagus, and breast in heavy drinkers.
Alcohol metabolizes ethanol in alcoholic drinks, converting it into acetaldehyde, a known toxic chemical which can damage both proteins and DNA. It also affects your ability to break down and absorb numerous nutrients linked to cancer, such as vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. Finally, alcohol boosts estrogen levels, a hormone connected to breast cancer.
The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing cancer. For people prone to smoking cigarettes while drinking in a social situation, the risk of cancer increases.
Alcohol and Intestinal Problems
Drinking too much alcohol causes severe damage to your intestines, breaking down the stomach’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Alcohol leads to a proliferation of bacteria inside the intestines, which causes their walls to break down.
Damaged intestines can lead to incredible pain and permanent damage. If you have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol in the past, or are still suffering from alcohol-related difficulties, you should visit your doctor for an intestinal examination.
Regardless of the model used, endoscope procedures are a fast, effective way to identify problems. The physician will insert the endoscope into the rectum and explore the lower intestine, assessing potential damage. Endoscopes transmit real-time images via a camera, providing a clear view of the digestive system for an accurate diagnosis.
When properly used, endoscope investigations pose little to no discomfort.
Alcohol and Heart Disease / Circulation
In some cases, alcohol can actually help to protect you against diseases of the heart. One drink for women and two for men can raise your ‘good’ cholesterol, reduces the risk of blood-clotting, drops blood pressure, and limits the harm caused by ‘bad’ cholesterol.
However, heavy drinking over time weakens the heart muscle, which leads to alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Weakened hearts are unable to contract just as they should, and are unable to pump blood around the body at a safe level. Without the right amount of blood they need, vital organs may well struggle to perform.
The heart itself can fail with too much alcohol in your system. Arrhythmia is another well-known danger of alcohol abuse, linked to sudden deaths.
Alcohol and Liver Damage
The liver is one of the body’s most important organs. Not only does it produce proteins vital for clotting blood, your liver also processes medicines, makes bile for fat digestion, and helps to remove toxins from your system.
Too much alcohol, however, can cause a build-up of fat within the liver’s cells. While this condition will reverse itself if you stop drinking, fatty livers can actually advance into hepatitis.
One of the most well-known side-effects of excessive drinking is cirrhosis of the liver. This occurs when healthy liver tissue becomes replaced by scar tissue, which affects the growth of liver cells. As cells die, the liver can no longer function as it should, and bring blood into the organ itself.
Staying at or below the recommended alcohol consumption rate is vital to maintaining good health. As part of a healthy, active lifestyle, alcohol can be a regular treat. However, when alcohol becomes a problem, the physical and mental effects can be hugely destructive, perhaps even fatal.
Anyone concerned about their alcohol consumption should visit their doctor as soon as possible.
About the author:
Kyle McManus is a freelance writer based in the UK. This article was prepared on behalf of Pro Scope Systems.