Hung Up On Alcohol

by JASMINE SIDHU

Are you feeling nauseated, exhausted, debilitated, and possibly irritated? Before you have your next drink, you should know what the research says about blaming it on the alcohol. According to the National Institute of Health nearly 88,000 people (around 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes every year. This makes alcohol-related incidents the 4th most common preventable cause of death in America. [1] Internationally, the World Health Organization has found that alcohol contributes to the development of over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions and 3.3 million deaths worldwide. Alcohol consumption is also responsible for 25% of the total deaths of people in the age group 20 to 39. [2] If these statistics haven’t alerted you enough, then read on to discover the dangers of what you may be putting in your body and how to drink safely if you do choose to drink!

 

what is alcohol and how does it work?

Alcohol is a depressant that negatively affects an area of the brain called the cerebellum, which normally controls balance, attention, and language. Consequently, an individual who consumes alcohol is at risk for difficulty walking, impaired memory, blurred vision, slurred speech, and slow reaction times. Alcohol works by affecting chemical messengers called neurotransmitters in your brain, specifically by increasing the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasurable events and is released as a response to reward. However, alcohol also increases the effect of inhibitory neurotransmitters, such as GABA, that decrease activity in different parts of the brain and thus increase feelings of depression (hence alcohol’s categorization as a depressant). [3]

 

what are the main types of alcohol? 

  • Beer  typically 3 to 6%
  • Champagne 12%
  • Wine typically 12.5 to 17.5%
  • Vodka  35-50%
  • Tequila  typically 40%, but can go up to 60%
  • Whisky  typically 45%, but can go up to 68%
  • Distilled spirit  40% [4]

moderate drinking—is it risky?

According to the CDC, moderate drinking is considered having 1 drink per day for women and 1 to 2 drinks per day for men.

One drink can be considered as: 12 ounces of beer (~5% alcohol content), 8 ounces of malt liquor (~7% alcohol content), 5 ounces of wine (~12% alcohol content), or 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (~40% alcohol content) distilled spirits (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey). [5]

Although many people think that moderate drinking is less risky, individuals should be aware that for conditions like cancer or liver disease, there is NO known safe level of alcohol consumption. [5]Contrary to popular belief that a glass of wine can have possible health benefits, the USDA insists no one should drink assuming that there are potential benefits associated with the consumption of alcohol [5,6]. Rather, they recommend that if one chooses to drink, one choose to be a moderate drinker. [5,7]

binge drinking

According to the CDC, binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking is considered consuming 5 or more drinks at once for men and consuming 4 or more drinks at once for women. Continuous binge drinking can result in serious injuries, liver diseases, and cancers. [8] Over half of the deaths caused by excessive drinking are the result of binge drinking. [5] In spite of this, based on national surveys, 1 in 6 U.S. adults binge drink four times a month and have approximately 8 drinks per binge. Additional consequences of binge drinking include stroke, alcohol poisoning, high blood pressure, neurological damage, and injury, among others. [9]

 

the serious consequences (that may affect us all!)

cancer

Numerous studies have found a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and high incidences of cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is most often linked to head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. In fact, over 100 epidemiological studies have been conducted finding an increased risk of breast cancer in correlation with increased alcohol consumption. [10,11]

liver disease

In Western countries, alcohol is one of the most frequent causes of liver disease. Excessive alcohol consumption is the number one cause of cirrhosis, which is the scarring of liver tissue. If cirrhosis is not treated, it can lead to immediate liver failure. [12,13]

wenickle-korsakoff’s syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome is a rare condition most commonly caused by alcohol. This disease results from a severe deficiency in thiamine, a B vitamin—an issue that comes to surface with alcohol consumption. Because of the thiamine deficiency, patients with Korsakoff’s syndrome suffer from severe memory loss, inability to form new memories, hallucinations, disorientation, and poor balance. [14,15]

brain damage

Excessive alcohol consumption is also capable of causing significant brain damage. Damage can result from

  1. toxic effects of alcohol on brain cells
  2. biological stress from repeated intoxication and withdrawal
  3. cerebrovascular disease due to alcohol consumption
  4. head injuries from falls when one is under the influence [14,16]

hangovers

A hangover is probably the most obvious consequence of drinking alcohol. It is associated with dizziness, nausea, fatigue, sweating, anxiety, and loss of appetite. Although there is no set cure for hangovers, the best choice is to drink in moderation. [5]
 

safety measures

drinking and driving

There is a drunk driving-related death every 51 minutes in the United States. Those in the age group 21 to 30 are the most at risk for a drunk driving incident. [17]

In California, you are legally drunk if you have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. A DUI offense in California has the following consequences:

1st offense: 4 days to 6 months in jail, fine of up to $1000, and a license suspension of 30 days to 10 months

2nd offense: 10 days to 1 year in jail, fine of up to $1800, and a license suspension for 2 years [18]

if you choose to drink:

  1. Know your limits. Ask your parents and relatives if there are any people who suffer from alcoholism or depression in your family. If you have further questions, consult a doctor to figure out your probability of becoming an alcoholic.
  2. Eat before before you drink and while you drink, because doing so will slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.
  3. Never leave your drink unattended. To avoid untowardly situations, make sure you are consuming alcohol around people you trust.
  4. Plan how you are going to get home before you leave to go drink. Consider taking an Uber or having a designated driver.
  5. Alcohol dehydrates your body and warm weather can aggravate the dehydration, so if you’re going to drink on hot days (most of the year for Los Angeles residents) then make sure you’re drinking extra water throughout the day.

what you all want to know: what do you do the next morning?

  1. Drink as much water as you can before going to sleep.
  2. Eat as soon as you can. Foods that alleviate hangover symptoms include bananas, cereal, and egg with toast.
  3. Drink some coffee or a caffeinated drink to make you feel less tired.
  4. If your stomach hurts, try the medication Pepto-Bismol, and if you have a headache, take the pain-reliever Ibuprofen. (Don’t take any medication with acetaminophen because it can cause serious liver problems.)
  5. If you drank heavily, then abstain from having alcohol for at least 48 hours.
  6. Learn from your mistakes and realize what your limits are. [19,20]

individuals who should abstain from having alcohol are:

  1. Women who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant.
  2. Individuals who are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that may cause harmful reactions when mixed with alcohol (consult your doctor)
  3. Individuals under the age of 21
  4. Recovering alcoholics
  5. People suffering from other medical conditions that may be aggravated by alcohol consumption (see your doctor)

 

conclusion

Before you pick up your next drink, make sure you look into your family history, assess your tolerance level, and know the proper proportions of what is considered a drink. When you are intoxicated you not only run the risk of hurting others but also put yourself at risk for developing a multitude of health problems. From cancer and liver disease to neurodegeneration, alcohol can have significant impacts on your health. If you have any questions regarding your health and alcohol or are feeling depressed, do not hesitate to see your doctor! Remember, you are far more likely to suffer academically, engage in violence, be robbed, or get hurt when you are under the influence, so make sure you think before you drink—you can’t always blame it on the alcohol!

 

References ▾

  1. “Alcohol Statistics and Facts.” nih.gov. (2015).
  2. “Alcohol.” who.int. (2016).
  3. “Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.” nih. gov. (2004).
  4. “Alcohol Guidelines: Reducing the Risks.” nhmrc.gov. (n.d.)
  5. “Fact Sheets: Moderate Drinking.” cdc.gov. (2015).
  6. “The Health Benefits of Wine.” Annu Rev Nutr. (2000).
  7. “Dietary Guidelines.” usda.gov. (2010).
  8. “Alcohol and Public Health.” cdc.gov. (2016).
  9. “Fact Sheets: Binge Drinking.” cdc.gov. (2015).
  10. “Alcohol and Cancer Risk.” cancer.gov. (2013).
  11. “Alcohol and Cancer.” Lancet Oncol. (2006).
  12. “Alcoholic Liver Disease.” World J Hepatol. (2012).
  13. “Cirrhosis.” liverfoundation.org. (2015).
  14. “Korsakoff Syndrome.” alz.org. (2016).
  15. “What is Alcohol Related Brain Damage.” alzheimers.org. (2016).
  16. “Alcohol- Related Brain Damage.” PLoS One. (2014).
  17. “Sobering Facts: Drunk Driving State Fact Sheets.” cdc.gov. (2015).
  18. “California Drunk Driving Penalties.” dui.drivinglaws. (2015).
  19. “Tips to Beat a Hangover.” webmd.com. (2015).
  20. “Tips for Staying Safe If You Plan on Drinking.” alcoholeducationtrust.org. (2015).