At Risk – Alcohol and your Health

Health effects of AlcoholDrinking responsibly is the understanding of what the law states is safe and legal in any situation – this becomes a lot more important when alcohol brings serious and negative long-term effects on your health if not treated with regard.

When people regularly have more than the recommended 2 standard drinks per day, they run a much higher risk of contracting serious health problems. The more people drink, the greater the risk. For women, as they drink more, these risks increase much faster than men.

Effects of declining health due to excessive drinking can start with something as small as weight gain. The liver turns the alcohol into sugar and water. So every time you have a drink, it is like eating sugar. Alcoholic drinks can be counted in kilojoules and calories, just like that cupcake you refused today: 100ml (a standard drink – about a half glass) of medium-dry wine is about 75 calories, or 315 kilojoules. A 10 oz (285ml) ‘pot’, ‘middy’ or half pint of full strength beer (a standard drink) is about 115 calories (480 kilojoules). Therefore, if you have 6 standard drinks a day, you are adding 450-690 calories to your diet. This increases your risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Other and more embarrassing issues that can arise are those associated with sexual performance: People who drink a lot often have sexual problems. For example, heavy alcohol use can trigger impotence. Alcohol abuse can also lead to arguments or relationship problems which, in turn, lead to problems in bed.

Eventually, you may start to feel like you’ve lost your marbles. Alcohol abuse is also akin to memory loss. Perhaps you have noticed that you are having trouble remembering things lately. You may even have had a “blackout,” where you couldn’t remember whole chunks of time. Regular use of high amounts of alcohol causes damage to the brain. And, it doesn’t stop with memory problems. People who have been drinking a lot are also not as good at planning ahead, solving difficult problems, or learning new things.

And as the abuse of alcohol continues, the health effects worsen, leading to organ damage. Alcohol causes damage to many organs in the body, but people are often not aware of this until it is too late. Most importantly is your liver. This is the organ that processes alcohol. If you drink a lot, it forces your liver to work much harder than usual. This can make the liver larger – your doctor may have poked your tummy to look for that. When the liver breaks down the alcohol, it produces chemicals that can poison its own cells. Some of the cells may die, and the liver may become tan-coloured from the scar tissue (cirrhosis). You may also get liver cancer.

Also with the memory loss, you can only expect that brain damage is on the cards, but not necessarily during the heavy drinking behaviour. Damage to the brain may happen during alcohol withdrawal, when nerves can become overactive and die. Or, it can happen because of a lack of Vitamin B1 – this can cause very serious and irreversible memory problems. Finally, damage can occur because of injuries, when people are drunk.

Other organs that can be affected by irresponsible drinking patterns are: The pancreas, it helps you digest food. If you drink a lot of alcohol very quickly, the pancreas can be seriously damaged. This is very painful, and can kill you. Drinking competitions are very dangerous.

The mouth and throat: Heavy use of alcohol is associated with risk of developing cancers of the mouth and throat, especially in smokers.

And lastly, the reproductive systems. In men, alcohol use is associated with lower testosterone levels. In women, alcohol use can disrupt menstrual cycles and can alter hormonal levels in postmenopausal women.

The chemical content and constant stress on the body’s systems can reduce bone density, making people who drink regularly at greater risk of developing osteoporosis and other bone problems. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk of fractures – partly because their bones are more brittle, and partly because they are more likely to fall over or be assaulted.

Overall – drinking irresponsibly can have very negative effects on your health. However, this is why we have legislation, Responsible Service of Alcohol and recommended safe drinking levels, so that you can enjoy your beverage responsibly without experiencing the negative long-term effects.

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