People find many reasons to drink. To celebrate. To unwind. To escape. The list goes on.
There are just as many reasons not to partake, however. Too much can widen the waistline, weaken the heart, or scar the liver. It can also interfere with judgment and lead to risky — even dangerous — actions.
Alcohol May Lead to Weight Gain
Alcohol isn’t a friend to dieters. It has plenty of calories but not much to offer nutrient-wise:
- Twelve ounces of beer averages about 155 calories.
- Five ounces of white wine averages about 120 calories, or 125 for the same portion of red. (Dry wines tend to be lower-calorie.)
- A jigger — 1.5 ounces — of 80 proof (40 percent) vodka, whiskey or other hard spirits runs about 100 calories.
Typically the stronger the sip, the higher the calories.
What’s more, many people rarely stop at one. Or, they may believe that the recommended five ounces of merlot looks kind of sad in that big wine goblet. So more wine, and more calories!
That jigger of vodka — add some ginger beer and lime juice, and you’ve got a Moscow mule ready for sipping. (And yes, more calories!)
Many cocktails include sugary liqueurs and soda pop or juice, jacking up the calorie content even more.
Alcohol is metabolized differently too. That’ll get burned as fuel, but any extra calories get turned into fat, often landing around the midsection. (Hello, beer gut!)
With too many drinks, inhibitions — like vowing to eat just a couple of fries — disappear. Studies have found booze promotes hunger, and with the lapsed judgment that tipsiness can bring, it equals eating more than desired or intended.
Alcohol interferes with digestion, too, blocking the absorption of many vitamins. Heavier drinkers in particular are more prone to vitamin deficiencies and resulting health problems, including:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin) deficiencies can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, producing confusion, vision changes, memory loss, and hallucinations.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficits can result in heart failure, numbness in the hands and feet, and painful skin inflammation.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) shortages can cause anemia, fatigue, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, dementia, poor memory, and more.
In addition, alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and lead to vomiting, both of which interfere with nutrient absorption.
Alcohol Erodes Judgment
Too many drinks and common sense is diminished. Blackouts, alcohol poisoning, overdoses, and even death are all-too-real possibilities after overimbibing.
Intoxicants may exacerbate conditions such as depression, psychosis, and anxiety.
Judgment and coordination are affected. Violence, rape, driving under the influence, falls, drownings, sexually-transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, unwanted sexual activity — all can result from drinking enough alcohol to loosen one’s inhibitions past a sensible and safe comfort zone.
Alcohol increases the likelihood that you will use other drugs — another way it affects judgment.
Combining alcohol with other drugs, both legal or illegal, can be extremely risky:
- Depressants such as Xanax or Valium amplify alcohol’s effect. Dizziness, memory loss, and falls may result.
- Stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall (used illicitly or otherwise) or illegal drugs such as methamphetamine (meth) or cocaine counteract alcohol’s effects, so a person may feel more alert and think they’re more sober than they really are. The danger is they’ll continue drinking to the point of blacking out or unconsciousness.
- Prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin or illegal narcotics such as heroin, when taken with alcohol, can slow or stop a person’s breathing, pulse, or blood pressure.
Any of the above, depending on the individual or amount consumed, can also lead to death.
Street drugs, especially illicitly manufactured substances such as bath salts or synthetic marijuana can be especially problematic, as the full list of their ingredients may be a mystery.
Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines’ potency can also be amplified by alcohol or produce undesirable side effects. Drowsiness and dizziness tend to be the most common, but, depending on the medication, any number of health woes can occur, including liver damage, heart problems, stomach bleeding, and nausea.
The best bet is to read the label of any medication you may be taking and check for potential interactions.
Alcohol Interferes with Memory and Learning
Alcohol’s effects on memory and learning have been well documented.
Long-term misuse can affect nutrient absorption, but regular use slows functioning in the hippocampus, which plays a key role in helping form and retain memories, affecting short-term memory. Long-term drinking can not only slow the functioning of the hippocampus but also damage it.
Drinking not only can affect the drinker, but in cases where a woman may be pregnant or attempting to conceive, it can hurt the developing baby. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can result, and the outcome can be as bad as death for the fetus. If it lives, it may face learning and attention challenges throughout life.
Liver and Other Diseases
Alcohol is more foe than friend to the liver, which has many important roles. After digestion, the blood leaves the stomach and intestines and enters the liver, which metabolizes fats, creates nutrients, and breaks down and filters the blood of medicines and any other harmful substances.
It also helps fight infections and regulates blood clotting.
Too much drinking can lead to alcohol-related liver disease.
- The first stage is alcoholic fatty liver disease, where fats build up around the liver. Tiredness, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, appetite loss, and weakness are some symptoms. Quitting drinking typically will put an end to them.
- Acute alcoholic hepatitis is the next phase, where the liver swells. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, confusion, and fatigue are symptoms Quitting drinking is crucial. Medications to reduce inflammation and improve liver function, along with vitamin supplements, may be prescribed as treatment.
- Alcoholic cirrhosis is the final stage, when the liver is permanently scarred. Anemia, high blood sugar, spiked white blood cell counts, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, confusion, internal bleeding, jaundice, and other issues follow. Typically this stage is irreversible but can be managed somewhat with medications, supplements, and added proteins in the diet. A liver transplant may be necessary.
Alcohol not only can make a mess of the liver, but it can lead to a host of other problems, including several kinds of cancers, including those of the mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, and breast (for women).
While alcohol is sometimes touted as a heart-healthy sip — there is a saying that a glass of red a day keeps the cardiologist away — moderation remains key. Too much alcohol can elevate the heart rate (a dangerous undertaking with some pre-existing conditions).
Studies have shown that people without heart disease who drank 10 or more drinks every week on average died one to two years earlier than moderate drinkers. People who had 18 or more drinks each week, their life expectancies went down four or five years.
It’s been said that money is the root of all evil, but for some, alcohol is at the root of many, many health problems.
- today.com – Beer, Wine and Liquor: Are They Making You Fat?
- healthline.com – How Does Alcohol Affect Weight Loss?
- medlineplus.gov – Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
- bjgp.org – Should GPs Prescribe Vitamin B Compound Strong Tablets to Alcoholics?
- nih.gov – Vitamin B12
- my.wlu.edu – Health and Behavioral Risks of Alcohol and Drug Use
- uhs.umich.edu – The Effects of Combining Alcohol with Other Drugs
- niaaa.nih.gov – Mixing Alcohol with Medicines
- healthline.com – How Alcohol is Linked to Memory Loss
- cdc.gov – Basics About FASDs
- urmc.rochester.edu – Anatomy and Function of the Liver
- healthline.com – Types and Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
- healthline.com – Symptoms of Fatty Liver
- healthline.com – Alcoholic Hepatitis
- healthline.com – Alcoholic Liver Cirrhosis
- cdc.gov – Alcohol and Cancer
- health.harvard.edu – Alcohol and Heart Health
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
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