It’s our most popular legal drug, but alcohol is linked to a range of health concerns, even when drunk in small amounts. Here’s what you need to know.
For most of us alcohol is part of every celebration and major event in our lives, as well as a stress-relief strategy, but are we really making an informed decision every time we drink? Find out here…
Shrinks your brain
You don’t have to drink every day to put yourself at risk for brain shrinkage that starts as subtle memory loss, leading over years to early-onset dementia. Three or four drinks most days or bingeing a couple of times a week is enough to cause irreversible damage.
According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, just one or two drinks can cause blurred vision, slurred speech, slower reaction times, impaired memory, and loss of balance. Short-term effects disappear when the individual stops drinking, but long-term alcohol abuse may cause chronic brain disorders that are serious and debilitating.
Breast cancer risk
Alcohol consumption is a known cause of cancer, including cancers of the mouth and throat, which have a lower survival rate and tend to leave survivors debilitated. If you smoke as well as drink, your risk is much greater than either of those two risk factors alone, say experts. Alcohol can also cause oesophagus, liver, bowel and breast cancers.
For women, alcohol consumption is one of the very few changeable risk factors for breast cancer. Even small amounts of alcohol increase your risk but if you do choose to drink, our advice is to stay within the official guidelines of no more than two standard drinks per day.
Possible liver disease
Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol gradually leads to alcohol liver disease. This results in inflammation and swelling of the liver, a condition known as hepatitis, explain experts. The problem is, many people are unaware of earlystage liver injury because most symptoms don’t occur until later, often when it is too late to heal a scarred liver.
According to experts, women are increasingly drinking at the same levels as men and because of differences in body size and liver metabolism, they’re at an increased risk of getting and dying from liver injuries such as alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis.
Bad for your heart
Women are at higher risk for alcohol-related cardiovascular disease than men because they have a different body composition. Alcohol adds to your total calorie intake no matter what you mix it with. It also increases blood pressure and triglyceride levels, all known factors in coronary artery disease, claim experts.
The immediate heartrelated effects of binge drinking, which include chest pain, irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath, are reversible. However, continued heavy drinking can lead to a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is characterised by serious damage to the heart muscle.
Don’t drink during pregnancy
When you drink during pregnancy, it affects your baby as well. Technically, there’s no safe level of drinking if you’re having a baby. Alcohol can disrupt brain development in an unborn child and may lead to learning and behavioural problems due to irreversible brain damage. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are potentially 100 per cent preventable.
Because some women aren’t immediately aware they’re pregnant they may continue to drink in the early weeks, so the best approach is to avoid drinking if there’s any chance you might be or planning on becoming pregnant.
Suppresses your immune system
Binge drinking weakens the body’s ability to fight off infections for at least 24 hours, research has shown. Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short time inhibits the production of signalling molecules that are vital to the immune system, resulting in a high risk of serious, and even life-threatening infections.
Just one night of binge drinking affects the immune system, and it can happen within just 20 minutes of ingesting alcohol. The findings, published in the journal Alcohol, are the first to document the immediate effects of alcohol on the human immune system.
Everyone is at risk
It’s easy to see alcohol as just another consumer product when actually it’s a drug. It affects your mood, relationships and physical health. There has been an increase in the normalisation of alcohol consumption over the recent years. In today’s society, it’s much more socially acceptable to drink at any occasion, even at brunch gettogethers, kids’ sporting events and school fetes.
It’s important to be aware of why you’re drinking, when you’re drinking and how much you’re drinking. Accept feedback from family and friends; and be mindful about your drinking habits and ask for help if you need it.