So there's a lot of hype about the benefits of alcohol consumption in moderation of late. However, it is important to remember that alcohol is a toxin (poison) and as such is harmful to your body.
"What does alcohol do?Alcohol is the most widely used mind-altering drug in New Zealand. It is legal, it is readily available and it is generally socially acceptable.
Alcohol has stimulating, depressing and mood-altering functions that leave practically no circuit or system of the brain untouched. This range of effects is what sets alcohol apart from many other drugs.
It acts as a stimulant when it directly stimulates those brain cells, which lead to feelings of pleasure and euphoria. It is a depressant when it slows the brain down and reduces tensions and worries. It can affect our judgement and make us do things we would not usually do when sober. Alcohol acts as an anaesthetic when it slows down our reflexes and our coordination. It can put us to sleep, it can induce a coma and it can kill.
Alcohol's effects are dose related - the more alcohol you drink, the greater the effects that may occur. The effect alcohol has on you can also be related to your mood and your expectations. If we get the dose of alcohol right, it can be a pleasant and sometimes useful drug. If the dose is wrong, then alcohol can cause a wide range of harmful effects. Some of these are discussed below.
Defining alcohol problemsA number of different terms are used to describe alcohol problems. Sometimes the terms can be confusing.
- Hazardous drinking means drinking at levels or in situations that are likely to cause harmful consequences.
- Alcohol abuse refers to the idea that alcohol causes harmful consequences for a person, and the person continues to drink alcohol despite these consequences.
- Alcohol dependence is a more technical term indicating that either the body or the mind has become hooked or addicted to alcohol.
- Psychological dependence occurs when the mind seems to take over the control of a person's drinking. The person feels they have to drink to feel good or normal. Psychologically dependent people start to act in ways to ensure their addiction is satisfied - they think a lot about alcohol, they always ensure they have enough alcohol to drink and they plan their activities around alcohol.
- Physical dependence occurs when the body adapts to the high use of alcohol and requires this level of use to feel right or maintain its balance. There are two main signs of physical dependence.
- Tolerance, which means a person has to progressively drink more alcohol to achieve the same effect that was previously achieved with smaller amounts.
- Withdrawal, which is a state people can experience if they go without alcohol. Here the body reacts against the absence of alcohol by going through a period of shaking and sweating. If this progresses to a more severe stage, delirium tremens (DTs) may occur, with people becoming confused and experiencing hallucinations (seeing things or hearing things when there is nothing to be seen or heard).
Alcohol use is very common. Estimates are that over 90 per cent of New Zealanders drink alcohol. Studies suggest over 20 per cent of the population drinks excessively and that, at any one time, seven to 10 per cent of us have a problem with dependence on alcohol.
It is further estimated that about 30 per cent of people who are admitted to a general medical hospital have an alcohol-related health problem. Around 40 per cent of people in contact with the mental health services drink in a hazardous way.
...People who continually drink heavily can expect to have a disruptive life with more social problems than moderate and non-drinkers. They can expect more (em) health problems and they can expect to die earlier."
"There's a lot going on whenever alcohol's going through the body, so we'll limit ourselves here to main systems only:
- Liver. Since alcohol is so toxic, clearing it out of the system is a priority. And when the liver gets busy getting rid of alcohol, it gets behind in other functions, like maintaining stable blood-glucose levels to the brain. It takes a pounding in the process, too. Cirrhosis is a common result of long-term drinking, and one of the main killers of older drinkers.
- Stomach. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining, and vomiting is a particularly visible result. Heavy drinking can lead to stomach problems and ulcers.
- Central Nervous System. Alcohol depresses almost every brain function, from balance to breathing. And even though effects lessen as booze leaves the body, regular drinking raises tolerance, so that heavier drinkers can drink more without getting drunk. They do, that is, until liver damage reverses the process, which speeds up damage to the brain and the rest of the body."
So I know that some of you, my readers, probably drink, and while I do not think it wise of you to do so I'm just asking for you to look at the effects of alcohol on your body (and on others around you!) and ask yourself: is it really worth it? I don't want you to be ignorant of what you are doing to yourself and others. There may be some health benefits, but I think the negative side effects outweigh the plus' by far.
To end, a funny song by Tim Hawkins...
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