Drinking alcohol is part of our social culture; it is associated with relaxation, parties, and adventures. For some, drinking alcohol is even part of a complete everyday meal. But, while some promote the health and social benefits of moderate drinking, we should be careful to understand that alcohol increases the risk of damage to many internal organs and aggravates many environmental problems.
From a research standpoint, even moderate alcohol consumption can be dangerous because it can interfere with the liver’s normal functioning, impede bone formation, and, most importantly, inhibit the nervous system. Additionally, because studies have shown alcohol to have some health benefits when consumed moderately, some people tend to consume more than their body can tolerate, which turns alcohol into an insidious substance.
How Alcohol Damages Your Nervous System
Because alcohol is a toxic substance, it can cause alcoholic and chronic drinkers to suffer from brain changes and abnormalities in their mental functioning. Alcohol consumption can directly or indirectly affect the neurological system, making it even more dangerous to consume casually or regularly.
Over the past thirty years, images of the brain created with modern neurological techniques, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computer Tomography (CT), generally show a relationship between prolonged alcohol consumption and changes in the brain’s structure. For example, MRI and CT results have shown brain shrinkage and brain lesions or tissue damage in some users of alcohol.
Alcohol also has adverse effects on many other neurological processes. While moderate alcohol consumption lowers body temperature, severe intoxication in cold weather may lead to hypothermia, a massive, life-threatening decline in temperature.
Another severe consequence of alcoholism is the Korsokoffs Syndrome (KS), a devastating memory disorder in which a person forgets the incidents throughout the course of his day or as they occur. Hence, because of this dramatic loss of short-term memory (also called anterograde amnesia), patients with KS virtually live in the past.
Alcohol and Liver Damage
Because the liver is the largest organ in the body, it performs various tasks, namely digesting, absorbing, and processing food. Moreover, the liver stores vitamins, synthesizes cholesterol, controls blood fluidity, and regulates blood-clotting mechanisms.
Liver disease is one of the most severe medical consequences of long-term alcohol consumption. About 35,000 Americans die every year from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, according to Medscape. Cirrhosis is the nation’s ninth leading killer. Approximately one-half of cirrhosis deaths have been ascribed to alcohol usage, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Moreover, long-term alcohol consumption is the most prevalent single cause of illness and death from liver disease in the United States, since the only possible cure is liver transplantation, which is a risky undertaking.
The liver is also so fragile that a single occurrence of heavy drinking is enough to dispose of fat in the liver and may lead to alcoholic hepatitis, a severe inflammation of the liver characterized by nausea, weakness, pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, and fever.
Finally, alcoholic cirrhosis is the most advanced form of liver injury. The disease is characterized by scar tissue’s progressive development that blocks the blood vessels and distorts the liver’s internal structure, impairing its function. Liver disease compromises the body’s ability to perform multiple functions essential to life.
Alcohol and Bone Loss
Overindulgence of alcohol causes adverse effects on bone health, particularly in women. Alcohol has harmful effects on the two types of bone the human skeleton encompasses.
Cortical bone is dense and thick and forms the outer layer of bone and the shafts of the long bones of the arms and legs. Cancellous bone is a porous meshwork of thin plates that shape the vertebral column. While alcohol is harmful to both types of bone, the most crucial effects occur in cancellous bone.
Medically speaking, the process of skeletal growth and maturation involves three general phases: development and modeling, consolidation, and remodeling. Heavy alcohol consumption interferes with the growth-and-modeling phase by stopping the longitudinal growth rate and bone proliferation rate. Moreover, the usage of alcoholic beverages affects parathyroid, the hormone that regulates calcium metabolism.
Alcohol and Sleep Disruption
Alcohol usage can interfere with standard sleep patterns. Light consumption of alcohol can cause early sedation of sleepiness, waking during the night, and the suppression of Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM). Psychologically speaking, REM is the dreaming state of sleep, and when it occurs near wakefulness, it often produces vivid hallucinations.
Drunk Driving: A Leading Killer
Not only is alcohol consumption detrimental for the user but others in his path. Drunk driving is one of the nations leading killers. In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Most shocking of all, teenage drivers represent less than 7 percent of the total population; however, teenage drunk drivers’ damage is more than 13 percent of motor vehicle deaths.
Alcohol and Violence
Alcohol also plays a causal role in violence. Over the past forty-five years, many studies have shown a conspicuous relationship between alcohol consumption and violent events. According to these studies, alcohol is linked to one-half to two-thirds of homicides, in one-fourth to nearly one-half of serious assaults. Alcohol consumption also appears to be connected with sexual assault. For example, police reports have demonstrated 24 percent of identified sexual offenders and 31 percent of their victims had been drinking.
Social and Relationship Problems due to Drinking
Moreover, although many people consume alcohol moderately and responsibly, studies show that many people drink to get drunk, and therefore, their behaviors create some severe problems for people around them. For example, alcoholics and people who frequently binge drink usually have issues with friends, marriage, home-life, work, and finances. Furthermore, heavy drinking can have high social costs on society, including loss of productivity in the workplace, family violence, which in most cases, leads to a divorce, accidental injuries, and even death.
What is Moderate Alcohol Use and How Does it Benefit the Heart?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and Human Services, moderate consumption is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. Ideally, a drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Alcohol can play a meaningful role in facilitating the circulation of blood throughout the body. For one, it can help prevent the formation of blood clots. In addition to cholesterol and other fatty substances that impede blood circulation, clotting occurs from chemicals released into the blood through the arterial wall, which alcohol can help counteract.
Alcohol consumption could also play a role in stimulating the cardiovascular system. For example, laboratory research has demonstrated alcohol usage as a positive factor in preventing arterial narrowing in mice.
Other laboratory research suggests that alcohol might help protect against reperfusion injury, which is a form of blood flow to heart muscles weakened by lack of oxygen.
Alcohol can be considered something of importance since it enhances the cardiovascular system. But, while some promote the health benefits of alcohol when consumed moderately, those benefits should not be encouraged because alcohol increases the risk of damage to many other internal organs and aggravates many environmental problems. Even moderate alcohol consumption can be dangerous because it can interfere with the liver’s normal functioning, impede bone formation, and, most importantly, inhibit the nervous system.
While there are opposing viewpoints on the effects of moderate alcohol use, there is one factor on which researchers can agree: Heavy consumption of alcohol is harmful.