Who doesn’t like those brief moments of power? Those moments where the world is your oyster, where you can do anything, say anything, make a fool of yourself and not worry about the consequences. Yes, i’m talking about those moments after you’ve downed a glass, or more for some people, of alcohol. Oh the courage that comes with it! Scintillating right? I guess thats why it’s called liquid courage.
And just like with power, its pretty addictive and highly dangerous.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is classified as a depressant, a substance that slows down brain activity and its relating physiological functions. It is also considered toxic, which, basically means harmful, in this case, to the health. Alcohol contributes to the deaths of 3 million people globally according to the WHO.
Although alcohol is classified as bring a depressant, it has stimulating effects, that is, it helps people ‘loosen up’. These effects depend on the amount of alcohol taken. If more than what the body can handle is taken, its starts presenting those ‘depressant’ effects.
I will point out, the alcohol being talked about in this article, is ethyl alcohol, contained in beverages and not one of the other alcohols in the alkanol family.
Alcohol affects people differently, depending on amount taken, tolerance level, size, weight, health, strength of the drink etc. This should be considered when drinking with others.
Different people also drink for different reasons. Might be because of social status, peer pressure, alcohol dependency or just to unwind. These reasons don’t really matter, what matters is; how much are you drinking? Are you a moderate drinker or a heavy drinker? Though people with alcohol dependency tend to be heavy drinkers.
Health risks of alcohol
Has anyone ever asked you what’s your poison? Ever considered why? Why are alcoholic drinks termed ‘poisons’? Is it because they are?
Alcohol presents many health risks to different parts of the body, especially in heavy drinkers.
First, alcohol is an immunosupressant. It messes with your immune system and leaves you susceptible to diseases. Diseases your body would’ve probably fended off on its own.
It is considered carcinogenic, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, especially in high amounts, this means it increases the risk of cancer.
Central Nervous System
Alcohol reduces communication between the brain and the body. This is indicated by the overall lack of coordination when one drinks. Imagine these effects in the long run, devastating right? This would basically interfere with the central nervous system, making coordination difficult, causing numbing in the feet and hands, also making it difficult for the brain to create new memories. If it damages your frontal lobe, which would most likely happen, it would seriously impair your judgement, and emotional control.
Alcohol can increase blood pressure, cause irregular heart beats, also known as arrhythmia and can damage the muscles of the heart (cardiomyopathy).
Alcohol also affects the liver adversely by causing alcoholic hepatitis, that is, inflammation of the liver. It causes cirrhosis, which is the scarring of the liver. It leads to fatty liver, known as steatosis and also causes the general deterioration of the liver.
Its important to note that the liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, among other important functions, any damage to the liver would be fatal.
Alcohol can also cause pancreatitis, which is the inflammation of the pancreas. This can lead to a rise in the sugar level of the body, known as hyperglycemia or a drop in the sugar level, known as hypoglycemia. This is particularly important seeing as the pancreas is responsible for producing insulin which helps in lowering blood sugar levels and glucagon which helps in increasing it. The inability of the body to manage its sugar levels can lead to diabetes. People with diabetes should avoid alcohol.
Alcohol can cause a wide range of issues in the digestive system like bloating, fullness, inability of the gastrointestinal tract to absorb nutrients, ulcers, hemorrhoids, diarrhea etc.
The sexual fun that comes after taking alcohol is only short-lived. In the long run, alcohol increases risks of infertility in women and erectile dysfunction in men.
Asides from direct health issues, alcohol can interact with other drugs with harmful effects in the body. Also, with the central nervous system impairment it causes, the risks of accidents, violence, unprotected sex are increased.
Benefits of alcohol
So, apart from it being your ticket to doing what you’d normally not do, what else are the benefits of alcohol?
It would interest you to know that some studies have shown that there is a slight benefit to taking alcohol, moderately, for people with risk of cardiovascular diseases. Moderate meaning a glass a day for not more than 4 days a week. This is different from 4 glasses on one day a week.
These moderate amounts of alcohol raise levels of a particular kind of cholesterol, HDL or high-density lipoprotein, which are associated with greater protection against heart disease.
Therefore its up to you to choose, do the benefits outweigh the risks? Would you rather court breast cancer, just for the slightly lowered risk of heart disease? Or, are the health effects just too much to risk? Let us know in the comments.
Remember, when in doubt, see a physician.
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An experienced biomedical researcher cum laboratory scientist. A teacher of the sciences. Self acclaimed health and lifestyle police, changing the world one article at a time.