I think every adult person at least once in life has been waiting for the end of the working week, special event or holidays just to relax and drink a couple of glasses of a favorite cocktail or glass of wine. Some of us are luckier and can stop after a few cocktails and go home, others can celebrate until the morning, feeling fun and free. But what is next? Next, you have bad sleep, dry mouth, headache, and crazy hangover. Yes, it was so easy to sleep for 3 hours after a party at my 20s, but now I feel how alcohol ruins my body and mind even after 2 glasses of wine. What exactly happens to our bodies when we drink alcohol?
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol (ethanol or ethyl spirit) is one of the world’s favorite intoxicants. It is frequently found at social gatherings because it provides an anxiety-reducing effect. It the sugars in different food. For example, wine is made from the sugar in grapes, beer from the sugar in malted barley (a type of grain), cider from the sugar in apples, vodka from the sugar in potatoes, beets or other plants.
Alcohol is classed as a sedative-hypnotic drug, which means it acts to depress the central nervous system at high doses. At lower doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant, inducing feelings of euphoria and talkativeness, but drinking too much at one session can lead to drowsiness, respiratory depression, coma or even death.
Effect Of Alcohol On The Body
Drinking too much overtime can cause chronic physical and mental health issues. Heavy drinking can cause or contribute to liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and multiple types of cancer.
Thirty seconds after your first sip, alcohol moves into your brain. It slows down the chemicals and pathways that your brain cells use to send messages. That changes your mood, slows your reflexes and throws off your balance. You also can’t think clearly, which you may not remember later, because you’ll struggle to store things in long-term memory.
If you drink too much alcohol, brain centers can become so severely impaired that you could fall into a coma or die.
If you drink heavily for a long time, it can affect how your brain looks and works. Its cells start to change and even get smaller. And that’ll have big effects on your ability to think, learn, and remember things.
Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:
- Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of the heart muscle
- Arrhythmias – Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Your liver breaks down almost all the alcohol you drink. In the process, it handles a lot of toxins. Over time, heavy drinking makes the organ fatty and lets thicker, fibrous tissue build up. That limits blood flow, so liver cells don’t get what they need to survive. As they die off, the liver gets scars and stops working as well, a disease called cirrhosis. Heavy drinking leads to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Normally, this organ makes insulin and other chemicals that help your intestines break down food. But alcohol stops that process. The chemicals stay inside the pancreas. Along with toxins from alcohol, they cause inflammation in the organ, which can lead to serious damage. After years, that means you won’t be able to make the insulin you need, which can lead to diabetes. It also makes you more likely to get pancreatic cancer.
Based on extensive reviews of research studies, there is a strong scientific consensus of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. This report lists the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. The research evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing alcohol-associated cancer.
Clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer.
Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for certain head and neck cancers. People who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day have at least a two to three times greater risk of developing these cancers than nondrinkers. Moreover, the risks of these cancers are substantially higher among persons who consume this amount of alcohol and also use tobacco.
Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a particular type of esophageal cancer – esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of alcohol-related esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
More than 100 epidemiologic studies have looked at the association between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer in women. A meta-analysis of 53 of these studies showed that women who drank more than 45 grams of alcohol per day had 1.5 times the risk of developing breast cancer as nondrinkers. The risk of breast cancer was higher across all levels of alcohol intake. For every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day, researchers observed a small 7% increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day was associated with a 12 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Alcohol consumption is associated with a modestly increased risk of cancers of the colon and rectum. A meta-analysis of 57 groups showed that people who regularly drank 50 or more grams of alcohol per day had 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer as nondrinkers.
Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
You may think drinking alcohol can lower your inhibitions and help you have more fun in bed. But the reality is quite different. Men who drink too much are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. Heavy drinking can also prevent sex hormone production and lower your libido.
Women who drink too much may stop menstruating. That puts them at a greater risk for infertility. Women who drink heavily during pregnancy have a higher risk of premature delivery, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
Alcohol and Mental Health
Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve in the brain to another.
The relaxed feeling you might experience if you have an alcoholic drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol has caused in your brain. For some, a drink can help them feel more confident and less anxious. That’s because it’s starting to depress the part of the brain we associate with inhibition.
But, as you drink more, more of the brain starts to be affected. Alcohol can be linked to aggression you could become angry, aggressive, anxious or depressed.
Anxiety And Stress
Many people believe that having an alcoholic drink will help them feel more relaxed. However, if you’re experiencing anxiety drinking alcohol could be making things worse. However, these benefits are short-lived. When we drink alcohol it destroys the balance of chemicals and processes in the brain.
A likely side-effect of this is that the more you drink the greater your tolerance for alcohol will be. Over time you may need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. In the long term, this pattern of drinking may affect your mental health.
The way your body processes alcohol can also have a direct effect on your mood. As your body processes the alcohol you’ve drunk, the sedative effects wear off. You can begin to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms similar to feelings people who are dependent on alcohol may have.
These symptoms can be psychological such as feeling depressed or anxious. Many people feel like this in the morning after drinking alcohol. This is because they are withdrawing from the effects of alcohol. This feeling often goes hand in hand with physical hangover symptoms such as a headache or an upset stomach.
For some people, these feelings of anxiety or agitation may be barely noticeable. But if anxiety is already an issue for you, experiencing withdrawal from alcohol can make your symptoms feel worse.
If you’re prone to social phobia, you might find yourself worrying about what you said or did the night before. If you suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder, you may wake in the middle of the night and lie awake worrying and feeling stressed.
If you drink heavily and regularly you’re likely to develop some symptoms of depression. Regular drinking lowers the levels of serotonin in your brain – a chemical that helps to regulate your mood.
People who experience anxiety or depression are twice as likely to be heavy or problem drinkers. For some people, anxiety or depression came first and they’ve reached for alcohol to try to relieve it. For others, drinking came first, so it may be a root cause of their anxieties
Drinking heavily can also affect your relationships with your partner, family, and friends. It can impact on your performance at work. These issues can also contribute to depression.
If you use a drink to try and improve your mood or mask your depression, you may be starting a vicious cycle.
Warning signs that alcohol is affecting your mood include:
- Poor sleep after drinking
- Feeling tired because of a hangover
- Low mood
- Experiencing anxiety in situations where you would normally feel comfortable.
Oh, this feeling after the hard party last night. The strongest hangover I had recently was the New Year party 2020. The first day of the year was a nightmare. I truly believed it was my last day on this planet. So what causes a hangover?
The darker the alcohol, the more congeners there are. And the more congeners there are, the more likely you are to develop a hangover. Opt for a light-colored beer or clear liquor.
It isn’t always the alcohol itself. Its diuretic or dehydrating effects actually cause most hangover symptoms. Chemicals called congeners can also cause more intense hangovers.
Why does alcohol do this?
As I mentioned above alcohol has a wide range of effects on your body, many of which contribute to hangover symptoms.
Some of these include:
- Dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee more often. As such, it’s easier to become dehydrated both during and after drinking. Dehydration is one of the main causes of headaches, dizziness, and thirst.
- Gastrointestinal effects. Alcohol causes irritation and increases acid production in your digestive system. Depending on how much you drink, alcohol can also speed up or slow down the passage of food matter through your gastrointestinal tract. These effects are associated with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Electrolyte imbalance. Alcohol intake affects your body’s electrolyte levels. Electrolyte imbalances may contribute to headaches, irritability, and weakness.
- Immune system effects. Drinking alcohol may impair your immune system. A wide range of hangover symptoms, including nausea, decreased appetite, and inability to concentrate may be related to temporary changes in immune system function caused by alcohol.
- Low blood sugar. Drinking limits the production of sugar (glucose) in the body. Low blood sugar is associated with fatigue, dizziness, and irritability.
- Dilated blood vessels. When you drink, your blood vessels widen. This effect, known as vasodilation, is associated with headaches.
- Difficulty sleeping. Although drinking too much can leave you feeling sleepy, it also prevents high-quality sleep and may cause you to wake up in the night. The next day, you might feel more sleepy than usual.
These symptoms vary from person to person and can range in intensity from mild to severe. Sometimes, they’re enough to ruin your entire day.
A severe alcohol use disorder, previously known as alcohol dependence or alcoholism, is a chronic disease. Some of the signs and symptoms of a severe alcohol use disorder could include:
- Inability to limit drinking.
- Continuing to drink despite personal or professional problems.
- Needing to drink more to get the same effect.
- Wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else.
To assess whether you or loved one may have alcohol use disorder, here are some questions to ask. In the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships,at work, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.
Alcohol Consumption Worldwide Statistics
Per capita, alcohol consumption in the World Health Organization European Region, including the European Union (EU), is the highest in the world, which results in proportionally higher levels of the burden of disease attributable to alcohol use compared to other regions.
The consumption of alcohol in each country varies greatly and is affected by the laws, culture, and other characteristics of each country. Alcohol.org found each country’s beer, wine, and spirits consumption per capita and converted the numbers to the pure alcohol consumption of each of these drinks. For example, one handle of vodka (1.75 liters) is about 300 milliliters of pure alcohol. The ten countries with the highest consumption of alcohol are:
- Belarus (14.4 liters)
- Lithuania (12.9 liters)
- Grenada (11.9 liters)
- Czech Republic (11.8 liters)
- France (11.8 liters)
- Russia (11.5 liters)
- Ireland (11.4 liters)
- Luxembourg (11.4 liters)
- Slovakia (11.4 liters)
- Germany (11.3 liters)
Belarus consumes the most alcohol in the world of 14.4 liters per person per year. This is about 48 handles of vodka per person per year.
Alcohol is responsible for 2.8 million premature deaths each year
Russia was the only country to be labeled the riskiest, in terms of patterns of drinking. Russians also consumed more spirits than any of the other top countries: an average of 326 servings per person in a single year. Belarus, a country that drinks the most liters of pure alcohol than any other country in the world, was also classified as having one the riskiest pattern of drinking. These countries, along with Kazakhstan and Moldova, were also classified as countries with the most years of life lost to alcohol, showing that there may be a strong link between risky behavior patterns that have been linked to early death in men.
There should be moderation in everything. You don´t need to drink alcohol to make your life brighter, funnier and happier. Alcohol destroys your body and mind, it leads you to anxiety, depression, and aggression. There is nothing bad about drinking a couple of beers or cocktails once per week. But if you feel that you or your family member drinks every day, become moody, aggressive and closed ask for help. Alcohol can ruin relationships, families, careers. Take care of yourself, your future and the future of your kids. 💗