While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem – drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.
Short term risks
Alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol’s immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. The higher your Blood alcohol concentration level, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects.
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These effects can include:
- Reduced inhibitions
- Slurred speech
- Motor impairment
- Memory problems
- Concentration problems
- Breathing problems
“Getting drunk” or intoxicated is the result of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication. Being drunk can make a person feel very silly, angry, or sad for no reason. It can make it hard to walk in a straight line, talk clearly, or drive. Alcohol intoxication can be harmful for a variety of reasons, including:
- Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
- Dilation of blood vessels causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
- Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver diseases (e.g., cirrhosis), particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time.
- Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by pregnant women.
- Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
- Coma and death can occur if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts.
Long-term risks of alcohol overconsumption
If you're a middle-aged or younger adult, some evidence shows that even moderate alcohol use may cause more harm than good and in certain situations, the risks of alcohol use may outweigh the possible health benefits. For example, use alcohol only with great care and after consulting your doctor if:
- You're pregnant or trying to become pregnant
- You've been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, or you have a strong family history of alcoholism
- You have liver or pancreatic disease
- You have heart failure or you've been told you have a weak heart
- You take prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
- You've had a hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures)
While moderate alcohol use may offer some health benefits, heavy drinking — including binge drinking — has no health benefits.
Excessive drinking - binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the age 21 (minimum legal drinking age in the U.S.), and any alcohol use by pregnant women - can increase your risk of serious health problems, including:
- Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus
- Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
- Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Accidental serious injury or death
- Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
- Problems at home, at work, and with friends.
Drinking too much – on a single occasion or over time – can take a serious toll on your health. Here’s how alcohol can affect your body:
Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
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 heart muscle
- Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
- High blood pressure
Research also shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast.
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.
Alcohol reduces blood flow to the muscles, causing weakness and deterioration. Consuming alcohol in large quantities has a direct effect on your metabolism, causing fat to be stored instead of being utilized as an energy source.
Alcohol reduces testosterone in your blood and increases conversion of testosterone to estrogen, causing increased fat depositing and fluid retention.
Alcohol consumption can cause sleep disorders by disrupting the sequence and duration of sleep states and by altering total sleep time and the time required to fall asleep. Alcohol’s effect on sleep patterns results in increased fatigue and physical stress to the body.
Alcohol inhibits the breakdown of nutrients into usable substances by decreasing the secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Regular alcohol consumption also impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestines and disabling transport of some nutrients into the blood.
Putting on the Pounds:
Many people under the influence experience “drunk munchies” that can result in the consumption of several hundred extra calories for the day.
Safe in Moderation
Knowing the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption, you might be scared to have that glass of wine with dinner. Don’t be. Some of the possible benefits of moderate drinking that have been studied are:
- Increased HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) within one to two weeks
- Reduced stress levels
- Reduced insulin resistance
- Lower risk of gallstones
Moderate alcohol consumption may be of most benefit if you're an older adult or if you have existing risk factors for heart disease. It may:
- Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease
- Possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow)
- Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes
Even so, the evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn't certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks. Certainly, you don't have to drink any alcohol, and if you currently don't drink, don't start drinking for the possible health benefits.
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