Alcoholic drinks have been part of our culture for millennia, partly because of their taste but also because of their effects on the brain. This side of alcohol, known for example as getting ‘drunk’, ‘wasted’ or ‘tipsy’ is what has made it so popular as a social drug. Drinking socially could mean at a large party, with colleagues, or just one or two friends – but the dangers of drunkenness or alcohol use are often played down or simply not known.
Many of the dangers of alcohol are well known to Americans: vomiting, loss of consciousness and memory loss are some of the infamous consequences of heavy drinking. But a great many still perceive drinking as being a safe way to become intoxicated. In fact, it has plenty of effects on the body hidden to the naked eye. You might be aware that it can damage your liver: continuous drinking can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, a known cause of liver failure and death.
But did you know excessive alcohol by itself causes permanent scarring to this vital organ? It also causes high blood pressure. This, in turn, damages your heart – increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke by weakening the heart muscles – as well as other organs, for example being a leading cause of chronic kidney disease.
As for cancer, you may think that smoking is America’s main offender. But alcohol is the second worst risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat. Plus, those who drink more are more likely to get pneumonia and lung infections. But alcohol has many effects that can creep up on the body. Drinking regularly over time can cause these problems even in smaller amounts. Persistent increases the chances of stomach cancer and breast cancer.
And, alcoholic drinks are particularly high in calories, with one 12 ounce can of beer or a regular glass of wine containing about 120 calories. So watching your weight means watching your drinking. Social use of alcohol often involves ‘binge drinking’ – drinking large quantities in a short space of time. Often social drinkers are not aware of how much they have in one session, but research shows that one-third of adolescents in the U.S. binge drink.
One effect of this style of drinking is that users can experience blackouts. Most often these happen due to too much in too short a time and drinkers pass out before they see it coming. Long-term binge drinking can cause permanent brain damage too, even if each drinking session does not seem very heavy. This often means mental health problems: long-term alcohol use is linked with anxiety, depression and schizophrenia to name a few.
Alcohol’s dangers are not limited to experienced drinkers: younger people can be affected too. Those aged up to about 25 are vulnerable to permanent brain damage because that all-important organ is still developing. Many of us are aware that alcohol makes you more aggressive and potentially violent, but excessive drinking makes the risky behavior more likely – such as unprotected sex, potentially leading to sexually transmitted infections (STIs).So now you know how even alcohol can be seriously harmful to your body.
What about your life and those around you? ‘Hard’ drugs are often seen as some of America’s worst causes of social problems. Alcohol use is one of the leading factors in domestic abuse. Binge drinking puts you at greater risk of having an accident, losing your job, being a victim of crimes, such as rape and assault, and even a perpetrator of a crime. Addiction is also more often associated with drugs such as heroin, cocaine and tobacco. Becoming addicted to alcohol is a real risk for anyone, and it is not always an obvious process.
One of the main signs of addiction is denial. People may drink too often or too much but dismiss their use, seeing it as justified when it is in a social context. However much or little, often or rarely you drink, be careful with how you view alcohol.
If not consumed in moderation, it can destroy your life, whether by damaging your body, your relationships or your behavior. Is it a social drug with no dangers? The simple answer is Nolan avid writer, Stanley Martinson is interested in all things pertaining to health and health care. Recently his fascination has turned towards addiction and rehabilitation. For more information on rehab, click here.