Alcohol is an intoxicating liquor that has been used since time immemorial not just to celebrate joy and happiness, but also to relieve tension and anxiety. It is widely considered to be a kind of drug that affects a person’s frame of mind. Since it releases inhibitions, alcohol is considered as an aid to improving social interactions. However, excessive consumption of alcohol over a lengthy period of time, or an addiction can cause mental debilitation, and the person may lose control over his behaviour. Besides, consumption of alcohol in excess, especially when a person gets addicted to it, can result in physical, psychological and social problems.
When a person consumes alcohol, it is absorbed from the stomach into the blood and taken to the liver where it is metabolised by enzymes and is used as energy or stored as fat. A small percentage of it is discharged through urine or exhaled through the breath. Though alcohol affects the body almost immediately upon consumption, it reaches maximum concentration levels in the blood about 35-45 minutes after intake. The effect it has varies from individual to individual, depending on factors like body weight to whether it has been consumed on an empty stomach, with meals or after meals. The speed at which alcohol is metabolised in the liver also differs from person to person. Heavy drinkers tend to break it down faster, and the more a person has consumed the longer it takes for the blood to return to normal.
Alcohol acts as a sedative which directly affects the central nervous system and this in turn impairs the person’s movements or coordination between different parts of the body. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid driving or operating machines after drinking. Though it gives the person a sense of confidence, it actually adversely affects judgement. Besides, it dilates the blood vessels in the skin, giving a feeling of warmth, whereas actually the body is losing heat, so it should not be used as an antidote to cold. Heavy drinking or an addiction can cause hangovers, which may manifest as headaches, nausea or dizziness. The effects of alcohol can be minimised by eating while drinking. Consuming alcohol in excess can be dangerous, as it can lead to confusion, memory loss, and in worst cases also coma or death.
Consuming alcohol within limits can actually guard against heart diseases, but when it becomes an addiction, the damage it can cause to health outstrips its benefits. Alcohol is rich in calories, and therefore heavy drinkers tend to put on weight and then face all sorts of problems associated with obesity. A drinking addiction can damage the liver, apart from adversely affecting several other body organs. Among the damages that this addiction can cause are damage to the brain cells that control learning and memory, high blood pressure, heart attacks, some cancers, and it also reduces fertility. The alcohol addiction can also lead to a break down of relationships, and put an enormous amount of pressure on the family and friends of the addict. Drinking during pregnancy can harm the foetus, causing permanent abnormalities in the child, or may even lead to miscarriage.
How much is too much?
To assess whether you are drinking too much or if you have an addiction you may have to consult a doctor who may suggest that you maintain a diary of how much you drink daily. These records over several weeks will help the doctor determine whether you have a drinking addiction. Some signs you needs to note down when you are trying to assess whether you have an addiction are hangovers, involvement drinking brawls or accidents. According to general guidelines men should not drink more than 3-4 units a day and women not more than 2-3 units, with at least two alcohol-free days a week. Pregnant women are advised not to drink at all.
Precautions to be taken to avoid addiction
You can enjoy drinking only if you drink within limits and not get addicted. So set a safe limit and don’t, under any circumstance, exceed it. Drink after eating and not on an empty stomach. Don’t drink and drive, and also don’t let anyone who is drunk drive. And, last but not least, your children learn from you, so set a good example of safe drinking if you can’t avoid it altogether.