Almost every organ and process in your body can be negatively affected by alcohol. And beyond your person, its consumption has negative repercussions for families and community. It needlessly kills people every day, for one reason or another.
But for now, let’s just look at the personal health-related problems.
1. It’s fattening
You might have heard of the beer gut, but all types of alcohol are fattening.
Studies have shown that alcohol can cause a temporary decrease in the amount of fat the body burns by up to 33 per cent. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system and slows the metabolic rate. Alcohol is very high in kilojoules, and since your body can’t store it, the kilojoules from alcohol have to be used as fuel before your body can burn off kilojoules from food.
In other words, alcohol slows down, and even prevents, the foods you eat from being burned off, especially those you consume with alcohol. Alcohol in moderation also increases your appetite, reduces your willpower to say no to unhealthy foods, often comes with extra kilojoules from mixers like soft drink or fruit juice, and can lead to inactivity and fat bingeing the next day.
2. It keeps bad company
Alcohol is not only fattening on its own, but so are the foods normally consumed with it. Some typical foods that people combine with alcohol include beer and pizza; beer with a meat pie, hot dogs, hot chips or sausage roll at a sporting event; wine with cheese and dips; beer with nuts or crisps; and with a restaurant meal.
These foods are high in fats and, with the exception of nuts, are high in the type of fats that are dangerous to your cardiovascular health due to their cholesterol- raising effect. These fatty foods are also more likely to be stored when consumed with alcohol.
When alcohol is consumed during a meal, the extra kilojoules are not compensated for by eating less food, resulting in a higher-than-normal energy intake. This can further contribute to weight problems.
3. It increases the chance of injury
Injury and trauma are a major cause of hospital visits and premature death in Australia and New Zealand, with alcohol playing a significant role. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system, reducing reaction time and impairing judgment, which increases the likelihood and severity of trauma.
Alcohol can also complicate the management and treatment of trauma victims.
The most notable link between alcohol and injury is in the area of motor transport, including fatalities and nonfatal motor-vehicle injuries. Also significant is the link between alcohol and violence, falls, fires and burns, self-harm and suicides. It’s difficult be precise about how much of a role alcohol plays in these events, although one study estimated that between 20 and 35 per cent of emergency-room trauma cases involve alcohol use.
4. It causes liver damage
Along with the central nervous system, the liver is the organ most negatively affected by alcohol. The liver is responsible for breaking down most of the alcohol that enters the body, and some of the by-products created during alcohol metabolism are toxic.
Heavy drinking overtaxes the liver, causing a dangerous build-up of toxins.
If this persists over a period of time, the liver cells will die, forming fibrous scar tissue and impairing the distribution of oxygen and nutrients to the liver.
These conditions can also lead to a build-up of fat in the liver—a condition known as “fatty liver”—where the liver becomes less efficient at performing important functions. Even during moderate alcohol use, functional and structural damage may occur.
5. It causes kidney damage
Drinking alcohol in moderation does not directly damage the kidneys, although it increases your chances of developing high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of kidney disease. For people with existing hypertension, alcohol can make blood pressure harder to control by interfering with medication.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is more likely to damage the kidneys.
The other effect alcohol has on your kidneys is dehydration. Heavy drinking causes your body to pass too much urine, placing stress on the kidneys and making it harder to maintain a proper balance of body fluids and minerals.
Because their main job is to remove waste products from the body, the cells in the kidney can be damaged by heavy drinking, altering their structure and effectiveness.
6. It increases the chance of mental illness
High levels of stress may influence drinking in some people, who use alcohol as a means of coping with financial strain, job stress or marital problems.
Because drinking behaviour and an individual’s response to stress are determined by a range of variables, the exact link between moderate alcohol consumption and stress is difficult to pinpoint.
But heavy drinking has a strong connection with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Mental illness has a co-occurring relationship with alcohol, where someone has both a mental illness and a substance abuse problem at the same time.
In many cases, it is hard to tell which problem came first, as they both have a negative impact on each other.
7. It increases the chance of malnutrition
While moderate drinkers may actually experience an increase in appetite, heavy drinkers seem to experience the opposite effect. The kilojoules from alcohol may decrease the need to eat, so alcohol displaces food in the diet.
The more kilojoules that come from alcohol in a person’s diet, the less likely it is that they will eat enough food to obtain adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. This explains why people who consume large amounts of alcohol commonly suffer from malnutrition.
They are known to have low levels of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin B 6 and riboflavin, and impaired absorption of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D and zinc.
Heavy drinkers also choose foods that are low in nutrients, further contributing to the problem. In addition, heavy drinking can result in changes to the digestive system that inhibit the absorption of nutrients.
8. It increases the chance of getting cancer
Alcoholic beverages are known as a human carcinogen and a potential cancer hazard that increases the carcinogenic effect of other chemicals, such as cigarette smoke. There is evidence of a connection between heavy alcohol consumption and increased risk of cancer, especially for cancers of the mouth and throat. There is also evidence that suggests a link between alcohol and cancer of the liver, breast and colon.
But the link has been disputed, suggesting that it’s not just alcohol that increases cancer risk, but things associated with it, such as poor nutrition and cigarette smoking.
What is certain is that the alcohol– cancer link is dose-dependent; because as alcohol consumption increases, so does the risk of developing these cancers.
Exactly how alcohol increases the risk for various cancers is unclear, although it’s thought that the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism may impair a cell’s ability to repair its DNA.
9. It is addictive
Although alcohol is widely available, it is a highly addictive, mindaltering drug. Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical that produces feelings of satisfaction and reduced inhibitions. It also increases the production of endorphin, the body’s natural painkiller.
Alcohol is addictive because people can begin to crave the “high,” or altered state of consciousness, they experience when they drink.
Part of the addiction is psychological and some is physiological.
Dependence on alcohol leads to varying degrees of physical and mental health problems, in addition to family, work, financial and legal consequences.
Continued exposure to alcohol also increases tolerance, where more and more alcohol is needed to produce the desired effect.
10. It has risks for women
Women face a greater risk to their health than men when it comes to alcohol consumption. Women have a lower tolerance to alcohol, and will get drunk quicker than men of equal body weight. There is also evidence to suggest they become addicted faster than men and suffer liver disease after a shorter period of time.
The other serious risk for women is the effect alcohol has on their reproductive system. Menstrual disorders and fertility problems are common among heavy drinkers. Also serious is foetal alcohol syndrome, where alcohol triggers physical and behavioural abnormalities in the foetus. If a mother continues to drink heavily during pregnancy, there is a significant risk of miscarriage and birth defects in the developing baby.