Dry January is possibly a phrase that you might have heard a few times over the last 3 or so days as many people try to give their wallet, and also their bodies a rest by laying off booze for a full month.
Now, any steps you take to live a healthier life are absolutely fine by me. I'd also be a huge massive hypocrite to start preaching about how no one should ever go near the stuff, having run a bar in the Alps for several winters, the phrase 'Apres Ski' is well practiced in my lexicon (and I don't mean the bit where you take off your ski boots). But have you ever really thought about what alcohol actually does to our bodies? Most of us have at some point experienced the effects of drinking (I'd wager that both the good and bad - but then I'd have to start writing about gambling as well, and I don't have time today!) but the world of Alcohol is also surrounded by myths, fallacies and also downright lies. So I'll try and shed a little light on the topic.
First of all, remember that Alcohol is a drug. It's so common in todays society that we sometimes separate it into the category "Drugs and Alcohol" it's regulated, restricted and can be very dangerous if misused.
Firstly, what is the appeal of Alcohol? There must be some positives otherwise we wouldn't do it.
There is obviously an intoxication effect. After about 10-60 mins after it enters the bloodstream you will start to feel the effects, in our society it is then not uncommon to then sustain drinking for quite a few hours, and then depending on how much you have consumed, you can still feel the 'drunk' effects for some time afterwards until it has been removed from your bloodstream.
Short term effects of alcohol
At a low dose, you will feel relaxed, inhibitions lowered and social anxiety can be removed but the lowering of the inhibitions means is much harder to judge if you have had enough. At this point we usually continue to drink which is when we start to lose motor-control, start slurring our words and inhibitions are lowered further. There is some evidence to suggest that our aggression levels rise, mainly because we start to misinterpret cues from other people - suddenly a neutral face, as it is not happy, appears to be a negative expression.
When you are drunk, we are also more likely to partake in riskier behaviour - as we can't make decisions clearly, we might be more likely to drink and drive, partake in unprotected sex, or maybe even just running round with a traffic cone on your head - none of these are a good idea. Alcohol effects almost all neurotransmitters in the brain, which is why it can be seen as both a stimulant and a depressant.
There are obviously lots of social effects from alcohol on society, from all of this risky, anti-social behaviour. But what about the effects on each individual?
Alcohol has addictive properties and you do build up a tolerance so it takes more alcohol to feel the same effects, and of course the more you drink to get the positive effects, will have even greater negative effects to go with it.
if you have built up a dependance there are an awful lot of withdrawal side effects which you can suffer when the alcohol is removed - sickness, pain and even seizures.
Physical health problems associated with alcohol
Alcohol breaks down into acetaldehyde which in itself is very toxic so your liver is under a lot of strain when it is dealing with this poison in your blood - if it can't cope with that, we then start to se sorosis of the liver and finally liver failure.
Alcohol has also been shown to cause quite a few different types of cancer - breast, liver, bowel, mouth, throat all have very compelling evidence to show that drinking raises the risk.
Mental health problems associated with alcohol
depression, anxiety, depression, stress, memory problems - are all associated with alcohol consumption. Which is strange when you consider that many people use alcohol to try and combat these exact problems, but studies show that the long term effects can be much more detrimental to your mental health.
Myths about alcohol
'Red wine is good for you' - now, there is a particular chemical in red wine called resveratrol, and there have been some cell based studies that suggest that this chemical might potentially be beneficial in terms of preventing cancer...however as we have already said, cancer CAUSES 6 types of cancer. So even if it does turn out that Resveratrol could be used in cancer treatment, you would be increasing your risk substantially any way, and also you would need to drink buckets of the stuff to get the quantities needed, so any net benefit would be hugely outweighed by all of the negatives.
'Those who drink a small amount are healthier then those who don't drink at all'
Now this is one of the most dangerous myths. Now I'm not ruling out the possibility that there might be very very small positive benefits, however you are simply fooling yourself if you think they outweigh the huge negative affects (as I've discussed). A lot of researchers think this is just a weird statistical anomaly because of what is a J-shaped curve when you plot a graph of health against consumption. The chances are, people who don't drink at all have a reason for that such as already having health conditions.
Whichever way you look at it, the negatives outweigh any potential positive health benefits.
The positives of alcohol
There is one huge benefit from alcohol, but unfortunately it is not gained through drinking it - hand sanitiser! So I'll leave you with this, alcohol is very useful as it kills all germs and bacteria. To be honest, it worries me that something that we use to kill things is the same chemical that we want to drink!
So there we have it, my summery of alcohol! I'm afraid it's probably not what you were hoping to hear. I always think that it is important to do what you like, as long as you are armed with the facts and evidence to make an informed decision. Alcohol can be fun and enjoyable, but don't kid yourself that it is good for you!
Make good choices
There is lots of information out there, and if you would like to know more or if you would like some support please feel free to come and have a chat with us, or visit www.drinkaware.co.uk