The eggnog is flowing, the champagne is bubbling, and Uncle Craig is showing off his newest holiday cocktail. With all the choices, just like with food, it can be easy to justify overconsumption. So how do you decide where to indulge and how much is too much? Be careful! Where alcohol is concerned, even a little can do a lot.
Health Risks of Drinking
Alcohol has varying effects on the body depending on the amount consumed and the individual consuming it—body type, biological makeup, and lifestyle can all have an impact. This variance contributes to confusion around alcohol and how much is too much. Alcohol is produced by yeasts digesting sugar in foods high in carbohydrates—foods like grapes for wine or grains for beer. The alcohol is what makes you drunk, and there is definite evidence that alcohol reduces communication with brain cells. It tends to lower a person’s self-consciousness and shyness while impairing judgement and promoting impulse. This is a recipe for inhibition and poor decision making.
Not to mention the impact alcohol has on the physical body. The liver’s main job is to neutralize toxins in the body. In people who consume large amounts of alcohol, the liver is vulnerable to diseases and permanent damage. Alcohol has also been shown to increase a person’s risk of getting many cancers. Because of its direct effect on the brain, alcohol consumption may lead to dementia. Mental illness is strongly linked to alcohol and creates a vicious cycle of self-medicating with alcohol, which leads to greater mental issues, which leads to more self-medicating.
Alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. through disease, motor vehicle accidents, and self-harm from mental impairment. It is also highly addictive. In fact, 12 percent of people will be dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives!
At this point you may be thinking, “That just applies to people who drink excessively.” Ok, so what is “excessive”? It has long been touted that drinking one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men is moderate and safe. However, that one drink is defined as five ounces of wine, one shot of liquor, or 12 ounces of beer at a five percent alcohol content. That means that if you fill up the wine glass, drink a craft brew, or have a cocktail, you are most-likely going over the limit of “one drink.”
On top of moderate drinking being considered safe, it has even been suggested that small amounts of alcohol carry health benefits and reduce risk for heart disease. A recent study published in The Lancet found that any amount of alcohol consumption increases risk of disease. The study showed that while there may be mild benefits to a person’s heart, alcohol greatly increases risk of cancer and other diseases, and this risk outweighs any benefits it may provide.
As many as 2.8 million deaths were related to alcohol in 2016. It is the leading cause of cancer in people over age 50 and the leading risk factor for disease worldwide. The study found that light drinking—one to two drinks three times a week at the measurements mentioned above—carried the least risk. The point of these findings is less to inform people not to drink at all and more to correct the assumption that there is a “safe” or “healthy” level of alcohol consumption. It always carries risk and should always be done responsibly. If you would like to know more about your risks for liver disease, cancer, or any other alcohol-related illness, The Woman’s Clinic can help. You can easily make an appointment online at our Jackson or Madison office. We encourage you to celebrate the holidays responsibly this year!