As we all move through the merriment of the festive period, the last thing you probably want to be hearing about is how alcohol affects your health, but it’s good to know because understanding the long term effects within the short term festivities could just change your perception when it comes to alcohol consumption and the overall effects of alcohol on your health.
Less is often not more during the holidays but we have all of the information you need to know when if comes to the effects of alcohol on your health, how to survive the party season without impacting on your body or mind too drastically as well as the details of our very own personal LetsGetChecked health challenge.
What Does A Standard Drink Look Like?
Now we're not trying to scare you but we as a society need to put more time and energy into knowing how we can put our health through the ringer with bad health habits. Most of us don't know what a standard drink looks like, or the significance of what drinking a certain volume of alcohol within a certain time period can mean.
There are some sobering statistics out there when it comes to alcohol consumption in the U.S. One of the latest large scale studies shows that if no one drank alcohol in 2016, there would have been 2.8 million fewer deaths.
In another study carried out by The Lancet, it was found that those who have more than seven standard drinks a week have a lower life expectancy and a higher risk of stroke, heart failure and fatal aneurysm than moderate drinkers.
Binge drinking is defined as the practice of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time. This is usually defined as 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women during this period.
Binge drinking is a habit that's quite easy to fall into, especially if you're doing rounds with your friends. Each time you are planning a night out, try to think about what a standard drink equates to, this way it's easier to know when you should stop drinking. This will also ensure that you enjoy and savour each drink a little bit more.
"Moderate drinkers" are those who have upto 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men.
"Binge drinkers" are defined as those who have seven standard drinks or more in one session. The National Institute Of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as "a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.8 grams/dl.
What Are The Effects Of Alcohol On The Body?
The short and long term effects of alcohol on your health vary from person to person. They are also dependent on your age, the frequency at which you drink, the volume of what you drink, your weight and your current health status. Lets take a look at some of the effects of alcohol on your health during alcohol consumption.
What Are Some Of The Common Physical Side Effects You May Experience During Alcohol Consumption?
When you're drinking, your pupils are more likely to constrict and dilate at a slower speed, this can distort your vision. Your vision will be affected by decreased contrast sensitivity which is why your eyes might take longer to adjust when you're going from light to darkness and darkness to light. In clubs, disco lights can play havoc on your eyes because of this slowdown. As alcohol is a diuretic, (increases your need to go to the bathroom) it may also cause your eyes to feel dry or itchy.
Your speech may begin to slur following the consumption of alcohol. It's also common to stumble over your words or forget words as you speak. Your speech is usually affected by alcohol when your blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.1%, bear in mind that it is illegal to drive once your BAC reaches 0.08%.
Alcohol disrupts the firing of neurons in your brain that are responsible for long-term memory and voluntary movements. Alcohol affects the supplementary motor area that is associated with creating sentences and the Broca's area which is responsible for processing language. The slow down of neuron firing leads to a general slowdown in cognition and speech slurring.
Your blood pressure
Once you hit the three standard drink mark, your blood pressure will rise as your body begins to process the alcohol. Your blood pressure will not return to normal levels until your liver has processed and expelled the alcohol from your body.
If you get a headache or feel dizzy during alcohol consumption, this can indicate that you are experiencing temporary high blood pressure, this is likely to occur if you have a large amount of alcohol in a short time frame.
The liver is the biggest player in detoxing your body following alcohol consumption. Your liver breaks down 0.5-1 ounce of alcohol per hour. The liver works to remove alcohol from your blood however too much alcohol in a short period of time can lead to the build up of fatty acids in the liver. This buildup of fatty acids is often associated with obesity or being overweight. This may develop into a condition known as "fatty liver".
To combat this, think about what your liver is capable of processing in an hour vs. how much you are drinking per hour.
During alcohol consumption, alcohol is absorbed into the small intestine and stomach. Too much alcohol in the stomach may lead to vomiting as the body cannot process the volume quickly enough for the body to keep up with your drinking.
Alcohol impairs the small intestine's ability to process nutrients and vitamins which may act as a variable that causes you to become sick, after a string of night's out.
Your kidneys as well as the liver is responsible for the filtration of toxins from your body. As alcohol is a diuretic, a common side effect of drinking alcohol is the need to urinate more frequently.
This is often referred to as "breaking the seal". If you drink one glass of alcohol, your kidneys will work to expel that exact volume of alcohol in the form of urine, shortly after this trip to the bathroom, the diuretic effect will give you the urge to go return to the bathroom again.
Alcohol inhibits the pituitary secretion of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which acts on the kidney to reabsorb water. Alcohol acts on the hypothalamus/pituitary to reduce the circulating levels of ADH. When ADH levels drop, the kidneys do not reabsorb as much water; consequently, the kidneys produce more urine.
Alcohol also suppresses the release of a hormone called vasopressin which is responsible for the reabsorption of fluids into the kidneys. Vasopressin is switched off to ensure the successful detoxing process of alcohol from the body.
This effect on the kidneys can lead to dehydration, nausea and feeling dizzy or head-achy.
What Are The Effects Of Alcohol On Your Mind?
During alcohol consumption, it is common to experience changes in the way you act and feel. Alcohol releases two neurotransmitters, GABA and dopamine.
GABA is responsible for relaxing the brain.
Dopamine is responsible for for the reward system within the brain that controls pleasure.
Alcohol also releases endorphins which is why you may feel euphoric, confident and outgoing during alcohol consumption.
What Are Some Of The Common Psychological Side Effects Of Alcohol Consumption?
You might think that those short term memory loss during a night out on the tiles is normal, but those blanks in your mind describe short term amnesia.
Short term amnesia induced by drinking is commonly known as a “black-out”. Black-outs are likely to occur when blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.15. For context, it is illegal to drive when your (BAC) reaches 0.08.
40% of the U.S population are prone to blackouts according to a study published by the National Institute Of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Sometimes we forget that alcohol is a drug that is prone to lowering the level of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is the a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of happiness. It is responsible for stimulating nerve cells in areas of reward, cognition, learning, regulating cognition and processing physiological movements.
Alcohol is a depressant. This doesn't mean it will cause you to feel depressed, it means that it relaxes the central nervous system. It has been found that heavy drinkers are more prone to low mood than moderate drinkers, however this is also connected to abstinence versus periods of drinking, the volume of alcohol you drink and your age.
Before you read this article, you might have been introduced to the concept of "The Fear". "The Fear" is referred to in pop culture as generalized feelings of anxiety after a night out. This could be caused by a loss of inhibitions for an extended period of time during a night out, memory loss, and the effect that alcohol has on your serotonin.
Alcohol may also be used as a social crutch if you are already living with anxiety. It has been found that 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol dependence.
Many people believe that a nightcap before bed is just the ticket to help you fall asleep. It's actually quite the opposite, while alcohol will help you to fall asleep initially, you should remember that alcohol doesn't necessarily put you to sleep or maintain quality sleep. Here are some of the ways that alcohol affects your sleep:
Alcohol affects your circadian rhythm
Your circadian rhythm refers to the physiological processes that happen in living beings in a 24-hour cycle. Alcohol disrupts your circadian rhythm as the body strives to process alcohol while you sleep, instead of the body achieving the rest it deserves, your body works around the clock to detox so even if you get 8 hours sleep, you will wake up feeling groggy and disoriented.
Alcohol affects REM sleep
When you fall asleep, you will fall in and out of two different phases of sleep, known as rapid eye movement sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep. Each phases has different roles in your overall well-being. When you fall asleep intoxicated, you are less likely to experience REM sleep, which occurs 90 minutes after you call asleep. REM sleep is responsible for dreaming, learning and cognition. A lack of REM sleep will leave you feeling fatigued the morning after the night before.
Alcohol affects aggravates breathing issues
Alcohol acts a muscle relaxer for your entire body, including your throat muscles which is why the consumption of alcohol can lead to worsened symptoms of sleep apnea, which is when you temporarily stop breathing during sleep or snoring which is a common side effect of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol affects your bladder during sleep
As we outlined earlier, drinking alcohol makes you want to go to the bathroom more often. This can disrupt your sleep by causing late night trips to the bathroom.
Nocturia refers is the name given to the condition whereby you have the urge to go to the bathroom more than once per your 6-8 hours of rest. Often if you have drank too much, you will need to make multiple trips to the bathroom, disrupting your sleep and rest.
In the 1960s, it was found that the adult brain is capable of producing new cells as opposed to humans being born with a set number of brain cells.
The production of brain cells in adults is something that warrants more research as most studies have been carried out in animal sample groups. If you consider how heavy your head may feel for days following alcohol consumption, it is probably no surprise that alcohol can affect the rate of neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is the process whereby the brain produces or regenerates cells in the brain. It is important to note that most studies regarding the impact that alcohol has on brain cells, has been completed in animals.
What Does A Moderate, Heavy Moderate And Heavy Drinker Look Like?
How Can You Enjoy Alcohol Sensibly?
Enjoying alcohol sensibly will ensure that you have more fun because you will not feel the negative side effects of drinking as you would have if you overdo it.
Here are some top tips to ensuring that you control the effect alcohol has on your health:
- Stay hydrated during the day before you go out for the evening.
- Eat a balanced meal before you go out for drinks.
- Keep a glass of water beside you at all times on your night out.
- Drink at your own pace, if you don't drink as fast as your friends, avoid rounds.
- Avoid shots at all costs.
- Focus on the social aspect of the night out as opposed to getting drunk.
- Take Dioralyte before the night out, this will fight the diuretic effects of alcohol which will cause lower bladder control and dehydration.
- Dance, that's right, dance the alcohol off and drink water simultaneously.
- Avoid greasy food on the way home, if you're hungry have a banana (which is rich in potassium) and two pints of water.
- Look out for your friends, "there's always one!" Make sure that you're looking out for your friends during the night. If they seem to have drank too much, get them water and make sure they're okay, if they're too drunk to be in public, bring them home immediately.
- Enjoy yourself, safe in the knowledge that you know how to have a good time without negatively impacting your health.
Our LetsGetChecked Challenge
Head of Content, Hannah, will be taking time off alcohol to see how she feels both emotionally and physically after one month with no booze. For a deeper insight, Hannah will be taking a Liver Test before and after the challenge to see if there is a noticeable difference in the bio-markers associated with liver health. Stay Tuned!
These biomarkers include:
Total Protein refers to the volume of albumin and globulin in the body. Albumin/Globulin (A/G) ratio may highlight liver scarring (cirrhosis).
Globulin is a group of proteins produced in the liver, they play an important role in liver function, blood clotting, and fighting infection. If globulin levels are low, it may be indicative of liver disease.
Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP)
Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP) is an enzyme found in the blood that breaks down proteins in the body. ALP is produced in the liver, bones, intestines, pancreas, kidneys and the placenta in women. ALP is tested to determine how well your liver and gallbladder are performing, as well as your bone health.
Alanine Transferase (ALT)
Alanine Transferase (ALT) is another enzyme that is produced in the heart and liver cells, and is released into the blood when there is acute damage to the heart and/or liver.
Albumin is a protein that is produced in the liver. Albumin nourishes tissues and transports essential components, such as hormones, vitamin, and drugs throughout the blood.
Bilirubin is a pigment that is produced during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. High bilirubin levels may indicate underlying issues with the liver and gallbladder.
Gamma GT (glutamyltransferase) is an enzyme that is found in liver cells as well as the biliary tract. High Gamma GT is indicative of liver disease, bile duct disease or to monitor alcohol abuse.
Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Approved by Dr. Dominic Rowley