Alcohol is one of mankind’s oldest vices, dating back millennia to a time before writing. Yet despite being an ancient tradition in countless cultures, it is not necessarily a wise one: research shows that even a minute amount of alcohol can have long-term health effects, and that any possible benefits gained through moderate alcohol use are typically overshadowed by the negatives of alcohol in the human body.
Another problem that presents itself is that many people do not drink moderately – while most don’t often engage in dangerous binge drinking, a sizeable portion of the population consumes way too much alcohol way too fast, leading to a large list of health hazards down the line.
Culturally, alcohol – especially in large amounts – is a common part of social festivities in many places around the world. But by better understanding the risks of drinking too much – and drinking at all – we might be able to give people a chance to turn a sober eye at the realities of booze and how it affects the nation, and every individual, physically and mentally.
Alcohol is Not Healthy
The common misconception that a moderate amount of alcohol can be good for you is, ultimately, a dispelled myth. Alcohol is always a risk, and while moderate amounts are less risky than excessive ones, drinking alcohol always means increasing your risk of certain health conditions, including cancer and heart disease.
Lifestyle choices have a massive impact on our health – what you choose to put into your body and how you choose to treat your body play big roles in your health especially as your age advances.
Staying active not only staves off heart related illnesses, but reduces the pain associated with age-related arthritis, reduces back pain, and relieves mobility issues from stiff joints and immobile tendons.
What you eat and what vices you indulge in reduce or increases your chance of STDs, cancers, and various other illnesses. And alcohol, if taken at all, can influence your heart, brain, liver, and lifespan.
How Alcohol Affects the Heart
The heart pumps blood through the body but struggles to do so when some of the blood vessels it’s pumping through become blocked. Unhealthy lifestyle choices, including excessive alcohol consumption, lead to increased plaque in the bloodstream, thus increasing blood pressure and leading to a higher risk of heart failure, as well as cardiac arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, and sudden death.
There has been a series of articles in the past describing the benefits of red wine for the heart, but further research suggests there’s more to the link than meets the eye. The link between heart health and red wine was established due to the “French paradox”, which suggested that the French, despite high rates of fat and dairy in their diet, had less of a history of heart disease.
However, newer research shows that French and American rates of heart disease are closer than previously thought, possibly due to a time lag – while Americans and British have had higher rates of heart disease and obesity due to increased animal fat consumption, the French are catching up. Another possibility is that many of the benefits associated with the French diet may be due to their general Mediterranean food habits – i.e. a diet rich in organic vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fish. These habits are disappearing in an increasingly urban France, leading to higher rates of obesity and heart disease.
How Alcohol Affects the Liver
People have recognized a link between liver failure and alcohol consumption more than two centuries ago, and modern research has backed it up thoroughly. The liver is highly susceptible to excessive alcohol consumption because it is the main organ with which the body processes alcohol.
Alcohol is not a healthy substance – as the body breaks it down, very dangerous byproducts are created in the liver, increasing the risk of cancer and damaging the liver itself. Because the liver is paramount to keeping us alive when we ingest something we shouldn’t, it has outstanding regenerative properties, to the point that you can donate portions of your liver and have them grow back.
However, too much alcohol will irreparably damage your liver, causing cirrhosis or alcoholic hepatitis.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain
Not only does alcohol affect the heart and liver, but it has a serious effect on the brain – especially in the long term. Alcohol consumption gradually shrinks the hippocampus, messing with reasoning, risk-assessment, and memory. Meanwhile, it’s mimicry of the GABA neurotransmitter affects your balance and social inhibition, while temporarily lowering anxieties in low dosages.
All in all, long-term alcohol usage cuts into your ability for critical thinking, causes frequent blackouts in memory, affects your reward system increasing the risk of addiction, and slows your reaction times, causing you to appear sluggish and slurred.
The Risk of Addiction with Alcohol
Alcohol is an addictive drug, like nicotine, cocaine, and opioids. Due to the sheer volume of alcohol in America and the role it plays culturally, it is also one of the more dangerous addictive drugs, because it is so difficult to avoid. An addiction to alcohol – or alcoholism – severely increases health risk because of an addiction’s nature to consistently consume alcohol. Addiction, however, is not a direct evolution of binge drinking, which remains to be the highest cause of alcohol-related deaths from alcohol poisoning to traffic accidents. Many people binge drink without getting addicted, yet still endanger their lives and those of others.
Some argue that the stress-reducing effects of alcohol in moderate amounts may make it healthier for people with highly stressful lifestyles, but this is a flawed way of looking at the problem.
For one, alcohol can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression in the long-term, contributing to the development of stress-related diseases, alongside hypertension and heart disease. Most people with stressful lifestyles tend to “go big” in all things, including consumption, making alcohol a bad source of stress-relief due to all its other health factors.
Ultimately, the best way to relieve stress is to lead a less stressful life. Someone willingly living a high-stress lifestyle must confront the risk that lifestyle inherently possesses, and there is no good way to increase longevity when you’re overworking yourself – other than to cut back on everything.
As in all things, the choice is yours – and this is a recommendation, not a commandment. Alcohol will not definitely destroy your life, but it should be treated like any other drug: with caution.