Liquid courage, release from our inhibitions, effective pain relief, a ‘good night out’ are all reasons we might turn to alcohol. In the short term this can feel euphoric, but can also lead to us developing a dependance on drink as a bad habit.
As we all know, excessive drinking and long term alcohol use can cause incredibly detrimental side effects. But alcohol can affect your body in ways you’ve never even thought of. Below we’ve listed 5 ways alcohol affects your body and some unexpected ways that alcohol can have an impact on your health and wellbeing to educate you to maintain a healthy relationship with drinking.
This isn’t going to be a pretty article, but it will hopefully wake you up to the big negatives of drinking regularly and excessively.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Liver?
The liver is the part of your body that processes alcohol. Since alcohol is a substance that our bodies consider toxic, the liver must work to break it down and flush it from our systems. This is not an easy task and realistically it takes an hour for the liver to remove 100ml of pure alcohol from your body. To stay safe when drinking, this is usually considered the limit you should follow. Any more than this and your liver begins to struggle. Keep your liver working overtime with excessive and long term drinking and eventually it’s going to wear out and can have dire consequences.
But did you know that if your liver is constantly focusing on filtering alcohol, it takes its duties away from other daily functions? This includes processing fat and metabolising carbohydrates. This is how alcohol can reduce your ability to lose weight and greatly increase your chance of gaining weight too, even leading to diabetes. With nowhere else to go, this fat builds up in your liver, causing inflammation, then scarring and eventually irreversible liver failure known as cirrhosis. It can also start to affect your ability to excrete as well.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
Our brains are incredibly complicated pieces of kit, but drinking works against this and blocks signals from our neurones or brain cells. In the short term this is why alcohol results in us slurring our words, becoming uncoordinated and having slow reflexes. The impaired judgement from alcohol can lead to us making rash decisions that can hurt ourselves or others. Excessive drinking also results in our memory being impaired, commonly known as ‘black out’.
Some of these symptoms of alcohol affecting the brain are considered normal when drinking, but just like the rest of our body, over time they can be harmful. In the long term, alcohol’s affect on the brain can result in alcohol addiction as our brains get so used to functioning with it, that they can no longer function without it, leading to inability to learn and retain new information and even upping our risk of dementia.
How Does Alcohol Affect Mental Health?
Hampered neurological function is not the only adverse affect alcohol has on our brains. Dopamine, or the happy chemical is one of the signals in our brain that is affected by alcohol. When we drink alcohol it causes dopamine levels in our brains to sky rocket. This can encourage excessive drinking and trick our brains into wanting more of it.
But what goes up, must come down and the loss of these large amounts of dopamine results in what is known as a ‘crash’. This is why it’s all too common to feel guilty, shameful and embarrassed when we’re hungover, even if we have no reason to be. When we put ourselves through this rollercoaster of emotions regularly, it’s easy to get worn out and feel generally unhappy. Our brains get used to the elevated levels of dopamine we experience when drunk and it becomes harder and harder to feel happy without alcohol. This can lead to severe depression, elevated anxiety and a strong dependance on drink.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Alcohol’s effects on our brain, can also affect our sleeping patterns. A period of heavy drinking, usually of around 6 units or more, sends us into a deep sleep, but skips out on an important stage of rest known as REM. This is why it’s common for us to feel even more tired when waking up after a night out or heavy drinking session. Putting our body through this extra stress means the adverse effects of alcohol on our bodies continue into our daily life.
As well as feeling dehydrated because drinking has caused us to sweat more as our body is grinding away to get rid of the toxins, a lack of sleep means we have a harder time making decisions and can cause us to be grouchy, affecting our interpersonal relationships too. Did you know, since alcohol relaxes our muscles, it also causes us to snore and this disordered breathing may lead to sleep apnea? In the long term, disrupted sleep as a result of drinking has a huge affect on our bodies.
How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Pressure?
Drinking alcohol will often cause our blood pressure to rise, but like all these effects of alcohol on our bodies, when drinking rarely and in moderation, it’s only temporary. This is because alcohol increases the amount of renin our kidneys produce. Renin causes our blood vessels to get narrower, raising our blood pressure.
Excessive drinking on the other hand, can cause blood pressure to rise irreversibly, as our kidneys become used to producing excessive amounts of renin. This too can increase our risk of heart disease and the increase in blood calcium levels caused by alcohol, means our blood vessels become even more sensitive to renin, creating a vicious cycle that worsens our blood pressure overtime. However, for those of us that already suffer from high blood pressure, alcohol can cause some irreversible complications to our bodies, which is why it’s always best to avoid alcohol if
you are aware of underlying conditions such as this.
So, What Can I Do?
Drinking here and there, in moderation, will rarely be a problem as long as you give your body time to recover. But, as a result of the bodies’ negative reactions to alcohol, unhealthy reliance on its effects and the reasons listed above, thousands of people in the UK are making the decision to ditch drink altogether.
At nonalcoholics.co.uk we are committed to helping you kick the habit and find other delicious drink options to replace alcohol. If you’d like to learn more about how to cut down on your drinking, check out our helpful tips. Or if you’re well on your way to being alcohol free or just want some ideas to get you started, check out our non alcoholic drink buying guides and reviews.
If you feel you’re turning to alcohol for the wrong reasons, please don’t hesitate to contact your local GP or health board for help and support or contact https://alcoholchange.org.uk/