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How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

By Wesley Gallagher

A glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away – that’s what they say, right? Well, maybe that’s not the phrase, but one of the prevailing thoughts about alcohol is that one or two drinks per day is completely harmless. And in some cases, it’s thought to be good for you.

Well, new research is showing that may not be the case.

A recent meta-study published in The Lancet involving a total of 600,000 participants suggests that even low levels of alcohol are linked with earlier death, and drinking small amounts of alcohol may not have the benefits we’ve often heard touted.1

While previous studies compared non-drinkers to drinkers, this study only compared people who drink alcohol at varying rates. Comparing drinkers to non-drinkers can skew results, because people who abstain may do so because of existing health problems.1

The Lancet study found that drinking more than 100 grams of alcohol (about seven glasses of wine or beer) per week was associated with an increased risk of death from all causes, and the risk of death rises as the amount of drinking does. This study showed the same effect present for both men and women. US drinking guidelines currently allow double the amount of alcohol for men than for women.1

According to some measures, moderate drinking, which is categorized as seven to 14 drinks a week, was associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, and the risk was generally higher for those who drank more. And while the risk of non-fatal heart attacks does go down as drinking increases, the other risks negate that benefit.1

There are limits to the study, as with all other current studies on the effects of alcohol. Factors like race, socioeconomic status, diet and other confounding factors aren’t accounted for. Despite these limitations, however, it’s clear that excessive drinking can increase the risk of everything from liver disease and high blood pressure to dependency issues and poor mental health. With the recent rise in alcohol-related deaths, this is research worth our attention.1

What Are the Effects of Drinking Too Much?

The reality is that drinking alcohol has short-term and long-term negative effects on several aspects of health. Here’s how your body reacts to drinking:

  • Brain – Drinking interferes with communication pathways in the brain, affecting the way it works. This can change mood and behavior, make it harder to think clearly and decrease coordination.
  • Heart – Drinking heavily on a single occasion or over time can cause heart issues such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke and high blood pressure.
  • Liver – Heavy drinking can lead to a variety of liver problems and can create inflammation of the liver.
  • Pancreas – Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis.
  • Immune system – Drinking can weaken the immune system, making your body an easy target for diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis, and drinking a lot on a single occasion depresses the immune system for up to 24 hours. Drinking can even increase the risk of developing certain cancers.2

A study in the journal Microbiome found that drinking may also alter the bacteria in your mouth, giving rise to strains of bacteria linked to higher risk of some types of cancer, gum disease and heart disease, while suppressing varieties that can protect the body from infection.3 Other risks from drinking can include depression, obesity, memory loss and dementia.4

The Risks of Combining Alcohol and Other Substances

Man at bar with shot of whiskeyAn article in The Atlantic details the risks of alcoholic energy drinks, which have been shown to mask the effects of drunkenness and might cause people to drink more. Tiredness is often one of the reasons people stop drinking, and caffeine lasts up to six hours, creating a situation in which someone would be less likely to stop drinking during that timeframe.5

The FDA actually banned premixed alcoholic energy drinks in 2010, but bars still mix and serve their own versions. Many energy drinks also contain other stimulants besides caffeine, which can heighten side effects.5

Other dangerous substance combinations with alcohol include depressants like Xanax and Valium, stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall and opiates like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Side effects range from increased intoxication and memory loss to unconsciousness and potential death.6

It’s Important to Be Informed

Whatever your drinking habits are, it’s important to know the risks associated with alcohol and other substances you consume. If you take any prescription medication, find out the risk of interaction and any potentially harmful side effects. And remember, it’s illegal to misuse prescription medication, whether it’s yours or someone else’s.

Most importantly, your health and safety is a top priority. If you think you or someone you love may have a drinking problem, we can help. Call us any time to talk with an admissions coordinator about the best treatment options for you.


Sources

1 Belluz, Julia. “It’s time to rethink how much booze may be too much.” Vox, April 30, 2018.

2Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed May 13, 2018.

3 DuCharme, Jamie. “Heavy Drinking May Change the Bacteria In Your Mouth and Raise Gum Disease Risk.Time Magazine, April 24, 2018.

4 Taylor, Marygrace. “10 Long-term Effects of Alcohol Every Drinker Needs to Know.” Prevention.com, April 5, 2018.

5 Nordrum, Amy. “The Caffeine-Alcohol Effect.The Atlantic, November 7, 2014.

6The Effects of Combining Alcohol with Other Drugs.” University of Michigan University Health Services, Accessed May 15, 2018.


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