By Josh Harrison, PSYD, HSPP
Gaining a good understanding of alcohol’s effects on our health can help us make more informed decisions when it comes to having a drink or two. Alcohol consumption has its potential benefits and risks. In this article, we will explore the relationship between alcohol and health, including the potential advantages, dangers and knowing what a problematic relationship with alcohol might look like.
The Physiology of Alcohol
Alcohol enters the bloodstream rapidly, affecting various organs and systems throughout the body. The liver primarily breaks down alcohol, but it can only process a limited amount per hour. Exceeding this limit increases blood alcohol concentration, leading to intoxication and potential organ damage.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Potential Benefits
- Cardiovascular Health: Moderate alcohol consumption, particularly red wine, may reduce the risk of heart disease due to antioxidants like resveratrol that protect blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
- Cognitive Function: Some studies suggest that moderate alcohol intake might have a protective effect on cognitive function, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. However, this effect remains controversial and requires further investigation.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Health Risks
- Liver Disease: Chronic heavy alcohol consumption is a leading cause of liver disease, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. Overwhelmed liver function can lead to inflammation, scarring and potentially irreversible damage.
- Cancer: Excessive alcohol intake increases the risk of developing several types of cancer, including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast and colorectal cancer.
- Mental Health: Alcohol can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues and lead to alcohol-induced psychiatric disorders, including alcohol-related dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
- Addiction: Long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can result in alcohol use disorder, affecting an individual’s ability to control their alcohol intake and leading to severe physical, mental and social consequences.
When Alcohol Consumption Should Be Avoided
- Problematic Relationship with Alcohol: Individuals with a history of alcohol-related issues or diagnosed with alcohol use disorder should abstain from alcohol consumption to prevent further harm and promote recovery.
- Medication Interactions: Consult with your primary care provider or pharmacist about potential interactions between alcohol and any medications you are taking before consuming alcohol, as it may cause adverse effects or reduce the medications’ effectiveness.
Identifying a Problematic Relationship with Alcohol
Some indicators of a problematic relationship with alcohol include increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, loss of control with drinking, neglecting responsibilities and continued drinking despite negative consequences.
Important Note on Alcohol Withdrawal
If experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, consult a healthcare professional for guidance on safely reducing alcohol intake and managing withdrawal symptoms, as sudden cessation can be dangerous or life-threatening.
The relationship between alcohol and health is intricate, with benefits and risks varying based on consumption levels and individual factors. By understanding alcohol’s impact on health, you can make informed decisions and foster a healthier lifestyle. If you or someone you know may be struggling with alcohol-related issues, seek help from your primary care provider. Empowering yourself with knowledge is key to making better choices and promoting overall well-being. At MMH, we are here to support you in recognizing and addressing alcohol-related problems, fostering a healthier, more fulfilling life.