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Alcohol and Health: What Are The Positive and Negative Effects?



Most of us like the occasional drink – but obviously issues surrounding alcohol can be a bit contentious.


And you know what? We like the occasional drink too. Anyone who came to our 3rd Birthday Party last May could see that!


But, of course, it is important to drink responsibly. That’s a phrase that is banded about a lot, but what does it mean?


This week, we are going to have a deep dive into effects of alcohol – both positive and negative – and break down what it means to drink responsibly.


The Positive Effects of Alcohol


First – the good news. We don’t have to eliminate alcohol completely.


In fact, moderate consumption is associated with a reduced likelihood of several diseases, as well as a 17–18% decrease in your risk of premature death, according to a 2006 study from the Catholic University of Campobasso in Italy.


This means how much you drink is more important than what you drink. However, there are some alcoholic beverages that offer greater health benefits when consumed in small quantities.


For example, red wine is high in antioxidants, which help defend our cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals. When free radicals accumulate, they may cause a state known as oxidative stress. This can increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, and may also damage important structures in our cells.


This doesn’t mean that binge drinking red wine is a good idea, as heavy drinking is intrinsically linked to long term health problems, regardless of what the drink of choice is.


Negative Effects on Physical Health


Although everything stated above is true, it still stands that alcohol abuse is, on average, the third main cause of preventable death in the West, as it is a large factor in chronic diseases, accidents, traffic crashes and social problems.


Many of us don’t necessarily think of alcohol as a drug, but heavy drinking is effectively the most common form of drug abuse. It impacts our entire body and causes a range of health problems, including liver damage, brain damage, heart failure, diabetes, cancer and infections.


Did you also know that alcohol contains approximately seven calories per gram? This makes it the second most calorie-rich nutrient after fat.


A University of Navarra investigation found inconsistent results in the link between alcohol and weight, but a general rule of thumb is that moderate drinking is linked to reduced weight gain, whereas heavy drinking is linked to increased weight gain.

For heavy drinkers, a healthy diet and exercise routine can only go so far. Controlling alcohol consumption, or abstaining completely, should be the first priority.


Negative Effects on Mental Health


I’m sure we’ve all had fun nights out on the sauce – but alcohol is actually a depressant.


Alcohol intake and depression seem to create a viscous circle. Many people facing anxiety and depression drink intentionally to reduce stress and improve mood. This may seem to work short term – you might feel good for a couple of hours – but it ultimately worsens our overall mental health. In fact, because heavy drinking is a major cause of depression in some individuals, treating the underlying alcohol abuse leads to big improvements.


There are also larger implications for the health of your brain.


When we lose our balance, or slur our words, or can’t think straight when we’re drunk, this is because alcohol reduces communication between brain cells. Binge drinking can also lead to a blackout; memory loss during a binge.


Although these effects are temporary, chronic alcohol abuse can cause permanent changes in your brain, often leading to impaired brain function. This, in turn, leads to an increased risk of dementia or brain shrinkage.


How Much Should I Drink?


Whilst there are recommendations for alcohol intake, this is based on the number of standard drinks per day – but we asked you what the “standard drink” was, we’re fairly certain everybody would give us different answers.


As it happens, this is also true between countries. The World Health Organisation defines a “standard drink” – or, for our purposes, one unit – as 10g of pure alcohol.


This is roughly equivalent to a half pint or small wine. However, British authorities say it is 8g, in America it is 14g, whilst in Austria it goes all the way up to 20g.


According to the NHS, our single unit is based upon the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour, meaning that there should be little to know alcohol in our bloodstream when that hour is through.


Knowing our units helps us stay in control.

  • do not drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis

  • spread drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week

  • if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week

  • 14 units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of lower-strength wine

Most of us like a drink, and we have all had a good time when we’re out with our friends. But it is important for our mental and physical health that we know our limits.

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