For many of us, alcohol factors into our lives on a regular basis, whether that’s the occasional Saturday night out on the town or a glass of wine with dinner in the evening. We all know that moderation is the key when it comes to alcohol consumption, and the dreaded hangover serves as a nasty reminder to just why we should err on the side of caution when it comes to indulging in a tipple or two.
It is easy to fall into bad drinking habits, though, without realising the extent of our consumption. Everyday situations can involve totting up a few more units than we would ideally like, especially when our work-life invariably involves socialising. Hangovers aside, we have to be realistic about the long-term effects of alcohol, especially as drinking alcohol regularly poses significant health risks, some more serious than others.
Is alcohol affecting my health?
The simple answer is yes, especially if you regularly exceed the Government’s recommended alcohol unit guidelines (2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men). For the majority of us, however, we all know when we have been overindulging a bit too regularly and we generally try to follow up a period of ‘binge drinking’ such as holidays or Christmas, with a dry time to give our bodies a well-needed rest.
Is the liver the main area for concern when it comes to alcohol?
If you consume alcohol on a daily basis you will undoubtedly be putting stress on your liver. Liver disease becomes more of a risk when you regularly exceed the recommended daily units. So much so that over the last decade there has been a 25% increase of deaths caused by liver disease in this country alone.
You can be a heavy drinker for twenty years and not notice any effects of liver disease, which is why it is crucial to ensure that you organise a private screening before symptoms escalate, so you can see what state of health your liver is in. There are two stages of liver disease, early symptoms include:
- Abdominal pains
Symptoms of more advanced stages of liver disease can include:
- Jaundice (yellow skin)
- Vomiting blood
- Loss of appetite
- Easy bruising
- Swelling of the legs ankles, or abdomen
- Liver cancer
- Bleeding in the gut
- Heightened sensitivity to alcohol and medical and recreational drugs
How does alcohol affect the heart?
Regularly drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, especially if you have gained excess weight as a result of drinking. It can also result in abnormal heart rhythms and, in time, damage to the heart muscle.
Am I more likely to develop diabetes if I drink alcohol?
Heavy drinking goes hand in hand with diabetes on a number of levels:
- Firstly, excessive amounts of alcohol can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which in turn can trigger type 2 diabetes.
- Secondly, heavy drinking causes chronic pancreatitis, of which diabetes is a common side effect.
- Thirdly, alcohol is extremely calorific and can result in considerable weight gain, again increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Is mental health affected by alcohol?
It is a viscous circle when it comes to alcohol and depression as we often drink to relax, whereas the actuality is that alcohol is a depressant and can actually make you feel more anxious. Long-term heavy drinking can upset the balance in the brain, causing problems such as memory loss, depression and in some cases suicide.
Once heavy drinking has developed into alcoholism, a person becomes physically and mentally addicted to alcohol which means without it, a person can become anxious, nauseous, irritable, have trouble sleeping, have uncontrollable shaking and experience excessive sweating. Alcoholism can also impact on the mental health of an alcoholic’s family and friends, causing great distress, anxiety and worry for loved ones.
Can alcohol be linked to cancer?
Yes, in fact, seven different types of cancer are directly linked to alcohol. Liver and bowel cancer are the most common types of cancer brought about by heavy drinking, however, mouth and throat cancer is greatly increased by drinking alcohol alongside smoking. Breast cancer can also be a symptom of alcohol abuse.
How can I find out if my drinking habits are affecting my health?
If you are worried that your alcohol consumption may be affecting your health, or even if you want a bit of an MOT to ensure that you are being as clean living as you think, it’s advisable to arrange a private Alcohol Risk Health Screening with Pall Mall Medical. This will highlight any areas of concern and ensure that any issues can be addressed sooner rather than later.
Alcohol support resources
Drinkaware – For advice on alcohol and health including information on units and binge drinking.
Alcohol Concern – A national UK charity focused on reducing the harm caused by alcohol.
Al-Anon Family Groups – Provide support to anyone affected by someone else’s drinking.