By Dave Hood
“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.” ― Charles Bukowski
There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol, providing you consume it in moderation. Mental and physical health problems arise when you drink too many alcoholic beverages and become intoxicated, or you make excessive drinking a habit. This habit can transform you from a moderate drinker into a problem drinker, abuser of alcohol, or an alcoholic.
Why do people drink alcohol? In western culture, we drink alcohol in various social settings because, in small quantities, it creates a mental state of euphoria and lowers inhibitions, providing us with false confidence to engage in activities we would not normally carry out. We consume alcohol in many situations, watching a baseball game at a stadium, eating dinner at a restaurant, celebrating a wedding, relaxing on the deck with family and friends in the sunshine. There are other reasons why we drink alcohol: to relax, to escape from stress, to cope with anxiety or depression, to get high, to feel comfortable in a stressful situation, to escape their problems, to comfort themselves in times of grief or loneliness, to stop cravings, to prevent alcohol withdrawal.
What are the effects of alcohol? It is a depressant that alters the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). When a person drinks, the alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolized by the liver. Potential problems arise when a person drinks too many alcoholic beverages and becomes intoxicated. The liver is unable to metabolize the alcohol fast enough, resulting in intoxication. Intoxication impairs memory and judgement and alters mood and behaviour.
To avoid intoxication and making drinking habitual, you should drink alcohol in moderation. According to the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health in Canada, a person should follow these low risk alcohol consumption guidelines: A man should not drink more than 5 alcoholic beverages in a single sitting, nor should he drink more than 15 alcoholic beverages in a week. A woman should not drink more than 3 alcoholic beverages in a single sitting or 10 alcoholic beverages in a week. Both men and women should also avoid drinking alcohol every day.
If you are a man who drinks more than five at one time or a woman who drinks more than three, you are probably going to end up intoxicated.
It is caused by drinking too many alcoholic beverages at a single sitting. You will have difficulty remembering. You will slur your speech and have an unsteady walk. You might show inappropriate behaviour, such as become quarrelsome or angry. If you are severely intoxicated, you will expressive confusion and black out. If you don’t stop drinking, you’ll suffer from alcohol poisoning, which can result in death.
How quickly you become intoxicated will depend on several factors:
- Age, sex, weight
- Susceptibility to alcohol
- Types of food and amount of food in your stomach
- Prescription drugs you are taking
- Illegal drugs you are taking\
- How often you drink
- Whether you’re tired or sick
If you drink too many alcoholic beverages at any one time, and become intoxicated, you will almost always suffer a “hangover.” In other words, you will feel sick. Within about 12 hours of your last drink, you will experience some or all of the following:
- Bed spins
Short-term Effects of Alcohol
Is Intoxication dangerous? It depends. If you become intoxicated, you are a potential danger to yourself or others. Often people act irrationally when they are intoxicated. All will show poor judgement. The person might engage in vandalism or drink and drive and get into an accident or kill someone. The person might fall off the curb and break a leg. The person might become involved in a fight with a stranger, or return home and beat up his wife, and be charged with a criminal offence by the police. The person might participate in a one-night stand with a woman who has some sexually transmittable disease, such as HIV. The person may jump off a ferry and then drown while attempting to swim to shore. The person might drink so much that he or she suffers alcohol poisoning. Every year, we read about some teenager or young adult who drank too beers and died from alcohol poisoning. If the person is depressed, alcohol can result in despair and impulsive behaviour, and end in suicide.
Another problem with alcohol is that it’s addictive. A moderate drinker will not become addicted from alcohol, taking one or two drinks a day. A social drinker is a moderate drinker who imbibes in a social setting, such as a baseball game. He or she is not addicted. A binge drinker is someone who has more than five drinks in a single sitting, and then does not drink for a few days. This person runs the risk of becoming a problem drinker, and problem drinking is one step closer to alcoholism. The problem drinker is able to cut back without the need of medical intervention or Alcoholics Anonymous. The alcoholic is someone who drinks every day—and cannot stop. He or she is dependent or addicted to booze, and will require intervention, or slide into self-destruction. Alcoholism takes an enormous toil on person’s interpersonal relationships, employment, and social life, mental and physical health.
Some people make intoxication a habit, and it leads to alcohol abuse. The person who abuses alcohol is not dependent on booze. He or she can cut back or stop. The problem is that person drinks and become intoxicated, and then engages in behaviour that is self-destructive. Another indication is that the person will deny he or she has a serious problem with booze and continues to make drinking a self-destructive habit. Here are a few indications that a person is abusing alcohol:
- Becoming angry and quarrelling.
- Becoming violent and getting into a fight.
- Being charged by police with a criminal offence.
- Driving while intoxicated; driving that results in personal injury or injury or death of another person.
- Engaging in wife abuse, such as verbal abuse or physical assault.
- Neglecting responsibilities, such as classes, work, chores, and child care.
How to Cut Back on Your Drinking
If you feel that you’ve made drinking a bad habit or have become problem drinker, it’s best to cut back. You must discipline yourself and substitute drinking with another habit. Here are a few suggestions:
- Set limits on the amount of alcohol you drink at one time.
- Drink slowly—no more than 1 drink per hour.
- Eat food while you are consuming alcoholic beverages.
- Keep track of the number of drinks you consume each week.
- Don’t drink every day to prevent you from developing the habit of boozing.
- If you are a man, don’t consume more than five drinks at any one time, and drink no more than 15 in a week. If you are a woman, don’t drink more than 3 at one time, no more than ten in a week.
- If you drink to relieve stress, begin a physical fitness program, such as walking, yoga, jogging, joining a sports team.
- If you feel you have problem, educate yourself. Consider a support group, such as A.A., if you are unable to cut back.
- If you drink because of anxiety or depression, see your doctor. There are prescription medications that can help you deal with anxiety or depression.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on Physical Health
Abuse of alcohol in a single sitting or over a long time can have serious affects on your physical health. Alcohol abuse can result in serious health problems:
- High blood pressure
- Fatty liver
- Alcohol hepatitis
Various types of Cancer
Other Serious Physical Health Problems
Heavy drinking can also cause pancreatitis, as well as weakening your immune system, making you susceptible to illness and disease.
An alcoholic is a person addicted to alcohol because of craving and compulsion to drink booze. The person will spend most of his or her time drinking, and will be unable to stop drinking once starting. The person will drink every day, frequently becoming intoxicated. The person will develop a tolerance, and will need more booze to feel the euphoria. The person will prefer drinking to interests and hobbies. He or she will often drink alone or hide the alcohol. Often the person will not remember conversations, neglect commitments, and consume so much that he will have black outs. After a bender, the person will experience withdrawal, such as shakes, nausea, sweating. When not drinking, the person will feel withdrawn, moody, and irritable. This addiction to alcohol always results in various employment, social, interpersonal, physical and mental health problems.
Alcoholism often ruins the alcoholic’s life. Most people who are alcoholics will experience many of the long-term affects on their physical health, such as liver damage, high blood pressure, cancer. Many will also end up without a job or marriage or friendships. In fact, many end up homeless and living on the street or in a hostel. Many will also have criminal records for fighting or domestic violence or vandalism.
What are the causes of alcoholism? There are various theories. Many experts believe that alcoholism is a disease, which alters the structure of the brain, and results in the inability to control the consumption of alcohol. According to this model, addiction is irreversible. The alcoholic will always experience compulsion and craving to drink until intoxication, and so the alcoholic must stop drinking, and never drink again, or quickly return to addiction—and self destructive behavior.
The genetic theory of addiction suggests that a person who becomes addicted has inherited a predisposition for addiction. Research has shown that children of parents who are alcoholics have a much greater risk of addiction that the normal population. The exposure theory of addiction suggests that booze alters the metabolism in the body. Once the person becomes a habitual drinker, he or she requires more and more alcohol to feel the desired affects. And so, the person becomes conditioned to intoxication. The person drinks to feel a “buzz.” They continually drink on a regular basis to experience that “high.” Over time, their body and mind develop a tolerance, and so they require more booze to feel the desired emotional state.
How is alcoholism diagnosed and treated? All alcoholics require a diagnosis. Doctors use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness to assist them in a diagnosis (DSM-IV). This manual outlines three types of alcohol problems: Alcohol Use, Alcohol Abuse, and Alcohol Dependence or alcoholism. According to DSM-IV, a person is alcoholic dependent if they have three of the following six symptoms:
- Tolerance. The person requires more booze to achieve the desired affect.
- Alcohol withdrawal. The person experiences agitation, irritation, sweating, nausea, the shakes after drinking is stopped.
- Alcohol fixation. The person’s life revolves around drinking.
- Craving. The person has a constant craving to drink alcohol.
- Lack of Self-control. The person cannot cut back or stop drinking alcohol.
- Harm. The person continues to drink, despite problems with physical health, mental health, responsibilities, work, and interpersonal relationships.
Treatment will involve talk therapy and/or attending a support group for alcoholics, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. “It is a voluntary, worldwide fellowship of men and women who meet to attain and maintain sobriety.” The person attending admits his or her powerlessness to control alcohol consumption and submits to a higher power to help them recover. The person also takes part in a twelve step program of sobriety, promises to themselves on a daily basis not to drink alcohol.
Mental Health Reasons Not to Drink
There are many reasons why you should not drink if you suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental health problems:
- Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant
- Alcohol is often dangerous when combined with prescription drugs.
- Alcohol will always interfere with the therapeutic effects of prescription drugs, such as anti-depressants.
- Alcohol is often a gateway to illicit drugs, such as hash, marijuana, cocaine.
- Alcohol can result in impulsive behaviour. For instance, if you are depressed, you are more likely to ponder or attempt suicide.
- Alcohol interferes with normal sleep. You will most likely have an interrupted sleep or be able to sleep only a few hours if you become intoxicated.
- Intoxication will impact your mood. If you are anxious or depressed, you’ll feel worse after the “buzz” wears off.
Alcohol and Well-Being
Martin Seligman, author of “Flourishing” and founder of positive psychology, suggests that “well-being” has five components:
- Positive Emotion. Pleasure, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and so forth.
- Engagement. These are flow experiences such as work and worthy leisure pursuits.
- Relationships. Family, friendship, and romantic partner.
- Meaning and purpose. Spirituality and religion.
- Accomplishment. Establishing, working at, and achieving goals in various parts of your life.
To develop well-being, you must work at “flourishing,” increasing the amount of pleasure, flow, friendships, love, meaning, spirituality, and achievement in your life. Booze will often interfere with your ability to achieve well-being. For instance, if you become intoxicated and suffer a hangover, you will not feel pleasure the next day. Drinking will not help you experience “flow” at work or in leisure pursuits. Boozing adds nothing to your meaning or purpose in life. And if it does, you have mental health issues that should be attended to. Habitual drinking will also interfere with your desire to achieve various goals, like losing weight, or becoming slim and fit, or living a healthy lifestyle.
Author Craig Ferguson writes,“ Alcohol ruined me financially and morally, broke my heart and the hearts of too many others. Even though it did this to me and it almost killed me and I haven’t touched a drop of it in seventeen years, sometimes I wonder if I could get away with drinking some now. I totally subscribe to the notion that alcoholism is a mental illness because thinking like that is clearly insane.”
There is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol, providing you don’t have a medical condition or are taking prescription drugs that will be affected by alcohol, or that you are not a problem drinker or alcoholic.
When you drink, always drink alcohol in moderation. Moderation means drinking one or two drinks a day if you are a man, and no more than 5 at any one time. In a week, you should not drink more than 15. Moderation for a woman means no more than 3 at any single time, and no more than 10 in a week. Any more consumption of alcohol, and you risk developing serious health problems over the long run.
If you are a problem drinker, you have issues that must be addressed, or your drinking might lead to more serious personal and health problems. Some people will be able to cut back on their own. Others will need some sort of treatment, such as talk therapy.
If you believe you are an alcoholic, see your doctor and join Alcoholics Anonymous.
Intoxication will provide you will pleasure for a few fleeting hours, but it will never improve your well-being over the long haul. It’s best to always drink in moderation, or don’t drink at all.
If you would like to learn more on the affects of alcohol consumption on your health and well-being, read the following:
- Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions by Alcoholics Anonymous
- Responsible Drinking: A Moderation Management Approach to Problem Drinking by Fredrick Rotgers
- Seven Weeks to Social Drinking: How To Effectively Moderate Your Alcohol Intake by Donna Cornett
- How To Change Your Drinking: A Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol by Kenneth Anderson
- The American Psychiatric Textbook for Substance Abuse Treatment
- Flourishing by Martin Seligman
- The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi