The potential health consequences of alcohol are widely debated. It can be difficult to evaluate the negative effect that alcohol actually has due to the often-contradictory studies published on the issue. While it seems as though there is a new headline every week toting a new downside or upside to drinking, there are some widely accepted health benefits and consequences. In any case, alcohol is considered the most commonly used recreational drug in the world.
It can have a profound effect on your mood and mental state. For instance, alcohol reduces shyness and self-consciousness, which means you can socialize without inhibitions. As a result, you may say and do things you end up regretting once you sober up. Depending on how much you drink regularly, alcohol can have a positive or negative effect on your health.
Defining Moderate Drinking
Drinking alcohol in moderation can be beneficial in many ways, but what amount of alcohol is considered moderate? The definition of “moderate consumption” depends on the type of alcohol you consume, how you consume it and your sex.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says women should consume no more than three drinks per day and seven drinks per week to avoid alcohol use disorder. Men should consume no more than four drinks per day and 14 drinks per week.
Drinking responsibly does not mean you can go a week without drinking alcohol and then drink your week’s allowance in one go on a Friday night. This is referred to as binge drinking and it is as bad for your health as drinking in excess on a regular schedule.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than four or five drinks over approximately two hours. Moreover, binge drinking causes your blood pressure to spike, which increases your likelihood of having a stroke.
Exactly how much is “one drink?” It depends on the alcohol concentration of the drink in question. For beer, which typically comes in at 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), one drink is 12 ounces. For wine, which is usually 12 percent ABV, the serving size is five ounces. When it comes to spirits, a standard serving size is 1.5 ounces, which totals approximately 12 to 14 grams of alcohol per drink. A serving of malt liquor is 8-9 ounces.
What are the disadvantages of drinking alcohol?
There are several well-documented health risks associated with alcohol. For instance, excessive alcohol consumption can severely damage your liver. One of the main functions of the liver is to neutralize toxic substances you consume, which includes alcohol.
If you regularly consume alcohol excessively, you can end up with a variety of liver diseases. One of these is called fatty liver, caused by an increase of fat in your liver cells. About 90 percent of people who drink over half an ounce of alcohol each day end up having a fatty liver.
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Binge drinking can cause your liver to become inflamed as well. This can cause your liver cells to die and become replaced with scar tissue, leading to a severe medical condition known as cirrhosis. In the worst-case scenario, cirrhosis is only treatable with a liver transplant.
Drinking too much alcohol regularly has many adverse effects on your brain. Getting drunk partially comes from ethanol reducing communication between your brain cells. In the short term, this can lead to blackouts and memory loss after heavy drinking episodes.
Although those effects are temporary, long-term binge drinking can also cause permanent damage to your brain. This may lead to brain shrinkage and dementia. Along with the health issues listed above, excessive alcohol consumption can also cause the following:
- Weight gain. Alcoholic drinks are caloric, and regular drinking can quickly lead to obesity.
- Skin damage. Too much alcohol can create dry skin and can widen the blood vessels in your face.
- Heart problems. Binge drinking regularly increases your blood pressure and can damage your heart’s muscles.
- Birth defects. Abusing alcohol during pregnancy is the leading cause of preventable birth defects in the United States.
- Cancer. Drinking too much alcohol has been linked to various cancers, including cancers of the mouth, larynx, colon and pharynx. Additionally, some breast cancers are linked to excessive alcohol consumption.
What are the advantages of drinking alcohol?
While there are health risks associated with binge drinking alcohol, moderate drinking can be beneficial to your health. One advantage of drinking a little alcohol regularly is it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and strokes caused by blood clots.
This is because moderate amounts of alcohol raise your level of high-density lipoprotein, which can protect you against heart disease. Some types of alcohol are better than others for reducing heart problems. Specifically, red wine’s high concentration of polyphenols helps to lower your blood pressure.
A moderate intake of alcohol can reduce the risk of getting type two diabetes. It does this by reducing insulin resistance, one of the main symptoms of type two diabetes. For the best results, try drinking a single serving of wine with dinner a couple of nights a week.
Studies show this can lower the rise of your blood sugar by 16 to 37 percent. In comparison, binge drinking has the opposite effect and increases your risk of getting diabetes. There are many other benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation, including:
- Lowered dementia risk. This is because moderate alcohol consumption protects the blood vessels in the brain.
- Increased cognitive function. Moderate drinking can help to prevent the decline of cognitive functions by improving the blood flow to your brain.
- Reduced depression and anxiety. Binge-drinking can make depression and anxiety worse, but a moderate amount of alcohol can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Weight loss. Although excessive alcohol consumption may make you put on a lot of weight, a little regular alcohol can help to fight fat by adapting your metabolism.
- Gallstone prevention. A small amount of alcohol in your bloodstream on a regular basis can affect the cholesterol in your gallbladder, which prevents gallstones.
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