Having a drink or two to wind down after a long or stressful day or to celebrate an achievement is a normal part of everyday life in America, and nearly half of all college students engage in binge drinking. According to the World Health Organization, no level of alcohol consumption is safe, however. Excessive or chronic alcohol consumption is especially dangerous and has negative effects in both the long and short term. Despite known risks, excessive alcohol consumption continues to soar. Alcohol-related deaths exceeded the 100,000 mark for the first time in 2021 and have only increased since then.
Recent studies indicate that while men still make up the bulk of alcohol-related deaths, women are quickly closing that gap, particularly women over the age of 65.
Alcohol Use and Women
Alcohol use affects women differently than men in a variety of ways. Women, for instance, generally have a higher blood alcohol level than men after drinking the same amount, and the effects of alcohol hit women faster and tend to last longer. Physiological and chemical differences between the genders mean women can’t metabolize alcohol as quickly as men. Women have less body water than men to dilute the alcohol, a higher percentage of body fat, and lower amounts of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which helps to break down alcohol in the body. In addition, women face an increased risk of developing liver diseases, circulatory disorders, and breast cancer, and in some cases, alcohol use can even bring on early menopause.
How Alcohol Kills
Alcohol is deadly in a variety of ways. It can kill slowly, affecting the health of our cardiovascular system, pancreas, and liver, or quickly, by alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related psychosis, or drunk driving incidents. Let’s look at a few of the most common ways alcohol kills.
Alcohol impairs brain function, leading to poorer judgment, coordination, and reaction times, all of which are vital components for safe driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately one person dies due to drunk driving in the United States every 39 minutes.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time, also known as binging, can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is a depressant, and in large doses, it will slow your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and gag reflex. Alcohol poisoning can quickly lead to coma or death if the person’s breathing or heart rate drops too low or if they aspirate on their vomit due to an impaired gag reflex.
Alcohol-related psychosis is fairly rare, but it does sometimes occur with acute intoxication, chronic alcoholism, and alcohol withdrawal. This disorder results in vivid hallucinations accompanied by paranoia and fear and is associated with higher rates of suicidal behaviors.
Chronic alcohol consumption leads to pancreatic inflammation. Acute and chronic pancreatitis are more prevalent in individuals who consume approximately four or five alcoholic drinks a day for several years. Heavy smoking can increase the possibility of developing alcoholic pancreatitis.
Another deadly disorder caused by alcohol consumption, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, leads to permanent damage to the heart. Once permanently damaged by alcohol, the heart is less able to contract, leading to chest pain, fatigue, trouble breathing, and sometimes heart attacks.
Scarring of the liver tissue, known as cirrhosis, can be caused by a number of diseases and disorders, including chronic alcoholism. Once damaged, the liver cannot be repaired and, in time, can become so extensive that it causes the liver to cease functioning entirely.
Alcohol Attributed Cancer
Alcohol is classified as a group 1 carcinogen, on the same level as tobacco, engine exhaust, and asbestos. It can trigger several types of cancer, including bowel, breast, colon, oral, throat, esophageal, and liver cancers. Although the more you drink, the more likely you are to develop cancer, alcohol consumption does not need to be excessive to trigger the growth of cancer cells.
The Benefits of Drinking Less
Those who choose to cut down on their alcohol consumption or eliminate it altogether will notice several benefits to their health. In the short term, their blood sugar levels generally decrease, their quality of sleep increases, headaches, and heartburn are reduced, and the immune system becomes more robust. Given enough time, liver function often bounces back, excess weight drops off, and skin health improves.
Tips to Reduce Drinking
Small, positive changes are often more effective in reducing alcohol use than trying to quit cold turkey. If you aren’t ready to stop drinking altogether, try these tips to reduce the amount of alcohol that you consume.
- Alternate each alcoholic drink with water.
- Eat before you drink.
- Keep less or no alcohol in your home
- Measure your drinks instead of free-pouring
- Stock up on non-alcoholic alternatives.
- Use smaller glasses
These tips will help reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, improving your health and well-being. Being mindful of your drinking habits will go a long way toward understanding your relationship with alcohol and will help limit your exposure and reduce your risk of experiencing its dangerous effects.