Drink a drug

Drinking alcohol is an accepted ritual in many cultures. It is associated with socialising, relaxation and is the focus in celebrating special occasions. Although belonging to a group of sedative hypnotic drugs, alcohol has beneficial effects that have made it so readily welcomed into everyday life.

Consumed in moderate quantities by those in good health, drinking alcohol stimulates the appetite, aids relaxation and leads to a mild sense of euphoria. The drinker often feels less inhibited, becoming friendlier and more outgoing in social situation.

( A sense of belonging is often the initial reason why people discover drinking alcohol.)

One too many
The body’s metabolism reacts to alcohol as it would to any foreign substance. In small quantities alcohol can be tolerated and easily processed out of the system. However, adverse symptoms are experienced when too much of the alcohol’s toxicity build up in the system.

Even in a small dose, alcohol can impair a drinker’s reaction time, vision particularly perception of depth, muscle function and general sense of judgement. Consumption of larger quantities of alcohol adversely affects the ability of both lungs and heart to carry out their function, leaving the drinker with slower breathing and circulation.

(once ingested, alcohol reaches the brain within mintues.)

The morning after
The short-term effect of drinking too much alcohol is often felt more the following day. A hangover is the body’s way of saying that it didn’t appreciate the way you treated it last night.

A hangover is caused by:

  • † Still having too much alcohol in the system
  • † The by-products of the breakdown of alcohol which produce methanol. These can vary depending on which type of alcohol is consumed.
  • † Dehydration – alcohol is a diuretic so the body processes more water than the amount ingested.
  • † Low blood sugar.

All of the above present the common symptoms of a hangover: headache, upset stomach, light headedness and irritability.

The dangers

Short term risks

Serious intoxication – death can occur when alcohol consumption reaches such a level that it causes the drinker’s breathing to be paralysed. However, this is rare as either the drinker passes out before they reach this level or their body rejects the alcohol through vomiting.

† A more common cause of death in such cases is more likely to be where the drinker has suffocated through inhaling their own vomit.

† The risk of heart attacks amongst middle-age men is significantly increased following an alcohol binge.

Long term risk

Excessive drinking can lead to a variety of adverse health conditions. Prolonged drinking can cause stomach problems, inflammation of the pancreatic gland and liver disorders such as hepatitis, jaundice, cirrhosis and even liver failure. Other physical results include damage to the nervous system and brain, sexual impairment, weight gain and increased risk of heart disease.

(estimates show that excessive drinking contributes to around 40,000 deaths each year in the UK.)

Emotional disorders

Such as depression are also common. Excessive drinking by pregnant women can affect their unborn child and can result in birth defects.
In addition to the medical difficulties, there are often the social consequences caused by prolonged drinking. For example, marital difficulties or problems at work.

Cutting down

To reduce alcohol intake, the drinker needs to explore the reasons behind why they drink so much, why they continue to do so and most important of all, why they want to cut down. This simple exercise should isolate the half hearted by questioning the drinker’s willingness to change their habits. Without this commitment, the success rate of the attempt to cut down will be reduced.

(it required commitment and willpower)

  • Take up a new hobby – reduce the frequency of your drinking. Do something else with your free evenings than spending them at the local pub.
  • † Change your social scene – arrange to meet your friends at a café or at the cinema.
  • † Switch off the auto-pilot – when you are on a night out make a mental note of how much you are drinking.
  • † Try a substitute – swap every other alcoholic drink with a soft drink.
  • † If you are bored don’t take a trip to the fridge for a can or a bottle, do something else to distract you.
  • † Try exercising – this can help reduce feeling of stress. Walking to an out-of-the way pub will mean you’ll have less time at the pub and will benefit from the fresh air.
  • † Drinking and driving don’t mix – why not offer to be the designated driver more often and abstain.
  • † Have plenty of fresh fruit and fruit juices – these will help cleanse your system of toxins and the vitamin C will give you a boost.

Less means more

Once you have cut down it can be tempting to slip back into your old ways. If you have had a binge, it is not a reason to give up on your good intentions. Ongoing motivation is key, so try the following:

  • † Remind yourself of your reasons for wanting to cut down – if you have binged your hangover should help!
  • † Review the positive benefits of cutting down – feeling better, more energy, less irritable, losing those extra pounds (many alcoholic drinks are very calorific!)
  • † Count the money you have saved by cutting down. Consider that on an average night out at the pub, by having one point of beer or wine less a week you can save yourself £150 a year!
  • † Plan future treats which require you to stick to cutting down so that you can afford them, i.e. a well deserved weekend break.