You may wonder what the harm is in enjoying a few drinks… After all, nearly everyone does it and apart from the occasional bad head, surely it can’t be that bad for you?

Well according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the UK, Alcohol causes nearly 10 per cent of all ill-health and premature deaths in Europe. And the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease Study finds that alcohol is the third most important risk factor, after smoking and raised blood pressure, for European ill-health and premature death.

In fact there is a direct correlation between the amounts of alcohol consumed in each country to the alcohol related harm caused. The European Comparative Alcohol Study found that as a country’s alcohol consumption goes up and down, so the harm done by alcohol goes up and down in parallel.

Equally, and not surprisingly, the more an individual drinks, the greater the risk for all types of alcohol-related harm, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases and cirrhosis of the liver.

So what are “a few drinks”, and how many are too many in terms of increased risk to health?

Risk of drinking compared with non-drinking appears to begin increasing significantly at an intake of around 3 drinks per day for a number of diseases including:
  • Cancers of mouth and pharynx; oesophagus; larynx; breast; liver; colon; and rectum
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Essential hypertension
  • Chronic pancreatitis

But isn’t moderate drinking supposed to be good for you?

Although a small amount of alcohol may reduce the risk of a heart attack, for many drinkers,  alcohol actually increases the risk of heart disease. More than two drinks a day and the risk of death from heart disease goes up, with the more alcohol drunk, the greater the risk.

But I never drink the hard stuff…

Whether consumed as wine, beer or spirits, it is alcohol content that matters in terms of risks to the health. In the UK a single unit is defined as 8g, or 10 ml of pure alcohol. A glass of wine, half a pint of ordinary strength beer and a single measure of spirits all contain a single unit, or 10ml of alcohol, and are all equal in their impact on health. 

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Medical Problems Related to Alcohol

Aside from the bad head, here are a few other sobering facts regarding the damage excessive alcohol consumption can cause:

Nervous System problems, including:
  • Acute intoxication blackouts
  • Lasting brain damage: 
                   - Wernicke’s encephalopathy
                   - Korsakoff’s syndrome
                   - Cerebellar degeneration
                   - Dementia
  • Cerebrovascular disease: 
                   - Strokes, especially in young people
                   - Subarachnoid haemorrhage
  • Nerve and muscle damage: 
                   - Weakness, paralysis, burning sensation in hands and feet
  • Liver damage:
                   - Infiltration of liver with fat
                   - Alcoholic hepatitis
                   - Cirrhosis and eventual liver failure
                   - Liver cancer
  • Gastrointestinal System problems:
                   - Reflux of acid into the oesophagus
                   - Tearing and occasionally rupture of the oesophagus
                   - Cancer of the oesophagus
                   - Gastritis
                   - Aggravation and impaired healing of peptic ulcers
                   - Diarrhoea and impaired absorption of food
                   - Chronic inflammation of the pancreas leading in some to diabetes
  • Heart and Circulatory System problems:
                  - Abnormal rhythms
                  - High blood pressure
                  - Chronic heart muscle damage leading to heart failure
  • Respiratory System problems:
                  - Pneumonia from inhalation of vomit
                  - Overproduction of cortisol leading to obesity, acne
                  - High blood pressure
                  - Condition mimicking over-activity of the thyroid with loss of weight, 
                  - Palpitations, sweating, and tremor, anxiety, 
                  - Severe fall in blood sugar, sometimes leading to coma

And as if that's not enough...
  • Reproductive System problems:
In men, loss of libido, reduced potency, shrinkage in size of testes and penis, reduced or absent sperm formation and so infertility, and loss of sexual hair.

In women, sexual difficulties, menstrual irregularities, and shrinkage of breasts and external genitalia

Alcohol as a Cause of Death

Estimates for the total number of deaths attributable to alcohol in the UK range from 8,000 to 40,000 per annum. The lower estimate refers to deaths from 
alcohol defined causes, mainly alcoholic liver disease. The higher estimate also allows for causes of death to which it is known that alcohol may contribute but which are not defined as alcohol-related.

Regardless of whether you believe the upper or lower estimate to be the more accurate, the facts are clear – drinking excessively over a long period of time is risking serious damage to your health. Although it may seem harmless enough at the beginning, it is a ticking time bomb… One that could eventually go off and lead to serious illness and even death!

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