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From College Kids to Career Professionals, Some Sobering Info on Alcohol

Reviewed by: Dr. Steven Knauf, D.C.

By Martha Michael

From College Kids to Career Professionals, Some Sobering Info on Alcohol

If you ask the average American about the potential problems associated with alcohol use, they would probably say, “Let me count the ways.” Most people know that intoxication from wine, beer, or spirits can cause serious health issues if you drink heavily for a number of years. It seems lightyears away to young adults in dorms or fraternities, or men and women just getting their feet wet in the working world who tend to think they’re immortal. The only things on their radar might be anecdotal stories about drunk driving arrests and the legal limit where they live, but perhaps by raising some awareness, their lifestyle choices won’t result in a tall order of potential health problems.

What Is Alcohol and How Does It Affect the Body?

Whether it’s Spring Break, March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day, or it’s simply 5 o’clock somewhere, some people like to party whether or not there’s a reason to celebrate. If they were more informed about the toll it’s taking on their bodies, they might take it more seriously.

The MedicalNewsToday website has some facts about alcohol that bring its impact into greater focus.

  • Absorption - The liver takes about one hour to process a drink but alcohol takes longer to leave your body.
  • Speed of effects - When you sip a beverage, the alcohol is absorbed in your bloodstream in minutes and heads to your brain.
  • Food consumption - If you eat while drinking, it helps slow the speed of intoxication.
  • Blood alcohol concentration - Your BAC levels determine if you can legally drive a car

Whether you drink with your college buddies or belly up to the bar for business lunches or Happy Hours, you may gauge your intake according to the legal limit for driving. If you don’t own a breathalyzer, you may be consulting the charts that tell you how many drinks per hour you can have. It’s not a bad idea, but it helps to understand the measurements in the guide.

One drink is typically defined as:

  • 1.5 ounces of spirits at 40 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine at 12 percent alcohol
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor at 7 percent alcohol
  • 12 ounces of beer at 5 percent alcohol

An article by the Mayo Clinic talks about the damage to the brain caused by alcohol consumption. As a neurotoxin, alcohol blocks communication among neuropathways and slows your thinking. There is no lack of irony for college students, who often use their four years of schooling to drink without reservation at a time when absorbing and retaining information, and clear-headed thinking, is so important.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Alcohol vs. Short-Term Effects?

As innocuous as a pint of beer or a chardonnay with friends may sound, there are notable changes that occur when you imbibe. When considering the impact of alcohol, people tend to be aware of the immediate feeling of being intoxicated and they know that heavy drinking can have a serious impact on your health over time. UK-based healthcare provider Priory has an article outlining the short- and long-term effects of alcohol use.

Long-term drinking may result in:

  • Appetite changes
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Social isolation
  • Insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Drop in libido
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Inattention to appearance and personal hygiene

Drinking has a cumulative impact on your internal health as well, says an article by the Australian healthcare website Health Direct. It affects vital organs including your:

  • Euphoric feelings
  • Acting giddy
  • Extreme relaxation
  • Sleepiness
  • Slower reaction time
  • Trouble with vision
  • Slurring
  • Unstable emotions
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of physical coordination
  • Passing out
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Alcohol-induced psychosis

Obviously, there’s a lot to process, but if you’ve had a few drinks, processing might not be your strong game.

How Can Alcohol Affect Sleep and Other Parts of Daily Life?

Aside from the obvious effects of drinking, from feeling calm to getting tipsy, there are aspects of alcohol that impact your lifestyle.

Sleep

The relaxation brought on by even a glass of wine can aid you in falling asleep, but it can have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep. The level to which you’re affected depends on many factors, according to the Sleep Foundation.

A Finnish study of more than 4,000 subjects monitored their physiological state during the first three hours of sleep after drinking. The findings show a link between sleep disturbances and the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Results of the study show:

  • If a woman consumes less than one drink and a man has fewer than two drinks, their sleep quality is decreased by 9.3 percent.
  • For moderate drinkers -- approximately one drink for females and two for males -- their sleep quality decreases by 24 percent.
  • For women who imbibe more than one drink and men who have more than two, sleep quality decreases by 39.2 percent.

Timing also has a bearing on the effects of alcohol where your sleep quality is concerned. If your body has time to metabolize the alcohol before you go to sleep -- approximately four hours -- there’s a lower chance it will suppress your ability to get the rest you need.

Cognitive Function

According to the National Institute on Alcohol, drinking affects the way the brain functions because it interferes with its pathways of communication. Long-term use can change the structure of your brain, including the health of the neurons.

Alcohol impedes function in areas controlling:

  • Speech
  • Memory
  • Judgment
  • Balance

The cognitive impairment it causes can lead to injuries or other problems for adults, but from pre-birth to adolescence the damage caused by alcohol can be severe. Drinking during pregnancy can disrupt fetal development in parts of the brain and lead to cognitive and behavioral problems for their unborn child.

Practical Tips for Alcohol and Social Situations

One of the down sides of deciding to quit drinking -- or severely curtail it -- is the change to your social situation. Sometimes it means you have to find a new friend group, but sometimes your decision can galvanize your relationships with people who mean the most to you.

HelpGuide.org has some tips for telling your friends and family that you’re no longer drinking alcohol.

  • Have an informal conversation - Rather than call a meeting, just tell people individually about your decision.
  • Set boundaries - You can tell them how stopping drinking is the healthiest decision for you
  • Tell friends how they can support you - Asking them to be involved lets them know you aren’t distancing yourself from them.

But even if you do drink, there are a couple of strategies to prevent overdoing it. Hydrate before the party. Follow every alcoholic beverage with a glass or bottle of water. Bring along a friend to make sure you don’t overdo it (extra points if they are a designated driver). Eat beforehand and during the party. Skip the drinking games and shots. If it can be done, BYONB -- bring your own near beer -- or consume virgin drinks.

Most high schools in the United States have a curriculum covering alcohol consumption and its worst outcomes. It may scare young people away from drinking for a while, but there’s a lot more to learn about the problems associated with patterns such as binge drinking and alcohol abuse. If you’ve decided to leave “beer with the bros” behind and you’re thinking twice about day drinking with colleagues, there are numerous health reasons to back you up.

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