dr david bull

Boozy times

In Medical Topics on July 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

“It takes only one drink to get me drunk. The trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth” George Burns

It will come as no surprise to hear that alcohol is a drug which is produced from fermenting sugar. But it’s an important drug for two reasons.

It’s legal and
It’s dose dependent. That means the more you drink, the more it affects you and the more likely you are to make an idiot of yourself whilst having no insight into how stupid you appear.
Most of us enjoy the odd cheeky gin and tonic or pint of lager. It’s a great way to relax at the end of the day and it’s an integral part of the social scene. It’s also a fantastic way to muster the courage to go and talk to the sexy guy or girl at the end of the bar! The most interesting thing about alcohol is that it’s effects are cumulative. If you’re ever sober and watch people drinking at a party or in a bar, you can see the change in people’s behaviour, watch then becoming more tactile and hear the change in volume they speak at. The speed at which we are affected depends on a number of factors. Alcohol once absorbed through the stomach travels in the blood stream and crosses into the brain very quickly. It will affect you much more quickly if you are drinking on an empty stomach, if you are slimmer and also if you are drinking fizzy drinks. Drinking in moderation is fine, but excessive drinking causes short and long-term side-effects

Despite changes in legislation trying to make us drink more sensibly like our southern European counterparts, we still have one of the highest rates of binge drinking in Europe. It’s a major headache for the emergency services as alcohol excess leads to violent drunken behaviour and numerous hospital admissions. Every year in the UK alone, 33,000 people die from alcohol abuse.

So given that drinking alcohol in moderation is ok, what are the safe levels? Well, men can drink up to 3-4 units per day and women can drink up to 2-3 units per day. (one unit is half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine or one spirit measure). This isn’t sexiest but is merely due to the differences in body weight, amount of fat and water between the sexes, Drinking more than these levels is dangerous. It’s also recommended that you should have at least two days off the sauce a week to let your body recover. Also you can’t store up your units and drink your weekly allowance in one go on a Friday night!

It takes about one hour to burn off one unit of alcohol.

Alcohol affects almost every system in the body and chronic misuse can cause serious illness and damage your organs as the diagram below shows.

Brain  Alcohol changes your mood and your thought processes. It causes loss of concentration, poor decision making and also gives you poor control over your movement leading to in coordination (you start to stagger around). It can make you very excitable or depressed. Under the influence of alcohol you are more likely to take part in risky behaviour, unsafe sex and increases the chance of acquiring sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV. It can also make you make bizarre decisions about people you sleep with, leads to increased accidents and is a major cause of relationship breakdowns. The impact on the brain the following day leads to a hangover which can be very debilitating.

Liver and Pancreas  Alcohol can cause inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) which stops it working properly and can lead to destruction of the liver substance (cirrhosis) and in turn liver cancer. As the liver deteriorates, it can’t function properly turning you yellow (jaundice).It can cause the pancreas to become inflamed (pancreatitis) causing severe pain and impairment of its function

Blood Stream  Causes clotting problems leading to bleeding disorders.

Bone Marrow  Decreases your immunity meaning you are more likely to catch infections

Stomach and Digestive System  Alcohol has a major impact on the digestive system and can cause nausea and vomiting. Prolonged use can cause inflammation of the stomach lining and stomach ulcers (causing severe pain and bleeding), and diarrhoroea.

Heart  Alcohol raises your blood pressure and can lead to strokes, heart attacks and rhythm disturbances. Long term abuse can stop the heart beating properly.

Bones and joints  Chronic use can cause Gout (inflammation, pain and swelling of joints) and causes thinning of the bones which can lead to fractures.

Skin  Skin changes can occur on the face and body. Chronic alcoholics often have a big bulbous nose (rhinophyma)

Genitals  Alcohol has a major impact here. Although it increases the desire to have sex it takes away the performance as it can cause impotence. It can also lead to decreased sperm count and testosterone levels.

Nutritional  Alcohol can lead to Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Neurology  It can severely affect the nervous system causing loss of sensation and loss of coordination and function as well as tremor which can be irreversible.

Cancer  Alcohol is implicated in many cancers including liver, breast, bowel, mouth and oesophagus (food pipe)

Obesity  Alcohol is immensely calorific and causes people to put on a lot of weight. One glass of white wine is 85cals, a Gin &Tonic is 140 cals and a pint of beer is around 250-300cals. That’s the same as a chocolate bar! Alcohol also stimulates the appetite so after drinking a few pints you want to eat which increases the amount of calories you are consuming even further. Hence the archetypal drinker’s beer belly.

Clearly  Alcohol should be enjoyed but like most things………Everything in moderation.

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