Do You Know Your Limits?

Drinking too much alcohol increases people’s risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease and some types of cancer. This April during Alcohol Awareness Month, Motivate Health encourages you to educate yourself and your loved ones about the dangers of consuming alcohol in excess.

Drinking and Driving

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10,076 Americans were killed in drunken driving crashes in 2013. That is one fatality every 52 minutes. In the same year, 290,000 individuals were injured in drunken driving crashes. “At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people,” says the CDC. Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes in 2013, 1 in 3 were between 21 and 24 years of age (33%). The next two largest groups were ages 25 to 34 (29%) and 35 to 44 (24%).

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Body?

While having a drink in a social situation or celebration can be fun if you are of age and responsible, drinking too much on a single occasion or over time can take a serious toll on your overall wellbeing.

Here is how alcohol can affect your body, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

Your Brain

Alcohol abuse interferes with your brain’s communication pathways, thus affecting the way the brain functions. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Over time, alcohol (or other drug) abuse can cause permanent changes in brain chemistry resulting in addiction.

Your Heart

Excessive drinking can damage your heart, causing cardiovascular complications, such as:

  • Cardiomyopathy – stretching and drooping of the heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

On the contrary, research shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.

Your Liver

Drinking heavily can harm your liver and lead to a multitude of health concerns, including:

  • Cirrhosis – late stage scarring of the liver
  • Fibrosis – the thickening and scarring of connective tissue
  • Alcoholic hepatitis – liver inflammation caused by overdrinking
  • Steatosis or fatty liver — infiltration of liver cells with fat, associated with disturbance of the metabolism by alcoholism

Your Pancreas

Alcohol causes your pancreas to produce toxic substances, which can eventually lead to pancreatitis (a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion).

Your Immune System

Overdrinking can weaken your immune system, which makes your body much more susceptible to disease or infection. Chronic drinkers are more likely to develop diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not overdrink. Overdrinking on just one occasion can slow your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours afterward.

Drinking and Cancer

Drinking too much alcohol over time can increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Such cancers can affect your:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breasts

If you are drinking too much, you can improve your health by cutting back or simply quitting. Here are some strategies to help you reduce your alcohol intake:

  • Limit your drinking to no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
  • Keep track of how much you consume.
  • Choose a few days each week when you will not drink and stick to them.
  • Don’t drink when you are upset.
  • Avoid places where people drink a lot.
  • Make a list of reasons not to drink.
  • Stop purchasing alcohol for some time.

If you find that these steps are ineffective for yourself or a loved one, and problem drinking behaviors are increasing, seek help from a health professional, chemical dependency counselor or support group.

If you are concerned about someone else’s drinking, offer your help and support. Sometimes all it takes is a healthy conversation to inspire a lifestyle change.

Zador PL, Krawchuk SA, Voas RB. Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender: an update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 2000; 61:387-95.