Health and alcohol

Risk factors related to alcohol

What is a safe level of drinking?  There is no definite answer but if you drink below the recommended limits then the risks are very low.  One would imagine that only alcoholics and binge drinkers are at risk but that is not so.  People who regularly drink above the recommended daily limits can have harmful effects on their health.  This many not show at first as many health problems only emerge after a few years and by the time that they manifest themselves serious health problems have already developed.

Some of the many harmful effects of exceeding your daily recommended limit are liver problems, reduced fertility, increased risk of various cancers, heart attack and high blood pressure .

The more you drink the greater the risk.

According to –

 Compared to non-drinkers, if you regularly drink above higher-risk levels: 

  • you could be 3-5 times more likely to get cancer of the mouth, neck and throat
  • you could be 3-10 times more likely to develop liver cirrhosis
  • men could have four times the risk of having high blood pressure, and women are at least twice as likely to develop it
  • you could be twice as likely to suffer from an irregular heartbeat
  • women are around 50% more likely to get breast cancer

Mental health and alcohol abuse

It is commonly believed that alcohol is a stimulant whereas it actually has the opposite effect as alcohol works by depressing brain function.  Although drinkers claim to feel ‘happy’ and confident when they have used alcohol, a fact that is less understood is that people who drink heavily are far more likely to suffer from mental illness.

One conclusion from the ‘Cheers?’ report  from the Mental Health Foundation states that alcohol can provoke both depression and intensify existing mental health problems. 

Many people who suffer with anxiety issues self-medicate with alcohol which can be counter-productive.  Alcohol use changes the psychology of the brain and reduces its ability to deal with anxiety naturally. People who suffer with depression can also react adversely to alcohol.  The levels of serotonin (a chemical in the brain that helps to regulate your mood) are depleted with the use of alcohol. Lower levels of serotonin will lead to a deeper sense of depression.

“In the long term a heavy drinker will need more and more alcohol to cope with their feelings,” says Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation.

“Long term heavy drinking changes the chemistry of the brain and there is a significant link between heavy drinking and suicide.”

There are many reports of links between alcohol and self-harm and suicide.  It is commonly considered  that alcohol makes you more impulsive and it is thought that this could account for the large number of suicide and self-harm cases seen in hospital treatment departments that are linked to alcohol misuse. 

Please see our other guides on alcoholism below:



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