There are many health risks in drinking, but of all the recreational substances we take, alcohol creates the greatest sense of sociability.You become
There are many health risks in drinking, but of all the recreational substances we take, alcohol creates the greatest sense of sociability.
You become energetic, relaxed and positive, and you’re more inclined to like other people.
These kinds of benefits are hard to measure, but in my view they have an enormous value in society.
There are many health risks in drinking, but of all the recreational substances we take, alcohol creates the greatest sense of sociability (stock photo)
Provided you drink sensibly, of course. Research shows that people who drink socially — especially those who have a ‘local’ — tend to have more friends and, therefore, more emotional support.
They also feel more contented and actively involved in their local community.
But what does drink actually do to our brains and our bodies? Before you have another glass, read on…
HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS TOO MUCH?
Why does alcohol in large quantities make you sick? It’s a crucial response from your body to stop you dying of alcohol poisoning.
For a medium-sized woman, drinking five large glasses of wine in one hour will lead to a blood alcohol level of 300mg per 100ml, which can be enough to put you in a coma.
If a man and a woman drink the same amount, the woman’s blood alcohol level will be higher.
It’s not only because women tend to be smaller, but also because, proportionally, women’s bodies have a lower percentage of water — and alcohol is diluted in the body’s water content.
Many people also find that once they’ve got into the habit of having a cigarette with a drink, it’s hard to have one without the other. This may be down to the fact that smoking accentuates the impact of alcohol on dopamine, the neuro-transmitter involved in drive, motivation and energy.
For a medium-sized woman, drinking five large glasses of wine in one hour will lead to a blood alcohol level of 300mg per 100ml, which can be enough to put you in a coma (stock photo)
Tolerance of alcohol builds up very fast. At the start of a holiday, you might feel drunk on, say, a glass of wine or two; by the end of the week, it could take a bottle to feel the same way.
Binge-drinking damages the brain more than consuming the same amount of alcohol in a more spread-out fashion, according to a University of Sussex study.
A binge can also kill you, even if you don’t feel particularly drunk, and women are more likely to die this way than metn.
Consider the sad story of 37-year-old NHS worker Paula Bishop. While on holiday in 2017, in the course of one day, she drank a few small beers, two glasses of wine and four Irish coffees — around 15 units altogether. Her husband said she hadn’t seemed particularly drunk, yet it was enough to kill her.
YOU MIGHT BE DRUNK THE MORNING AFTER
FORMER Sky Sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher was pulled over one morning in 2017 and failed a breathalyser test. It was 11am. She had reportedly been out until 3am. Eight hours later, her breath alcohol level was still around three times the drink-drive limit.
You don’t need to have drunk an enormous amount to be over the limit the next day. If you have one large glass of 13 per cent alcohol-by-volume wine, for example, you won’t be able to drive (legally) for four-and-a-half hours.
And if you drink three small glasses of the same wine, you’ll have to wait eight hours to be under the limit.
Even then, you’re taking a risk. Numerous studies have shown that being hungover affects many of the key skills you need for driving, including coordination, memory and paying attention.
JUST ONE GLASS CAN RUIN SKIN AND SLEEP
Women who care about their skin should probably avoid drinking white wine and spirits.
The more glasses you knock back, the higher your chances are of developing rosacea, which results in flushing and redness.
Red wine is much better because it won’t cause the condition, though it will make existing rosacea worse.
Mind you, it’s best not to drink at all, because any alcohol dehydrates the skin, causing it to look less plump. Blood vessels will also dilate under your eyes, making dark eye-bags more visible. Drinking often leads to puffiness and spider veins on the face, too.
Alcohol puts you into a very deep sleep, but its sedative effect works for only around four hours (stock photo)
Alcohol also reduces the higher functions of the brain, making it more likely that you will eat uninhibitedly and pile on the pounds.
And don’t forget about all the calories in booze, which is made by fermenting sugar or starch.
Your sleep quality is also affected. Alcohol puts you into a very deep sleep, but its sedative effect works for only around four hours. At this point, you may wake up with a headache — perhaps with lights flashing in your field of vision — and find it hard to get back to sleep.
At the very least, your sleep will be disturbed.
And don’t think this only happens to people who get plastered. Research suggests you only need to drink three units (one large glass of wine) to disrupt your sleep significantly.
IT MAKES MENOPAUSAL HOT FLUSHES WORSE…
Studies have shown that alcohol can worsen sweating and hot flushes in menopausal women.
After the menopause, some women become more sensitive to alcohol, and find that drinking the same amount they did before makes them more intoxicated.
…AND CAN KILL YOUR LIBIDO
Judging by how often people have sex after drinking alcohol, you might assume it’s an aphrodisiac. To a certain extent, that’s true.
It’s been shown to help women feel less inhibited about looking at sexual images, for instance, though it doesn’t make them feel any more aroused.
In another study, 24 heterosexual men and women were interviewed after either taking marijuana or drinking before sex. Although alcohol made people feel more attractive and helped them to meet a partner, it was also more likely than marijuana to make people choose ‘atypical’ partners and experience ‘post-sex regret’. This translates as: they slept with the wrong person.
Both drugs increased the risk of having unsafe sex, too.
Heavy drinkers should be prepared for sexual consequences. Women are more likely to have sexual disorders, such as low libido and the inability to orgasm, while men may have problems with getting erections.
THE BREAST CANCER LINK IS REAL
Even a single dose of alcohol can increase a woman’s levels of prolactin, a hormone that helps regulate ovulation. Some scientists believe that high levels of prolactin may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
According to a study of one million women, daily drinkers also have a higher risk of cirrhosis of the liver than non-daily drinkers. Women who mainly drink with meals have a lower risk than those who drink without food. Often, the first time someone finds out they have serious liver disease from drinking too much is when they start vomiting blood.
By that stage, the liver is usually beyond repair.
You don’t have to be an obvious alcoholic to die of cirrhosis. A study by liver disease expert Professor Nick Sheron found that a third of patients with severe alcohol-induced liver damage had never even considered they were drinking abnormally.
Only 9 per cent of them showed evidence of severe alcohol dependence. Most were social drinkers, or heavy drinkers who didn’t drink all the time and led relatively controlled lives.
Alcohol is now known to be a significant risk factor for the following cancers: breast, liver, colorectal, oesophageal, pharynx and larynx, lip and oral cavity and nasal.
But there may be others. For instance, the World Cancer Research Fund says there is ‘suggestive’ evidence that drinking may contribute to cancers of the lungs, pancreas and skin.
The only good news here is that a moderate amount of alcohol (under 3.75 units a day, or a little more than a large glass of wine) appears to lower the risk of getting kidney cancer.
DON’T DRINK IF YOU’RE TRYING FOR A BABY
Trying to get pregnant? Studies of nearly 100,000 women showed that drinking at any level reduced fertility — by 11 per cent for a very small glass of wine a day, and by 23 per cent for more than a small glass of wine a day.
In another study, half of the pre-menopausal women who had more than three drinks a day had stopped ovulating.
Bear in mind, too, that drinking more than five units a week (2.5 pints of beer) affects the quality of sperm. The more a man consumes, the worse the effect.
Bear in mind, too, that drinking more than five units a week (2.5 pints of beer) affects the quality of sperm. The more a man consumes, the worse the effect (stock photo)
British women drink more during pregnancy than their counterparts in ten other European countries, according to a 2017 study. In the UK, nearly 30 per cent don’t give up alcohol, while in Norway it’s just 4 per cent.
Yet alcohol crosses the placenta and goes into the developing foetus. In large quantities, this can cause a range of lifelong issues, including disturbed and hyperactive behaviour, low intelligence, developmental delays, impaired memory, problems with hearing and vision, growth impairments and issues with the heart, kidneys and bones.
Drinking during pregnancy also increases the risk of stillbirth, premature labour and restricted foetal growth.
Newborns run the risk of having alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, shivering and an irregular heart rate, too.
BUT IT’S NOT ALL BAD NEWS
Hard-drinking has always been associated with artists, writers and thinkers, from Jackson Pollock and Beethoven to Dorothy Parker and Socrates.
In fact, there’s some evidence that alcohol can help you to be creative.
There’s a psychological theory to explain this, which is that alcohol stops you from focusing well and cuts down your working memory.
Instead, it widens the scope of your thinking — in other words, it allows you to think outside the box.
In a study done to test this theory, participants were given vodka and cranberry juice, then asked to do a creative word game.
Compared with those who did it sober, the drinkers were faster and more accurate, and said that their problem-solving felt more intuitive.
n Adapted by Corinna Honan from Drink? The New Science Of Alcohol And Your Health, by Professor David Nutt (£16.99, Yellow Kite), out January 9. © 2020 David Nutt. To order a copy for £13.59 (20 per cent discount) go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155. Offer valid until January 18, 2020. P&P free.