The Health Impacts of Alcohol Consumption

The Health Impacts of Alcohol Consumption

Written by Emily Johnson - Co-owner, High Vibes Drinks.

So you’ve decided to take a closer look at your health. Maybe you have had a recent injury, a diagnosis, a food intolerance, or are on some medications that make you want to look a bit closer at your lifestyle. Maybe you’re trying to overhaul your diet and looking at the nutritional content, calories and foods you’re eating? Maybe someone you know is affected by a lifestyle disease and you’ve made the connection that what we eat and drink can impact our health significantly.

Are you wondering where alcohol fits in? What is the impact of alcohol on your health?

What is alcohol exactly?
Quite simply, alcohol is a drug. And like other drugs it affects the way your body works and can be toxic and addictive1. Specifically the ingredient that we are looking at here is ethanol (or ethyl alcohol).

Alcohol is made when yeast ferments the sugars in grains, fruits and vegetables. So some obvious examples of this are how wine is made from the sugar in grapes, and how vodka is made from the sugar in potatoes. Interestingly, you may even find alcohol content in some overripe fruit that exists in your home.

But is it harmful? How does it impact me? What is the safe amount? We know you have questions, so let’s address some of the key ones.

What happens when I drink alcohol?
When you drink alcohol, it passes into your blood through the walls of your stomach and small intestine. It travels to all parts of the body including the brain. At this point it slows down your brain and affects almost all parts of your body. This is why you can feel the impact on how you think, feel and behave. And the impact happens quick, in fact, it only takes a few minutes to reach the brain in an average healthy, person.2

Then your body needs to process it. Your liver has to do the work here to process it by removing the alcohol by breaking it down. Interestingly, your liver will prioritise the alcohol over any other food it needs to process.

What are the effects of alcohol?
Alcohol affects everyone differently. How it affects you depends on how much you drink, your health, your age and other factors. It also can affect you differently depending on a range of specific factors, including your gender, mental and physical health, use of medications, how much food you have in your stomach, your individual tolerance to alcohol, how much muscle you have on your body, your weight, and the frequency and quantity of alcohol you regularly drink3

Drinking too much can lead to harmful short-term and long-term effects. It can affect your physical and mental health, your job, your finances, your family and your community. But let us focus on the health implications.

Short Term affects of alcohol
When understanding the above, it becomes clearer as to why we experience the short term effects of alcohol that we are so familiar with.

In the short term, drinking too much alcohol can lead to unintended consequences such as accidental injury (to yourself or others), being in road accidents, self harm, harm to others, risky sexual behaviour, family violence, sexual violence, domestic violence and alcohol poisoning.

So it’s more than just a hangover, its all of the above potential dangers too.

Long Term affects of alcohol
While we are all taught at school and on TV the above short term risks, it’s the long-term risks that we feel are not getting enough attention. Here’s where things get even more interesting and harmful, and this is where we want to highlight some impacts that perhaps people may not yet be aware of.

For both men and women, the risk of dying from alcohol-related disease and injury remains below 1 in 100 if no more than 10 standard drinks are consumed each week and no more than 4 standard drinks are consumed in any one day. This is why national guidelines recommend that we all stay within this range.

One of the long-term effects of alcohol consumption above these guidelines is mental health issues such as increased risk of suicide. Another mental health consequence is substance abuse – you may become dependent or addicted to alcohol, especially if you have depression or anxiety, or a family history of alcohol dependence.

Long term risks also include diabetes and weight gain, cancers such as stomach cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, oesophageal cancer and liver cancer. We know there is an association between cancer and excessive alcohol consumption, and we want to bring some awareness to this, as it’s not getting enough attention.

If you’re pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, you should not drink alcohol. If you are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for your baby. Drinking any amount of alcohol can harm your baby or unborn baby.

There are other more well known health risks such as high blood pressure, heart damage and heart attack, cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure.

There are also risks around fertility including impotence, and other problems with sexual performance, reduced sperm count and reduced testosterone levels in men. With fertility becoming an increasing issue for many Australians who are looking to start or grow a family, we feel this is an extremely important message to get out there.

Even more alarming is that even brain-related conditions such as stroke and dementia have been associated with drinking. That’s pretty scary!

Knowing the risks is just the first step
We understand that health implications aren’t necessarily the most important reason to not drink for everyone. You may be experiencing a reduction in inhibitions when you drink, that lead you to act in a way that you normally wouldn’t. Maybe you’re worried that you might do something antisocial or embarrassing, or something illegal even. Maybe you’re worried about your friendships, your work and the impact that your drinking is having on your family.

But knowing the health risks is important. At High Vibes Drinks we want to empower Australians to make informed decisions about their health, and provide simple solutions that help them make positive health changes. So if any of the above is a concern for you, you know we have options to swap out your alcoholic drinks for a non-alcoholic drink instead.

For more information
The following are a list of resources that we used to write this article, that you may wish to explore:

1: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/about-alcohol
2: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/alcohol-consumption/latest-release
3: https://headspace.org.au/explore-topics/for-young-people/alcohol/
4: https://www.soberrecovery.com/addiction/the-connection-between-alcohol-abuse-and-mental-health/

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