Everything in moderation...
Alcohol, a common term for the compound ethanol, is not commonly thought of as a drug, given that it is a pervasive lubricant of modern society. Indeed its very ubiquity makes it is easy to forget that it has powerful side effects with potentially destructive consequences. Mixed messages abound, particularly in the media, making it difficult for one to make a balanced judgement. Aristotle's adage that 'everything in moderation' is particularly apt with regard to alcohol, and attest to his Mediterranean roots, where wine in particular, is regarded as part of everyday life and a staple with food. (More on wine later.) Anglo-Saxon attitudes tend toward less frequent but more concentrated drinking episodes, often away from the home and without food. Taken to the extreme this can result in a 'binge' culture, which has the potential to impact negatively on ones health.
Alcohol enters the bloodstream via the stomach and small intestine and begins to circulate around the body. Its effects are typically felt within minutes. Chemicals which control how essential communications are transmitted between nerve cells in the brain are affected, leading to impairment of the central nervous system. This is when one begins to feel 'drunk'! Dependence to the drug is thought to be the result of it triggering the release of endorphins and dopamine - chemicals which produces feelings of satisfaction and relief from pain respectively. High risk user groups include pregnant women, adolescents, the elderly and those on medication, where the effects of alcohol can be exacerbated.
Short term effects of alcohol on the body
- Central nervous system impaired
- Co-ordination and motor skills impaired
- Memory impaired
- Inhibitions lowered
- Vision impairment
- Sleep disruption
- Sexual functioning impaired
This can lead to violence, accidents, falls, having unprotected sex, and alcohol poisoning.
Long term effects on alcohol on the body/internal organs
- Raised blood pressure
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Liver cirrhosis (scarring)
- Brain damage - cognitive functioning
- Increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, colon and breast
- Stomach ulcers
- Impotence and infertility
- Damage to the foetus during pregnancy
- Mental health - suicide and suicidal behavior
How much should I drink...?
People process alcohol differently, so knowing how much to drink safely is dependant on a multitude of factors, including sex, body weight, metabolism and food consumed.
Australian Department of Health guidelines recommend:
- men limit their daily intake to four standard drinks per day on average, with no more than 6 a day.
- women are advised to limit intake to 2 standard drinks per day on average, with a maximum of 4 per day.
- A day or two free of alcohol a week is suggested for both sexes. The development of variable strength alcohol products (e.g. full vs. light beer) can lead to confusion as to what a 'standard drink' is. A standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol. This equates to 375ml medium strength (3.5% Alc/vol) beer, or a 30ml shot of (40% Alc/vol) spirit, or a 60ml (20% Alc/vol) sherry
It's not all bad news...
Given that heart attacks are the leading cause of death in Australia, research showing that red wine, specifically the skin and seeds of the red grape, contain high levels of the anti-oxidant resveratrol, must be welcomed! Resveratrol reduces cholesterol in the bloodstream, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. (White wine contains lower levels of the antioxidant, as the essential seeds and skins are removed early in the wine-making process.) This is not however carte blanche to medicate on red wine! Each gram of alcohol contains seven calories, so the recommended two standard glasses of wine a day should also be part of a holistic approach to personal health that includes exercise and improved diet.
Help with alcohol...
Alcohol and Drug Information Services in each State/Territory:
- ACT (02) 6205 4545
- NSW 1800 422 599 (NSW country) (02) 9361 8000 (Sydney)
- SA 1300 131 340 (for SA callers only)
- VIC 1800 888 236
- NT (08) 8948 0087 (Darwin) (08) 8951 7580 (Central Australia) 1800 131 350 (Territory wide)
- QLD (07) 3837 5989 (Brisbane) 1800 177 833 (Free call within QLD outside Metro area)
- TAS 1800 811 994
- WA (08) 9442 5000 (Perth) 1800 198 024 (WA country)