“I am more afraid of alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy,” said Stonewall Jackson. Modern medicine has proven that the famous general’s fear was well-founded. There are many risks of alcohol abuse that can harm and destroy a person.
There is an increased risk or injury when a person uses alcohol. Research reveals that a sizable minority of emergency-room patients test positive for blood-alcohol content. “Several studies conducted in the United States and abroad have estimated that 10 – 40 percent of patients who visit an emergency department have detectable amounts of alcohol in their blood or on their breath,” wrote G. Borges in a 2003 study. A person suffering from alcoholism has a three times greater risk of injury while drinking, and a 1.35 times greater risk even when sober. The effects of a hangover may cause this rise in injury risk even when the person is not under the influence. Moderate drinkers even have an increased injury risk reports Cheryl J. Cherpitel, a researcher with the Alcohol Research Group. This may be true for two reasons: heavy-drinkers develop a tolerance to alcohol, so they are not as affected by it, or heavy-drinkers are so impaired that they cannot engage in as risky behavior. “…For example, they may become a passenger in a vehicle and sleep rather than attempt to drive,“ explains Cherpitel.
Several health problems are associated with drinking and alcohol abuse. The following is a description of some of the risks that drinking has for various parts of the body:
Scientists have known for many years that alcohol abuse destroys brain cells. Recent studies have confirmed this and expanded the understanding of alcohol’s effect on the brain. Health researchers at Oxford University studied 10,000 British civil servants from 1985 to 2015 to discover the connection between lifestyle and health. The subjects were subjected to surveys about alcohol use, tests measuring memory, reasoning and verbal skills, and MRI scans. The scientists discovered that people who drank alcohol experienced shrinkage of the hippocampus. This is the portion of the brain that helps short-term memory become long-term memory. It also is involved in spatial memory, which gives a person the ability to navigate. The researchers also found that both heavy and moderate drinkers had a greater risk of shrinkage than people who did not drink.
While it is a widely held belief that drinking helps the heart, this is not true for all drinkers. In fact, regular alcohol use can carry great risks for the heart. It can cause cardiomyopathy, a condition when the heart enlarges, thickens, and becomes stiff. This is caused in part by alcohol’s interference with proteins that build cardiac muscle. Over time, this reduces the heart’s efficiency in contraction. This reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Fortunately, if a person goes through alcohol rehab and allows his body to detox, the heart function can improve.
A Swedish study published in January 2018 found that a man’s likelihood of developing cirrhosis of the liver is linked to early heavy drinking. “Our study shows that how much you drink in your late teens can predict the risk of developing cirrhosis later life,” said Dr. Hannes Hagestrom, the lead researcher of the study.
Drinking also increases the risk of birth defects. Over 3% of babies are born with birth defects. These may be caused by environmental factors such as exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Even a small amount of alcohol can harm a baby in the womb. Researchers have discovered that pregnant women who average less than one day per week with alcohol consumption have up to twice the risk of having a baby with a cleft lip/palate or a neural tube defect, like spina bifida.
Alcohol use can also lead to family troubles. The Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo discovered that heavy drinking can damage marital relationships in several ways. First, problem drinking is linked to lower marital satisfaction. Second, drinking is associated with domestic violence. Third, alcohol and drug use is one of the reasons often cited for divorce. For women, alcohol use is the third most common reason they seek divorce. Men give it as the eighth most common reason they seek a divorce. Finally, drinking is related to marriages that report more negative interactions and fewer positive interactions of the spouses.
Drinking is also connected to an increased risk of violence. Crime statistics reveal a clear association of alcohol and violent crime: 86% of homicide offenders had used alcohol before the crime; 57% of men guilty of domestic violence had been drinking prior to the act; 42% of violent crime was accompanied by alcohol use. Researchers discovered this connection in the early 1960s. They ostensibly told subjects they were part of a study on learning and pain. The subjects were told to motivate other “participants” in a separate room to learn more quickly by administering an electric shock. The “participant” was actually a computer system that recorded the severity of the shocks administered by the subjects. Researchers discovered that the test subjects administered more severe shocks after the use of alcohol. AS the amount of alcohol use increased, so did the severity of the shock delivered. One reviewer of the study concluded, “These findings suggest that alcohol may facilitate aggressive behavior.”
Many people justify the use of alcohol because they believe it positively affects their mood. Yet, drinking actually carries a great risk of mental-health problems. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s neurotransmitters that are vital to proper mental health. Serotonin, a chemical important in regulating mood, is lowered by alcohol use. Drinking also is associated with higher levels of depression.
“Since I’ve quit drinking, I’m not sure I found the good life, but I’ve certainly uncovered a better one,” said Koren Zailckas. When the risks of drinking are considered, these words are true – it is a better life when a person can avoid all the problems that come with alcohol.
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