Drinking alcohol occasionally is fine as long as you know your limitations. But sometimes, people learn to become dependent on alcohol, which makes it dangerous. In the US, alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death next to tobacco and poor diet and physical inactivity. The World Health Organization reported that over three million deaths annually result from harmful use of alcohol, representing 5.3% of all deaths.
Six Deaths a Day
Alcohol consumption is linked with a risk of developing diseases and is a casual factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions. This includes mental and behavioral disorders such as alcohol dependence and major noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases, and more. Alcohol is also associated with unintentional and intentional injuries, resulting in road traffic crashes, violence, and suicides.
Previous reports from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) showed that alcohol contributed to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions, particularly DSM–IV alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries. In 2012, 5.1% of the burden of disease and injury worldwide was attributable to alcohol consumption. In 2018, 47.8% of the 83,517 liver disease deaths among individuals ages 12 and older involved alcohol. Among males, 52,499 liver disease deaths occurred and 50.4% involved alcohol. Among females, 31,018 liver disease deaths occurred and 44.2% involved alcohol.
In worst cases, alcohol dependence results in people not being able to control their constant impulses to drink even as the drunkenness causes relationship problems, job or school problems, financial problems, and health problems. Alcohol.org, an authoritative resource of alcohol treatment and trusted information on everything alcohol abuse and rehabilitation related, reported that six people die every day from alcohol poisoning, the effect of drinking too much alcohol too quickly. It makes up around 30% of alcohol poisoning deaths. Too much alcohol can result in vomiting, disorientation, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, loss of consciousness, and, at its most severe, seizures and cardiac arrest.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence said that excessive alcohol consumption not only affects the person doing the drinking but also the people around them. About 100,000 people who die every year as a result of drinking and driving, falls, fires, suicides, and homicides are related to alcohol consumption. According to some studies, a person who succumbs to excessive alcohol use loses a potential of 30 years of potential life.
Despite many efforts to encourage people to not engage in excessive drinking, they remain to consume alcohol more than what they can take. The epidemic is such that as many as 17% of men in the general population and 8% of women will meet the criteria for alcoholism in their lifetime.
Alcohol Impairs Cognitive Abilities
Alcohol not only affects our physical health but also acts on our moods, emotions, actions, and reactions. It changes the way people think and feel, and therefore influences how they act. The more alcohol you consume, the more it will affect you. For instance, you are probably more social and outgoing with a few drinks. But a few more drinks will make you start slurring your speech, falling, and becoming more aggressive. A few more drinks and you may blackout, not remembering what you did or said the next day.
Drinking alcohol can affect how people think because it changes brain chemistry, impacting a person’s mood, behavior, thinking, memory, and physical movement and bodily functions. According to Townsend, an online site that helps to provide a spectrum of innovative rehabilitation services, alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and carried into the brain where it acts on some of the levels of its chemical messengers or neurotransmitters.
These include dopamine, which helps to regulate emotions and enhance pleasure; GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which suppresses functions of the central nervous system and reduces the stress response; serotonin, which acts as a mood stabilizer and helps to regulate healthy sleep; and glutamate, which affects everything related to memory functions and formation.
Previous studies showed that alcohol consumption raises levels of GABA in the brain. GABA helps people feel relaxed and aids in lowering anxiety and stress. When alcohol binds to the GABA receptor, the neural message firing slows down, making us feel more calm, relaxed, and loosened up. Meanwhile, when ethanol blocks NMDA, another kind of receptor, it can make us feel tired and interfere with our memory. The more ethanol we have, the less we'll remember, which is the cause of blackouts.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also warns that excessive alcohol consumption can damage the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for decision-making skills and problem-solving abilities; the hippocampus, which is involved in memory functions and learning abilities; and the cerebellum that works with coordination, emotional regulation, and movement capabilities.
A recent study highlights the impacts of alcohol consumption the day after we drank. The researchers found out that hangovers impact people’s key cognitive processes, the so-called 'core executive functions', which we use in daily life to plan, set goals, and make decisions. It can even have economic costs. It affects our ability to switch attention from one task to another, update information in our mind, and maintain focus on set goals. Hangovers have been found to cost the UK economy £1.4 billion a year in wasted productivity.
According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, the study was participated by 35 people ages 18 to 30 who had reported experiencing a hangover at least once in the past month. The researchers asked them to complete tasks measuring to switch attention between tasks, to update and process information from multiple sources, and to guide and plan behavior whilst experiencing a hangover.
The team found out that individuals experiencing a hangover have a reduced ability to retain information in their short-term memory. They also report impairments when it comes to their ability to switch attention between tasks and focus on a goal. "Anecdotally, we may experience reduced performance of daily tasks when we are hungover such as planning activities and dividing our attention between several tasks. Our data show that this impairment is likely the result of reduced capability in several core executive functions, which are important for tasks such as workplace performance and driving,” senior author Dr. Sally Adams from the Addiction and Mental Health Group at the University of Bath said.