Ways in which alcohol can harm you are not restricted to your health and body

 Whether drinking becomes harmful for you or not, depends on multiple factors which include: how much and how long you have been drinking, your genetic predisposition and your body’s response to drinking

Drinking can be harmful if:

  1. Your drinking leads to physical accidents, fights, brawls or family conflict, thus disrupting your social and family life
  2. You get more and more focused on drinking and ignore your work, family duties or spend inordinately on drinking
  3. Drinking acts as a facilitator to drug abuse
  4. Your drinking leads to harmful effects on your body organs and systems, thus exposing you to medical risks

Find out whether your drinking is getting out of hand

Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning and other potential threats to life

What is binge drinking?

When you drink too much in a short span of time, you are binge drinking. But how much is too much and what time span is ‘short span’? There are slightly different definitions from different agencies

WHO defines Heavy Episodic Drinking, HED or binge drinking, as drinking at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol on at least one occasion in the past 30 days

NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 6 WHO standard drinks  for men and 4 such drinks for women —in about 2 hours.

Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning and serious GI (digestive system) side effects, which are all potentially life threatening

What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol can start to impair your coordination and memory between 0.10 to 0.12 percent. Anything higher than that will increase the harmful side effects such as blacking out, choking on vomit, seriously injuring yourself, suddenly passing out and extremely slowed breathing.

We tend to dismiss vomiting and passing out after binge drinking and think that the person will sleep it off! But, we need to watch out for irregular breathing, marked disorientation and such red flags, and if these could be present, the person should be taken to a hospital immediately

A very serious risk is choking on one’s own vomit, in this state, so the person should be made to lie on the side, so that the vomit does not go get inside

In people with diabetes, alcohol can lead to dangerously low blood sugar, especially if they skip eating while drinking

Binge drinking can cause what other threat to life?

Acute alcoholic hepatitis :

Sudden severe inflammation of liver, happens more commonly in people who drink regularly, when they binge

Acute alcoholic pancreatitis :

Majority of acute pancreatitis cases are caused by alcohol consumption and it has a high mortality rate. Also, repeated mild pancreatitis can lead to chronic pancreatitis, which is a debilitating and painful disease

Acute erosive gastritis :

Severe inflammation of stomach with pain, vomiting (often blood tinged) may need hospital based management

Esophageal tear :

Due to severe retching with vomiting, lower esophageal tear may happen. Mostly it needs same care as gastritis mentioned above

Stroke :

People who binge drink are 56% more likely to get ischemic stroke, which makes 80% of all strokes than those who don’t in the next ten years.

What are the long term harmful effects of heavy alcohol consumption on human body?

Heavy alcohol use is considered to be more than four drinks (WHO standard drinks) per day or more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week for women.

Excess alcohol use refers to chronic consumption of more than 80 grams of ethanol per day, or a daily intake of approximately 250 mL of hard liquor (4 large) , 500 mL of fortified wine (2.53 large glasses) or 6 cans/pints of beer/day

Heavy or excess consumption can lead to the following:

Alcohol and liver disease:

Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to liver inflammation. In some cases, it is sub-clinical and not detectable by blood test, But, it can lead to fatty liver and in time progress to frank hepatitis or scarring of liver called cirrhosis

For others,  alcoholic hepatitis can cause fever, nausea, appetite loss, abdominal pain, and even mental confusion and become life threatening!

In patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis, short-term mortality rates are high (approximately 25 to 35 percent at one month), whereas patients with mild to moderate alcoholic hepatitis have low short-term mortality rates (<10 percent at one to three months).

What are the stats?

Fatty liver to cirrhosis

It is estimated that 8 to 20 percent of patients with alcoholic fatty liver will progress to develop alcoholic cirrhosis. Factors associated with an increased risk of progression to cirrhosis include daily drinking rather than periodic binge drinking, cigarette smoking, obesity, female sex, and superimposed liver disease (eg, hepatitis B or C).

On the other hand, drinking with meals appears to decrease the risk of progression.

Hepatitis to cirrhosis

Research shows that one among five heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis whereas one in four develop cirrhosis, as per NIAAA

Alcohol and mental/ neurological damage

 Long ­term heavy drinking causes alterations in the nerve cells such as reductions in the size of brain cells.

It can manifest as instability or lack of coordination in movements or subtle signs such as decreases sleep, depression and problems in learning and memory

Alcohol and heart disease

Blood pressure

Heavy drinking is a major cause of high blood pressure. If one smokes as well the BP rises even more!

Weak heart and heart failure

Long ­term heavy drinking weakens the heart muscle, causing a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Symptoms of cardiomyopathy include shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties, fatigue, swollen legs and feet, and irregular heartbeat. It can even lead to heart failure

Alcohol and nutrition disorders

Alcoholism is associated with nutritional deficiencies of many vitamins and  minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin D, thiamine, folate, pyridoxine, and zinc

In heavy smokers, often the intake of even protein and calories is not adequate, which furthers the risk of liver damage

Alcohol and cancer

People who drink and smoke are 15 times more likely to develop cancers of the mouth and throat than nondrinkers and nonsmokers

Alcohol and tobacco together are also responsible for  25 to 30 percent of all liver cancers. In addition, people who take five or more drinks per day have higher risk of colon and rectum cancer than non drinkers.

Read more about health risks of smoking and how to quit smoking

 Alcohol and immunity

Heavy alcohol use depresses body’s immune functions and raises the risk for infections such as TB, pneumonia or even HIV

 Alcohol and pregnancy

Drinking during pregnancy can do serious harm to the fetus and lead to an abnormal child

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), is characterized by abnormal facial features and is usually associated with severe reductions in brain function and overall growth

So, are you drinking too much and risking liver disease? Find out! Read : low risk drinking in Indian context