Alcohol is something most people will enjoy from time-to-time, but we’re all aware on occasion things can get a little out of hand.
The ancient Greeks carried forward the mantra everything should be enjoyed in moderation – and that’s perhaps no more poignant in a contemporary sense than it is with the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Drinking can be great fun, but ensuring you enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly is crucial to experiencing it in the right way.
What is alcohol?
Alcohol is legally classified as a drug, and as such has the same sort of potent power on your system a narcotic might.
The type of alcohol present in commercial products is ethanol – which is produced when items ferment. This process sees things like grapes (in the case of wine) and malted barley (beer) broken down without the assistance of oxygen, thereby releasing natural sugars. When combined with yeast, ethanol is produced.
The length of time the fermentation process takes has a direct effect on how strong the alcoholic content will be, while drinks such as spirits will also be distilled with water to add even further to their alcohol percentage.
Typical alcohol percentages are as follows:
- Beer – 2-6%
- Cider – 4-8%
- Wine – 8-20%
- Tequila – 40%
- Vodka – 40-50%
However, as each brand may well have varying levels of alcohol, you should check the labelling for a more accurate gauge.
Alcohol is classed as a depressant, which is why an unhealthy and over-the-top intake of it can lead to majorly detrimental effects on your body – but more on that a little later.
The so-called experts have been advising for a while that there are a certain number of alcohol units we shouldn’t exceed every week – sitting at around 14 units for both men and women.
However, as handy as these parameters are, many of us would probably hold our hands up and admit we don’t really know what a unit actually amounts to.
The NHS provides a relatively useful tool for working out units, with their formula stating it’s the alcoholic percentage of a drink, times by the volume (in ml) and then divided by 1,000.
So, for example, if a drink has a 6.4% alcoholic content and is 600ml in size, it’s:
- 6.4 x 600 / 1,000 = 3.84 units
Thankfully, you won’t have to sit there and meticulously calculate how many units you’re taking in with every bottle of beer you’re slurping. Most drinks will have the unit numbers slapped on their packaging.
- A pint of beer contains around 2-3 units
- A small glass of wine contains around 1.5 units
- A medium glass of wine contains 2.1 units
- A large glass of wine contains around 3 units
- A 330ml bottle of beer contains 1.7 units
- A single shot of spirit contains 1 unit
Remember, this is a guide only and should not be taken as gospel.
As you might have realised, it’s fairly easy to exceed that recommended weekly alcoholic content – with even a few pints down the pub on one evening potentially adding up to a total of 9-12 units.
It’s certainly not a disaster if you exceed the magic mark of 14 every so often, but it’s best to try and avoid going over it too many weeks in a row. Long-term alcohol consumption can have a devastating effect on the human body, as we’re about to discover.
The Effect of Alcohol
When it comes to how alcohol attacks the body, the long-term and short-term effects will differ immensely. If you enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly only the short-term effects will apply – but for heavy drinkers, there are far greater health risks on the horizon.
Most people are more than aware of the short-term effects alcohol will have on the body. As a depressant, ethanol unsurprisingly begins to shut down your system and causes you to act in a completely different manner to your regular (sober) persona.
Your ability to think rationally is severely tampered with, as well as your judgement-making – which is why so many drunk people are often getting themselves into ridiculous situations.
Varying levels of consumption will have different effects on you, with a small amount of exposure serving to sometimes act as a stimulant.
However, if you over-do things it’ll lead to:
- An inability to feel pain (not as fun as it sounds)
- Toxicity to the point where the body vomits out the poison
- Coma or death from severe toxic overdose
These effects will be dependent on how much alcohol you’re drinking. Naturally, if you’re knocking back shots like nobody’s business, you’re probably going to end up trying to emit the poison from your body sooner rather than later.
Constant and regular alcohol abuse will lead to more severe health issues heading forwards. There’s probably not enough time to cover every precise bit of damage you’re doing to yourself – simply because practically every part of your body is being harmed in some way.
However, some of the more serious long-term effects alcohol abuse has on your system include:
- Brain damage – alcohol kills brain cells. Casual drinking certainly won’t have enough power for that to ever really cause you much damage, but regularly over-doing it certainly will. The parts of the brain which’ll be affected are the ability to learn and remember, which means younger people are a lot more at risk.
- Cancer development – behind smoking, alcohol is the number one cause of throat and mouth cancer. Unsurprisingly, cancer of the liver is also a prominent side-effect of regular alcohol abuse – as this is the organ which deals with the processing of the drug.
- Liver – on that note, the liver can develop a number of issues when overly exposed to alcohol. Fatty deposits will begin to form inside it, and these can eventually lead to alcoholic hepatitis – which will in turn eventually result in liver failure and potentially death. Cirrhosis is the most common side-effect of drinking.
- Heart – alcohol will trigger high blood pressure, which naturally increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, as well as developing some type of dementia in later life. It can also cause outright heart failure, as it weakens the muscles in that region.
- Other Organs – practically every organ in the body is under risk of failing if you continue to consume too much booze, including the likes of the pancreas, stomach, intestine, kidneys and even the skin.
As well as these deadly side-effects, there’s also the chance you’ll gain an excessive amount of weight – after all, as we’ve discovered, alcohol is effectively just sugar.
You’re also likely to decrease your chances of conceiving a child, with alcohol proven to have an impact on both male and female fertility. Pregnant women are also heavily encouraged not to drink, owing to the severe effects it can have on the infant in the womb.
When all’s said and done, the excessive use of alcohol will shut down your entire system and is sure to lead to an early death.