Christmas is a time to relax, catch up with family and friends and generally be merry, and for many people this means indulging in a tipple or two…or more. In fact, the average partygoer consumes 62 units of alcohol – the equivalent to 30 glasses of wine or 22 pints of beer – during the festive season1.
Christmas and New Year parties are filled with food and drink galore, but there are many costs to consuming too much alcohol, on both your health and wellbeing, as well as your purse.
Most people will be aware of the short term effects of alcohol, which mainly stem from being drunk. Not only does it affect your judgement, concentration and coordination, but also your general behaviour and emotions.
Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase a person’s risk of being the victim or culprit of a crime, having an accident or being involved in a fire. The knock-on effects of this can include loss of employment, damaged personal relationships and broken friendships.
While many of these side effects can be mitigated by reducing alcohol consumption on the day in question, there are several effects of regular drinking that can have a sustained, detrimental impact on your health and livelihood.
One of the more well known long term effects of alcohol is liver damage, which can take a variety of forms. Too much drinking results in fat deposits developing on the liver, which can then lead to inflammation and alcohol hepatitis. Excessive consumption can also permanently scar and damage the liver, which causes cirrhosis and increases the risk of liver cancer, particularly among women.
Alcohol is the biggest cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, particularly for throat and mouth cancer. It is also linked to liver, bowel and breast cancer, while data from Cancer Research shows that for every two units of alcohol people drink per day (equivalent to one pint of 4% lager) their risk of bowel cancer goes up by 8%. A woman’s risk of breast cancer also increases from drinking as little as 2 units a day, which is equal to just one small glass of wine.
Alcohol is the second highest cause of pancreatitis, which occurs when the pancreas slowly begins to swell over a number of days. The pain is not felt initially, meaning it can worsen without the sufferer even being aware of it. The onset of severe pain indicates acute pancreatitis, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Exceeding drinking guidelines can have a major effect on a person’s risk of having a stroke. A study in Scotland found that men who drank more than 5 units a day were twice as likely to die from a stroke as those who rarely or never consumed alcohol2.
Excessive consumption can have severe detrimental effects on heart health, including abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure and damage to the heart muscle itself. The high calorie content of alcohol can also result in weight gain, which can have further knock-on effects.
Although the prevalence of binge drinking has decreased in recent years3, it remains a problem, particularly among young people. This can have a significant effect on a person’s ability to have children, with just five drinks a week affecting a woman’s fertility. The same amount can lower a man’s sperm count, making it more difficult to conceive.
Alcohol consumption is closely linked to a number of mental health issues, including heightened aggression, stress and anxiety. It also lowers levels of serotonin, which affects a person’s mood, so a vicious cycle of alcohol dependency can lead to depression. Alcohol can also affect the memory, causing blackouts and leading to a Vitamin B1 deficiency4, which can cause the dementia-like illness Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome.
Many of these illnesses can be avoided simply by cutting down, monitoring and regulating your alcohol consumption, particularly over the festive period, when more tends to be drunk. It does not have to mean cutting out alcohol entirely, but by being aware of recommended guidelines and the effects alcohol has on your body, it is possible to enjoy a tipple without severely heightening your health risks.
1 Cancer Research UK http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-us/cancer-news/press-release/2014-12-05-boozy-young-brits-will-drink-nearly-4000-calories-in-alcohol-on-festive-season-nights-out
2 The BMJ http://www.bmj.com/content/318/7200/1725.full
3 Office for National Statistics http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/ghs/opinions-and-lifestyle-survey/adult-drinking-habits-in-great-britain–2013/stb-drinking-2013.html
4 Time to Stop http://www.timetostop.net/alcohol/alcohol-brain.html