Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Alcohol: Is it Good or Bad For You?

Despite what most people thing alcohol is the second most commonly abused legal drug in the United States after tobacco. There has been some debate over whether alcohol is good or bad for those who do drink. The difference between what’s “good versus bad” is in the amount and frequency that one drinks. To date, there has been no universally accepted standard drinking definition. Alcohol abuse is a major cause of preventable death in the United States. Heavy drinking can damage the liver and heart, cross the placenta and harm and unborn child, increase the chance of developing certain cancers, plays a role in depression and violence, and is a major cause of problems with relationships. The assumed benefits, if one drinks in moderation, include improving cholesterol, reducing one’s risk of heart disease, potentially protecting against type 2 diabetes and preventing gallstones.

But before we get all excited about the rum and cola you had last night, lets take a look at the numbers: 14 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism; alcohol plays a role in 1 in 4 cases of violent crime; more than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents in which alcohol was involved; alcohol abuse costs more than $180 billion dollars a year. Alcoholism cuts across gender, race, and nationality in the United States. 17.6 million people, about 1 in 12 adults, abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. In general, more men than women abuse alcohol and problems are highest among young adults age 18-29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older. There is research that shows that the risk for developing alcoholism runs in families; however, lifestyle plays a major role as well.

Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages can affect the body in many ways. It is classified as a sedative significantly impairs judgment the more you consume. Long-term users of ethanol are often defined as problem drinkers or alcoholics. Alcoholics are both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug, while problem drinkers are only psychologically dependent. Heavy and binge drinking overtime can cause inflammation of the liver called hepatitis and eventually lead to scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. Cardiomyopathy, an enlarged and poorly functioning heart, is also a major long-term side effect. Cancers that have been linked to alcohol abuse include those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, colon, and breast. Certain individuals should never drink and they include pregnant mothers, recovering alcoholics, those with diseases of the liver, and individuals taking medicines that interact with alcohol. As mentioned earlier, ethanol can cross the placenta and put an unborn child at risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. These children are born with facial deformities, abnormal behavior, and mental retardation, just to name a few.

In most cases, alcoholics deny that they have a drinking problem. Signs and symptoms of alcoholism include binge drinking; drinking alone; nausea, sweating, shaking, and seizures if some one is coming off a binge drinking session; depressed mood, irritability, and legal problems. Unfortunately, there is no cure for alcoholism, but the good news is that it is treatable. Treatment programs use a combination of both counseling and medications to help people stop drinking. The bottom line is that if you don’t already drink, there is no reason to start. You can get similar if not better benefits for your heart by exercising and eating a healthy low fat diet. If you already drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Men should drink no more than two drinks a day and women no more than one. Women have less total body water than men, so therefore it takes less alcohol to have an effect on women. The principles of good health for the most part have not changed. A good diet, regular exercise, and seeing your doctor on a regular basis is the key to longevity. If you don’t already drink, don’t start. If you do, do so in moderation and remember to never drink and drive.

For more information on alcohol visit www.niaa.nih.gov. (c) 2007 Rani Whitfield. This article was published September 2007 at www.eurweb.com

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