41 Ways Alcohol Ruins Your Health
If you like to have a drink once in a while, chances are you're having a few more than usual, given the fact that we're all self-isolating. But the reason why we're self-isolating—to protect against the coronavirus—is all the more reason to drink less. You need your immune system at full strength to combat COVID-19. Read on to discover the ways alcohol ruins your health, and share this story with someone who needs to read it.
Ask anyone who's ever found themselves in the clutches of a hangover, and they'll tell you that the only thing they want the morning after a night of over-imbibing is food, food, and more food. Alcohol has a tendency to increase our body's production of stomach acid, something we often try to suppress with food — particularly food of the carb- and fat-heavy variety. Even worse, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so those plans to have a healthy dinner go right out the window after a cocktail or two.
When you drink, your circulation suffers. This is actually what's happening when you get that warm-all-over feeling from sucking down the sauce — your blood vessels are constricting. Research conducted at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center confirms a link between alcohol consumption, circulation issues, and an increase in blood pressure.
If you have a family history of epilepsy, there's no time like the present to reduce your intake of alcohol. Research conducted by the Alcohol and Epilepsy Study Group shows that alcohol use increases your risk of seizures.
Alcohol is a diuretic, and when consumed in sufficient quantities, it leaches water from all over your body, including your brain. The result is often a crippling headache, muscle pain, and a thirst you just can't seem to quench, no matter how much water or how many sugar- and calorie-packed sports drinks you guzzle down.
If you're in an elevated risk group for diabetes, whether you're currently overweight or simply have a family history of the disease, every time you drink, you're walking a fine line between good health and serious consequences. Alcohol consumption can not only cause you to pack on the pounds, which can increase your risk of diabetes even further, but also can interfere with your body's production of insulin, thus increasing your diabetes risk even if you manage to stay slim.
Have you ever felt your belly burning after consuming alcohol? That doesn't just mean it's a strong drink — that means the alcohol could be causing damage to your internal organs. Over time, alcohol can increase your body's production of stomach acid, eventually wearing away the lining of your stomach, causing ulcers and other painful gastrointestinal conditions.
There's a reason we often hear the phrase "beer belly" and rarely hear anyone complaining about their "green tea belly." Alcohol is notorious for contributing to weight gain, but it's not just beer that will do it. Researchers from Yonsei University in South Korea have confirmed a significant link between alcohol consumption and increased waist size and belly fat.
You'll Eat More Sugar
It's funny how many people would turn up their nose at a plate of dessert as it passes them by, but think nothing of downing cocktail after cocktail. From wine to mixed drinks to beer, many types of alcoholic beverages are packed with carbohydrates and sugar, adding huge numbers of calories to your diet as well as pounds to your waistline.
If there's one word we're all terrified of hearing when we visit the doctor, it's cancer. Although certain types of cancer are unavoidable, nearly as many types are directly related to the consumption of alcohol. Diseases like throat, stomach, esophageal, and liver cancer are all linked to alcohol consumption, according to a study of Lithuanian subjects, although the type of alcohol consumed—whether hard liquor, wine, or beer—didn't seem to have a significant effect on the rate of cancer development.
We all know that alcohol can impair memory in the short term, but its long-term effects on the brain aren't much prettier. The results of a British study published in Age and Ageing suggests a significant link between alcohol consumption and dementia. So if you're hoping to keep your brain healthy as you age, slow down on the sauce now.
Feeling stiff, uncomfortable, and cramped during your AM workout? The culprit could be those beers you had last night. Alcohol's diuretic effect forces your body to draw water from other sources, including your muscles, leaving you more prone to cramps, injury, and a serious lack of desire to hit the gym.
Lower Immune System
If you've ever felt like you get sick more often when you're drinking, you're not imagining things. Alcohol consumption can throw your gut bacteria seriously out of whack, compromising your immune system and making you more susceptible to illness. Because alcohol lowers your inhibitions as well, you're more likely to engage in behavior that could put you at risk for catching something, whether you're smooching someone new or resting your tired head against that sticky subway pole.
Trying to have a baby? There's no time to quit drinking like the present. Because it's often hard to pinpoint the exact point of conception, it's important to give yourself a break from the booze before you start trying to conceive. There's no consensus in the medical community about how much alcohol it takes to cause fetal alcohol syndrome, but research clearly shows that alcohol intake increases the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and pre-term labor. In addition, the results of a Danish study confirm that even moderate alcohol consumption can lower a woman's chances of conception.
If you've ever felt like you lost a few brain cells after a night throwing back drinks, you might just be right. Researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet found a significant link between binge drinking and lower IQ, and findings published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggest that alcohol consumption damages the parts of the brain associated with impulse control.
Your pancreas is one of those organs you probably don't think about until there's a problem with it. For people with diabetes, being aware of their pancreatic function can mean the difference between life and death, but many of us have no idea how our habits are influencing the pancreas until it's too late. Alcohol consumption can cause the pancreas to become inflamed, putting you at risk for everything from pancreatitis to pancreatic cancer.
Feeling bummed out the day after drinking—or even while you're drinking—isn't fun, but it is normal. Alcohol is a depressant and can increase depressive symptoms or even throw you into a serotonin slump that's hard to recover from. Research conducted at UNC's Bowles Center For Alcohol Studies found that mice that were given alcohol for 28 straight days exhibited more depressive symptoms weeks after the alcohol had left their system than those who abstained.
Increased Obesity Risk
If you feel like you're doing everything right but those numbers on the scale just aren't going down, your alcohol consumption could be to blame. The results of a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition suggest that alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of obesity and a greater proportion of belly fat.
While we've all heard that alcohol has a positive effect on blood pressure, it may actually increase your stroke risk. Researchers at Oulu University Central Hospital and Helsinki University Central Hospital found that both regular heavy drinking and individual instances of binge drinking are linked to increased chance of stroke.
Heavy Carb Intake
If you wouldn't eat an entire loaf of bread after dinner, why are you so comfortable tossing back a few beers at the end of the day? In addition to being highly caloric, alcohol is also loaded with carbs, whether your poison of preference is beer or sugary mixed drinks.
After a night of drinking or even just a few cocktails with friends, your body is begging to be rehydrated. In fact, your body's so eager to replenish its stores of water that it holds onto a lot of what you're taking in. Additionally, alcohol inflames the gut, causing bacterial imbalance that can be bad news for your belly. The result? Bloating, a puffy belly, and a lot more trouble than you remember squeezing into those skinny jeans.
Stopping the cycle of alcoholism in your family starts with you. For many people, alcoholism is an inherited disease with a number of contributing factors, both genetic and social. Leading by example with your children and family members by limiting or cutting out alcohol can help influence the social aspect of things. Research suggests that even when children of alcoholics are adopted into non-alcohol dependent families, their risk of developing issues with alcohol can be up to nine times greater than the children of moderate drinkers or teetotalers.
Decreased Kidney Function
When you drink alcohol, your kidneys suddenly have a whole lot more on their plate. They've got an additional substance to filter out—one your body isn't too keen on keeping around. Over time, alcohol can cause serious damage to your kidneys, contributing to everything from painful kidney stones to chronic kidney disease.
Salty Food Cravings
If you've ever spent the day after drinking feeling like your body doesn't want but needs salt, stat, you're not alone. Alcohol's diuretic effect can deplete your electrolyte levels, making you feel a frantic need for salt and sugar. Over time, this can lead to serious weight gain when you've tried one too many times to rehydrate using sugary, salty sports drinks.
Those healthy muscles you've worked so hard to build aren't getting any stronger when you drink. In fact, they're getting weaker and less effective every time you decide to imbibe. Not only can alcohol intake cause muscle atrophy, according to research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, it also saps your motivation to work out.
If you think that a mild headache is the only kind of pain alcohol could be causing, think again. Alcohol can cause serious and painful nerve damage, known as neuropathy. The risk is even greater among people with alcohol-related comorbidities, including diabetes and obesity. To keep your risk low, limit yourself to no more than one drink at a time.
Those labels on your pill bottle warning you not to mix it with alcohol aren't just suggestions, they're serious. Combining certain pills—whether they're anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills, or antibiotics— can have scary side effects when combined with booze, from gastrointestinal problems to weight gain to death.
Reduced Sperm Count
Healthy eggs aren't the only thing that go into making a healthy child—healthy sperm are also a major part of the equation. Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy our drinks, alcohol can have a deleterious effect on sperm count. The results of a Danish study conducted on over 1,200 otherwise healthy men between 18 and 28 found that alcohol decreased both the motility and quality of their sperm.
If you're feeling fatigued, dizzy, or bruising easily, you may be anemic. Adding more meat to your diet isn't the only way to combat it, though—cutting down on alcohol may help you recover as well. A UK study examining the link between alcohol consumption and anemia found that alcohol can seriously increase the chances of anemia developing, even among drinkers who aren't suffering from liver disease or other alcohol-related illnesses.
That fire in your belly and throat after you drink isn't a good thing; in fact, it could be a sign that you have damaging stomach acid leaking out of your stomach and into your esophagus. With alcohol as a potential catalyst, over time, this can lead to a variety of scary conditions, from ulcers to cancer.
When your kidneys aren't functioning properly, they don't just cause you discomfort, they can become downright toxic. Gout can lead to the development of uric acid crystals throughout your body, causing extreme pain, redness and inflammation, particularly in your joints. Over time, this can lead to a loss of mobility and potentially obesity-inducing inflammation.
Alcohol may be thought of as a social lubricant, but it can actually make you more nervous over time. According to the results of the National Psychiatric Morbidity Study, alcohol consumption increases your risk of depression and anxiety, and those conditions can increase your desire to drink.
Increased Breast Cancer Risk
Your stomach, liver, and kidneys probably come to mind first when you think of the body parts your alcohol consumption has the most effect on, but your breast tissue could be at serious risk if you're a regular drinker. Research suggests that women who have three or more alcoholic drinks each week have a 15% greater chance of developing breast cancer than more moderate drinkers or those who abstain entirely.
While many people believe that alcohol can improve your sleep, drinking often results in insomnia. For many people, alcohol makes the time fly, meaning they're up drinking much later than anticipated, then have difficulty falling asleep when they try. Over time, if boozing before bed is a regular habit, you may find yourself dealing with rebound insomnia, meaning you can't fall asleep unless you've had a drink. This can lead to decreased performance at work, social stress, and weight gain.
High Blood Pressure
We've all heard that old chestnut about alcohol lowering blood pressure, but the opposite may be true. The American Heart Association confirms that alcohol actually causes blood pressure to spike. So if you're at risk for high blood pressure or hypertension, it's a good idea to scale back or cut out alcohol entirely.
Blood Sugar Spikes
Have you ever found that your stomach has conflicting feelings about food when you're drinking or the morning after? Those sudden cravings, followed by periods of nausea or food aversion, may be the result of skyrocketing and plummeting blood sugar, both of which can be caused by alcohol.
Increased Heart Attack Risk
That pain in your chest isn't just the burn off that 20-year-old Scotch; it could be heart trouble. Drinking alcohol can be a risk factor for cardiomyopathy, increasing your chances of having a heart attack.
Cirrhosis, a condition caused by scarring on the liver, is deadly serious. When your liver is damaged repeatedly over a period of time, scar tissue begins to build, eventually impairing liver function. Over time, the toxic substances your liver was designed to filter out build up, making you sick and increasing your risk of death.
Drinking More Than You Intended
Have you ever felt like you only had a couple of drinks during a night out with friends, only to find that your credit card statement tells a very different story? Alcohol makes it more difficult for our brains to properly store information and limits our ability to form short-term memories, making it hard to remember just how much we've had to drink. Coupled with the inhibition that comes from drinking, you're much more likely to order extra rounds for the whole bar.
The vast majority of your immune system is located in your digestive tract, but that may not be true for long if you're a heavy drinker. Alcohol has been linked to increased risk of leaky gut syndrome, in which micro-perforations in your intestinal lining allow for particulate matter to leak out, potentially causing organ damage and other serious health issues.
Less Sound Sleep
Not only does alcohol make it harder to get to sleep, it also decreases your sleep quality. Alcohol consumption interrupts your body's natural REM sleep, meaning you're more likely to wake up throughout your sleep cycle and feel less rested in the morning.
Anyone who's ever had a little bit more to drink than they intended can tell you that the next day isn't pretty. However, more than sports drinks, greasy food, and RuPaul's Drag Race marathons, the one thing they look forward to is sleep. Alcohol's depressive and dehydrating effects make sleep sound like the nectar of the gods, and can often make it virtually impossible for you to go about your day. As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.
More content from ETNT Health
- – 13 Things To Know About Paxlovid, the Latest COVID-19 Pill
- – What Does It Mean To Be 'Immunocompromised'?
- – Warning Signs of a "Sudden" Stroke Everyone Should Know
- – If You Have This Gene, Be Worried About Alzheimer's
- – Most COVID Patients Have This in Common, Say Experts
- – Secret Messages Your Body Is Trying to Tell You
- – How Inflammation Affects Your Health
- – Immune-Boosting Habits to Help Get You Through the Pandemic