Health Column - June/July 23
Alcohol: The Pros and Cons
Settling down with a pint of beer or glass of wine can feel like one of the highlights of the week, yet tempering consumption of alcohol and understanding the risks (and occasional benefits) involved will ultimately make us happier, healthier people.
Negative effects of alcohol
As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows down brain function and can lead to dizziness, slurred speech and impaired coordination.
Long-term heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis and bring about other diseases of the liver. It can also increase the risk of certain types of cancer, plus bring on cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.
On the emotional side, alcohol abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, memory loss, difficulty with problem-solving, and reduced ability to learn and retain information.
Positive effects of alcohol
Strangely, a potential benefit is a reduced risk of heart disease. Studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption can increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as ‘good’ cholesterol.
Alcohol can also have anti-inflammatory effects, which can further contribute to a reduced risk of heart disease; while another study found that moderate consumption was associated with a lower risk of ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain.
Mostly, the benefits are social and psychological. Reducing stress and promoting relaxation will improve overall wellbeing, while drinking in social situations can promote social bonding and improve interactions.
Keeping an eye on things
If you feel that you are drinking too much alcohol and want to cut down, consider these strategies:
1 Set a goal and track your progress - Decide on a realistic goal for how much you want to cut down and keep track of your progress. This can help you stay motivated and see how you're doing.
2 Identify your triggers - Think about what triggers your desire to drink and try to avoid or manage these, be they social situations, stress, boredom or something else.
3 Find alternative activities - Identify alternative activities you enjoy doing that don't involve drinking, such as exercise, reading, or spending time with friends who don't drink.
4 Limit your access - If you tend to drink at home, don't keep alcohol in the house. Or, if you tend to drink in bars or restaurants, avoid going to these places, or learn to say no to alcohol when you don't want to drink.
5 Plan ahead - If you know you'll be in a situation where alcohol is present, plan ahead and decide how much you'll drink in advance, then stick to it.
6 Seek support - Consider reaching out to friends or family for support, or seek professional help if you're struggling to cut down on your own.