Alcohol, Detrimental or Advantageous? When you think about alcohol, what immediately comes to mind?

For me, many things come to mind: partying, dancing, relaxation, having fun and laughter. When I trained as a life coach, my mentor turned to me and asked me one day asking “why do you drink?” I immediately got defensive and asked, “What do you mean, why do I drink? Because I want to!” I was missing the point of course.

What he was probing at was the reasons for me to drink alcohol. Was it relaxation? Confidence? Perhaps to be a little more flirtatious? If you can identify what it is, then congratulations! Now you have a starting point for setting a personal development goal. By aiming to achieve your “alcohol” goal without the alcohol, you’re going to develop as a person. There’s no denying that.

I am not here to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do, I am only here to express my experiences and inform you all on what alcohol does to your body. I am constantly deciding to stop alcohol completely, then having “just a few” drinks, then ending up feeling terrible… which is exactly why, coincidentally, I am writing this at the moment.

I know that by identifying why I drink, I can achieve the goal in a different way and diminish the distorted belief that only alcohol can help me do that. Sure, it’s probably much easier to have a few glasses of wine and strut my stuff as if I’m Beyonce, but the challenge excites me to do that sober. I think that anyone who has followed my journey so far can see I like a challenge!!

Anderson P. and Baumberg B. examine the motivations behind drinking alcohol in “Alcohol in Europe: a public health perspective”. Surprisingly enough, it is this same article that mentions the “positive” effects of alcohol, although the underlying tone is a negative one. A study in the UK demonstrated that drinking no “booze” results in a lower mortality risk, which to me and you, is a lower risk of death.

For older people aged over 65, this increases to less than half a drink a day (5g of alcohol) and even more surprisingly increases again to less than 10g a day (less than one drink) for people over 65 (White et al., 2002). The positive effects are namely a reduction in coronary heart disease, according to these statistics.

It is important to remember these studies only take account of alcohol consumption and do not consider diet, physical activity or underlying conditions. I am not a big lover of statistics! They seem to remove so many other factors. I also find it interesting how the positive effects are shown in older age groups, whereas there is a common misconception that we should all drink a glass of wine a day… or is it two? How many times have you convinced yourself by saying: “It’s good for me, THEY did some study some place that said it!” 

It is also important to point out here that many studies were conducted on those who contracted coronary heart disease- it was this group of people who were shown to live longer by consuming low levels of alcohol, not the general population. I’m not an expert, but I wonder if the effect on the heart is anything to do with the fact it thins your blood, which obviously prevents heart attacks?

Besides the positive physical effects, there are listed many psychological benefits. These are very vague, and outline “better mental health”. I take it that the fact that alcohol is a depressant is being removed from this study then. Again, the point I was making in the beginning is that if you feel alcohol helps you to destress or be more outgoing, maybe it’s better (and healthier) to strive to achieve that in a different way? Oh, and I can also safely assume that alcoholism is being excluded as well, and the psychological and physical turmoil that results.

It is fair to surmise that the negative effects of alcohol do outweigh the allegedly positive ones. Again, when researching this, I did notice that the “negative” effects were mainly associated with binge drinking only, so I have made it clear what the negative effects are and when they come about. The definition of binge drinking provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is defined as 5 drinks on one occasion for men, and 4 drinks for women. Do you “binge” more often than you thought?

  • Just one drink, which is not binge drinking, effects our basic functions, such as walking, talking, and control of our limbs
  • Research by the Department of Health shows that a man drinking 5 pints in a week consumes the same number of calories as someone who eats 221 doughnuts in a year. If you value your waistline, and you “binge drink” according to the above definition, this is something to think about.
  • “Heavy” drinking irritates your stomach and can result in nausea and diarrhoea
  • Alcohol has a dehydrating effect, whatever the quantity. Not only will you have a headache, but your skin will also dehydrate leading to wrinkles and premature aging.
  • Extreme levels of drinking, which is more than 30 “units” per week (10ml or 8g of pure alcohol per unit, i.e. one third of a pint of beer) can occasionally cause psychosis
  • After just two units of alcohol, memory loss can occur, lack of concentration and one becomes mentally slower
  • Consumption of alcohol, although it is not clear how much, is linked to anxiety and depression. I for one can say I always feel really down after a night out drinking alcohol!
  • Binge drinking can lead to impotence, make you infertile and reduce libido
  • Drinking enough alcohol to get intoxicated or drunk can lead to suffocation by choking on your own vomit. The amount it requires to get drunk obviously varies from person to person
  • Binge drinking causes abnormal and irregular heart rhythms which can lead to heart disease, strokes or your heart becoming enlarged
  • More than two drinks a day increases your risk of cancer of the bowel and throat
  • Binge drinking can make you aggressive or violent
  • Alcohol consumption depletes your electrolytes (potassium and sodium). This is important for athletes- as electrolytes are salts that are naturally a part of body fluids and help increase the absorption of fluid into the bloodstream.
  • Binge drinking can affect your brain and body for up to THREE days!
  • Alcohol effects sleep patterns, which again, are all important for athletes, as this results in fatigue, impaired ability to recover and increased risk of injury.
  • Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, which causes increased heat loss and your muscles will get cold, which means they will be slower and weaker during contractions
  • Alcohol and muscle building do not go hand in hand. This is the deciding point for me. What’s the point in slugging it out in the gym and pushing myself physically if alcohol is detrimental to it all? Alcohol reduces growth hormone by a whopping 70%, which affects muscular development. Also, because alcohol is a toxin, your body will work to remove this first and not work on your recovery, hence you will not recover properly before your next gym session. Alcohol also decreases the concentration of testosterone in the body, hence affecting muscle growth.

These outline just some of the negative and positive effects of drinking alcohol. Ultimately, we are all in control of what we put into our bodies. As a competitive athlete, I can safely summise that alcohol isn’t a necessary part of my lifestyle. I shall be seeing the new year in sober! Have a great new year everyone!

Six Pack of beer, good for you or bad for you?

An article discussing alcohol and its effects on people and exercise.