Hangovers are just short-term! Alcohol has more serious long-term effects

Published on: 9 October 2021, 09:00 am IST

Having a few drinks every other time may seem tempting, but steering clear from them will help you stay healthy and beautiful.

Dr Ankur Garg
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Do not overdo alcohol, because it will cause more harm than good. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Alcohol has been found to be the seventh most common contributor to premature death, amounting to 2.8 million deaths worldwide. Compared to non-drinkers, people who take even one alcoholic beverage daily have a 0.5% higher risk of developing alcohol-related problems. You may rub your eyes in disbelief but women absorb more alcohol from each drink as compared to men, so they are at higher risk of liver damage.

Liver, the largest gland in our body, is known for its two foremost functions that are secretory and metabolic. While at one end, its most important job is to break down and kick off harmful substances from the blood; on the other hand, it produces proteins, enzymes, and hormones, which are used by the body to ward off infections. 

stay away from alcohol
Don’t let the joy of drinking take over your life. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

As for alcohol and liver, factually speaking, liver can take up to an hour to process upto 90% of consumed alcohol or one alcoholic beverage. However, this time frame increases with each drink. Hence, higher the alcohol content, the longer it takes to process it, which is the reason why when you consume excessive alcohol, the alcohol that’s left unprocessed circulates in the body, and starts affecting your brain and heart. That is why pounding shots or playing drinking games can result in high blood alcohol concentrations that last for several hours.

Also, it is important to know here that chronic alcohol abuse can certainly cause destruction of liver cells, which results in scarring of the liver. Alcoholic liver disease progresses from hepatitis to fibrosis to cirrhosis.

So, is one drink better than none? Are there any benefits of boozing?

Well, let’s take this up one by one. 

  • First things first, no drinking should be considered safe and therefore is not advisable. Let’s be clear, alcohol will always have a degenerative impact on your body; moderate or rare drinking can slow down this impact, but not completely root it out!  But a small tip off here is that not all alcoholic drinks impact us equally. 

Also, read: Could you be gaining weight due to alcohol? A nutritionist answers

  • The effect of alcohol is based on the concentration of alcohol (ethyl alcohol) and different drinks based on concentration that have different amounts of alcohol. A standard drink contains approximately 14 gm of alcohol. This, when taken in terms of different drinks, is equivalent to 1.5 ounce (approximately 42 gm) shot of liquor, 12 ounces of beer (approximately 336 gm) or 5 ounces of wine (approximately 60 gm).
stay away from alcohol
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
  • The only benefit of boozing, if at all, is that is, it helps people slow down, lose a bit of control and be playful, which is important for social interaction and emotional bonding. Other than that, at the physical level, alcohol always has a degenerative impact on our body and system.  
What is heavy drinking?

Heavy drinking is all about consuming eight drinks or more per week for women and 15 or more for men. However, the effects of this and the timeline of these effects vary from person to person.

How do you know what your liver is trying to say to you?

In the early stages of alcohol-related liver disease, there are no associated symptoms, and one might not know about the disease. If symptoms are present, they normally start as upper abdominal discomfort, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite and nausea, and vomiting. Patients who have advanced liver disease normally present as jaundice, sleeplessness, abdominal distension, swelling in feet, easy bruisability and altered sensorium.

Also, read: Coping with anxiety through alcohol? Not a good mix, ladies!

What quantity of alcohol drinking should be seen as being a risk to the liver?

As per research-based evidence, the safe amount of alcohol depends on person’s body weight, size and sex. Women absorb more alcohol from each drink as compared to men, so they are at higher risk of liver damage. But in general terms, anyone who takes more than one drink on a daily basis is prone to develop chronic liver disease. If someone has underlying comorbidity such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes etc, they have higher propensity to develop liver diseases and progression of liver disease is also faster in them.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases
You need to be careful with your consumption of alcohol, for the sake of your liver. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
For how long can one go on drinking before it begins to affect the liver?

People who regularly abuse alcohol have compounded risk of developing liver disease. In the initial period, fatty liver and hepatitis develop signs which are reversible, when one stops consuming alcohol. People who stop at this stage can avoid developing irreversible changes. Once a patient develops chronic changes in their liver, even then stopping alcohol can help with progression of disease, however it cannot be reversed. However, patients with chronic liver disease and symptoms of decompensation must go for liver transplant as the only curative option.

All in all, life is just too precious and beautiful, to be wasted on a pursuit like drinking! 

So, stay beautiful, mindful, and healthy. 

Dr Ankur Garg Dr Ankur Garg

Dr Ankur Garg is currently Director, Surgical Gastroenterology & Liver Transplant at Metro Hospitals & Heart Institutes. 

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