There is currently a lot of conflicting advice about the amount of alcohol it’s safe to drink. Whilst one glass of wine or pint of beer from time to time won’t cause a great deal of harm, binge drinking is another matter entirely.Whilst one glass of wine or pint of beer from time to time won’t cause a great deal of harm, binge drinking is another matter entirely. Drinking heavily over a prolonged period of time has serious health implications.
- Increased heart rate and palpitations
One of the first things that change when you drink is your heart rate. Even a small amount of alcohol causes our heart rates to increase and this can trigger palpitations and irregular heartbeat. In the long-term, drinking alcohol can increase the risk of heart disease, cardiac arrests and strokes.
- Nausea and sickness
During and after a session of drinking, you might experience nausea and sickness. Vomiting is your body’s way of ridding itself of toxins and when we drink to excess our body can’t tolerate any more. If you’ve ever vomited after a session of heavy drinking, that’s why! You might also feel nauseated the next day – this one of the most common features of a hangover and occurs because your blood sugar drops after drinking a lot of alcohol.
- Headaches and dehydration
Alcohol dehydrates your body, causing you to feel achy, weak and lethargic and increasing your risk of headaches, especially the next day. Alternating alcoholic drinks with a glass of water is a good way to prevent this, and it’s very important to drink plenty of (non-alcoholic!) fluids the day after to restore the hydration of your body.
- Impaired judgement
Even one alcoholic drink can affect your decision making abilities and hinder your ability to make sound judgements. This means you might do things you wouldn’t normally do and your risk of being involved in an accident or potentially dangerous situation is greatly elevated.
Even in the short-term, alcohol has an effect on our moods. Long-term alcohol abuse is proven to increase the risk of depression. As well as being a natural depressant, alcohol is addictive so the more you drink, the more you can become reliant on it when you feel stressed, angry or upset. This can begin something of a vicious cycle. Signs of depression include:
- Low mood on a continual basis
- Loss of motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue, often as a result of insomnia or disturbed sleep
If you think you might be suffering from depression, it’s important to visit your GP as soon as possible.
- Liver cirrhosis
Liver cirrhosis is a serious condition that leads to liver failure and is characterised by irreversible scarring on the liver. The liver has over 500 different roles in the body, some of the most important being:
- Helping the body to fight infections, particularly in the bowel
- Helping the body get rid of waste products
- Breaking down food and converting it into energy when we need it.
Drinking excessively can cause the liver to fail, and this irreplaceable damage means these important roles cannot be carried out properly.
- Increased risk of accidents
Alcohol affects balance and coordination as well as our ability to make judgements. It’s one of the most common causes of accidents and the NHS estimates that more than 10% of visits to A&E departments in England are directly linked to drinking alcohol.
- Increased risk of cancer
Drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of several forms of cancer, including liver, oral, bowel, pancreatic and breast cancer. This is because our bodies convert alcohol into a toxic chemical known as acetaldehyde. This causes damage to DNA and stops our cells from repairing the damage, leading to cancer. Acetaldehyde also causes cells in the liver to grow unusually fast. These cells are more likely to pick up changes in the genes that can lead to cancer.
According to research, drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer whether you binge drink all in one go or spread it out a bit at a time.
- High blood pressure
Drinking alcohol increases blood pressure. Drinking more than three alcoholic beverages in one sitting will increase your blood pressure temporarily, so repeated binge drinking will lead to a long-term increase. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. It’s important to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis because there are not often obvious symptoms to indicate high blood pressure.
- Weakened immune system
Long-term alcohol abuse can affect the body’s immune system, meaning you’re more susceptible to illness and infections if you drink excessively. It does this by producing an overall nutritional deficiency, which deprives the body of essential immune-boosting nutrients. When consumed in excess, alcohol can also reduce the ability of white blood cells to exterminate germs.