Joshua Cabrera, MD, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, is underscoring the risks of alcohol consumption now that the summer is coming and high consumption may be more tempting, particularly to younger adults. The dangers of alcohol, particularly for the brain, were highlighted in an article entitled “Cheers to your health: How alcohol affects your body,” published by Cabrera on the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine website.
Overindulging in alcohol affects the body both immediately and in the long run, but while there are commonly known effects, others are not so well-known by the general public. When drinking, the first and most immediate part of the body that is affected is the brain. “After a few drinks, our brains’ processing speeds begin to slow down, which translates into slower reaction times,” explained Cabrera.
“But how much you’re affected depends on your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC),” he said. Due to the impact of alcohol in the brain, the decision-making process is more difficult due to a decrease in inhibitions. The process by which the eyes readjust to light is also affected and there is a longer glare recovery time. Slurred speech, slower reflexes and lethargy are also commonly known consequences of drinking.
“The more drinks a person has had, and the higher their BAC is, the higher the risk that the person will injure themselves or others, especially in high-risk situations that require more coordination and reflexes, such as driving,” continued the investigator. “Whenever alcohol is involved, accidents are more likely to occur, but once the legal limit (0.08 percent BAC) is surpassed, that risk increases at greatly.”
Despite the fact that drinking one or two drinks is not harmful in the long-term for the health, binge drinking alcohol can be dangerous. Low-risk drinking means less than three drinks per day and seven during the week, for women, or four per day and 14 per week for men, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
“While there are a number of factors, both genetic and environmental, that can contribute to alcoholism, a largely overlooked component is simply the frequency and degree of consumption. The more often someone drinks heavily, the more likely it is they’ll develop a dependency,” Cabrera stated, explaining that social drinking is not dangerous, but having more than four drinks per day may lead to serious health complications.
Over a longer period, binge drinking or alcohol addiction can contribute to the development of severe health conditions, including kidney and liver damage. Losing memories of certain events after drinking is only a short-term effect on the brain; in the long-term, drinking can cause irreversible damage to the brain structure and function.
In the heart, the risks include alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which weakens the heart muscle, making it harder for the heart to properly pump blood and causing severe organ and tissue damage. There is also the risk of suffering from alcoholic-induced arrhythmias, a condition characterized by irregular or fast heartbeats caused by the interference of the alcohol with the body’s internal pacemaker, which can develop into blood clots, a stroke or heart attack.
However, the researcher notes that cautiously drinking within low-risk limits is quite safe. In fact, it has been proven that drinking a glass of wine at dinner can improve health. According to the NIAAA, moderately drinking lowers the risk of developing coronary heart disease, since it inhibits and decreases the accumulation of fat in the arteries.