Alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world. Do you drink? You may be a social drinker or you may drink every day. Perhaps you drink a glass of wine once a month or you finish a whole bottle in one evening. But have you ever stopped and wondered, how much alcohol is too much?
A recent worldwide study of alcohol use and its impact on our health concludes that the safest level of alcohol consumption is none. According to the researchers of the study, published in the journal The Lancet last month, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Any protective health effects of alcohol are offset by the risks.
In fact, this comprehensive study notes that in 2016, alcohol use was the main cause of death and disability for people aged 15 to 49, accounting for 12 percent of deaths in men of that age. It was also the 7th leading risk factor for early death.
Many of us are aware that drinking alcohol in high doses can lead to acute harm (e.g. accidents or violence to oneself or others), intoxication, cardiac arrhythmia, heart failure and even death. But what about moderate drinking, i.e. one drink a day for women and two for men? Well, it turns out that long term use (cumulative consumption) of alcohol increases the risk of a wide range of illnesses, including:
- high blood pressure
- breast cancer, liver cancer, colorectal cancer as well as cancers of the mouth and throat
- depression (which may lead to suicide)
- gastritis, gastric ulcers
- liver cirrhosis
- alcoholism, alcohol addiction
Excessive alcohol use is also associated with a variety of serious social issues, including domestic violence, child neglect/ abuse and absenteeism in the workplace.
So, now what? What does this study have to do with me?
Well, that depends.
If you drink fairly infrequently, once in a while at social gatherings, on your birthday or Christmas, then these findings may not be relevant to you, as the study focuses more on people who drink at least one drink once a day. If you choose to drink alcohol, know the risks and drink responsibly.
If you have one or more drinks every day, take heed. The risk of illness increases rapidly the more you drink. For people who consume 2 drinks a day, the risk of developing one of the 23 alcohol-related health problems increases by 7% over one year. For those who drink 5 drinks a day, the risk increases by 37% over one year.
Dr. Yik has seen her share of patients struggling with alcoholism- teenagers, professionals, fathers, mothers… Yes, even mothers! Healthcare professionals and addiction counsellors are seeing an increase in mothers seeking help for alcohol problems. This may be due to the current mommy drinking culture, which is vehemently reinforced by social media and advertising.
Seek a trusted doctor if you suspect you have a drinking problem. Symptoms include a strong, often uncontrollable, desire to drink, the urge to drink when feeling stressed or anxious, the need to drink more to achieve the same effects and/ or becoming more irritable and tired while being intoxicated more frequently.
If you do not drink alcohol, the advice from the researchers (as well as the American Heart Association) is clear: do NOT start drinking.
Glaser, Gabrielle. Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink- and How They Can Regain Control.