Health Brief: Almost Alcoholics
For years there have been standards for alcoholism, but studies at Harvard Medical School are presenting a new list of symptoms that correlate to drinkers who are considered ‘almost alcoholics’.
Read the checklist below; if you identify with one or more of the following statements, you might be on a dangerous path to full-fledged alcoholism and should reconsider your drinking habits. You may not be physically dependent like a true alcoholic, but the difference is a matter of degree and alcohol abuse is a slippery slope.
Ten Signs You Might Be An ‘Almost Alcoholic’
- You drink to relieve stress
- You drink alone
- You look forward to drinking
- Your drinking may be related to one or more health problems
- You drink to relieve boredom or loneliness
- You drive after drinking
- You drink to maintain a “buzz”
- Your performance at work is not what it used to be
- You aren’t comfortable in social situations where there is no drinking
- You find that drinking helps you overcome your shyness
- People annoy you by criticizing your drinking
- You feel bad or guilty about your drinking
- You’ve had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover
Alcohol and Your Body
Much attention is given to the long-term effects of heavy alcohol use, but little attention is given to the immediate physiological consequences of alcohol use. While alcoholics are considered to be those who have been drinking heavily for many years, evidence has shown that heavy use over a short time period, for example in college, can produce results just as dramatic and damaging. Alcohol is metabolized very quickly by the body, and unlike food, does not need digestions and is absorbed quickly by the walls of the stomach. 20 percent of alcohol ingested on an empty stomach can reach the brain within one minute. After passing through the stomach, alcohol is rapidly absorbed by the upper portion of the small intestine and is sent to the liver. Repeated absorption of alcohol in the digestive system can cause stomach and intestinal inflammation.
The liver is the organ most dramatically affected by alcohol intake. When alcohol is present, liver cells are preoccupied with the task of metabolizing the alcohol, which allows other fatty acids to accumulate in the liver, sometimes in large amounts. Alcohol metabolism permanently changes the structure of liver cells and decreases the liver’s capacity to metabolize fats, leading heavy drinkers to develop fatty livers. Fatty liver interferes with the distribution of oxygen and nutrients to liver cells, sometimes causing liver cells to die and form scar tissue leading to cirrhosis.
Moderate drinkers often experience low blood sugar and an increased appetite, which can lead to overconsumption of empty calories and weight gain. Alcohol itself actually has 7 calories per gram, and these calories are completely lacking in nutrients. Combine that with the damage alcohol does to the metabolism of nutrients in the liver and malnutrition can result.
Even moderate alcohol consumption increases a person’s risk for cancer of the liver, pancreas, rectum, breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus. Recurrent binge drinking can cause the kidneys to become enlarged, altering hormone function and increasing the risk for kidney failure.
Although alcohol advertisements show young gorgeous people drinking their beverage of choice, the reality is that excessive alcohol precipitates premature aging and causes facial capillary dilation leading to unattractive blotching and redness. Muscle degeneration can also result from alcohol use because the liver is unable to metabolize proteins as effectively, and this can cause flabby muscles.
Moderate alcohol use can still be a safe and enjoyable experience if you drink reasonable amounts slowly and with food. Space your drinks out to no more than one per hour and be sure to drink plenty of water in between. Never drink while pregnant and do not drive while intoxicated.