ALCOHOL: WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU?
Bonus Alcohol Challenge
(My favourite drink: sparkling water, ginger, lime and ice!!!)
We all know that alcohol is a harmful substance. It makes us behave silly… it can gives us a headache the next day (a sign of toxicity)... it adds to our caloric intake and belly fat… it increases our risk for preventable diseases… but we tell ourselves that we drink responsibly and in moderation and all the bad health and harmful societal effects happen to people who drink excessively. And we carry on drinking regularly and for some, every day.
Why is that? What does alcohol do for us that is so rewarding that it makes us overlook its harms?
SOME FACTS YOU ALREADY KNOW…
WHAT IS ALCOHOL?
The alcohol in alcoholic beverages is called ethanol. It is a byproduct of the fermentation of the sugars in fruits, vegetables and grains.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL?
It’s a depressant. It depresses the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) slowing down the messages between your brain and your body.
It’s a psychoactive substance. It affects how you feel and behave.
It’s a toxic substance. Alcohol must be broken down by the liver before it can be excreted in urine.
It’s addictive. It produces dependence. Individuals experience severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop drinking.
It’s harmful to health when exceeding recommended guidelines: increases risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, liver cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, infertility (it reduces testosterone), dementia, high blood pressure, gut inflammation, systemic inflammation (whole body). The WHO claims that “No level of alcohol is safe for our health”.
It’s harmful to society. It is associated with crime such as robberies, violence, sexual assaults, car accidents, homicides… “roughly 40% of inmates who are incarcerated for violent offences were under the influence of alcohol during the time of their crime.”
FUN FACTS ABOUT ALCOHOL
ALCOHOL ABSORPTION & ELIMINATION
20% of the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream through your stomach and 80% through your small intestine. It is then mostly broken down by the liver with the help of enzymes.
Ethanol⇒ acetaldehyde* ⇒ acetic acid ⇒ CO2 + H2O
* Acetaldehyde is a toxic and carcinogenic substance responsible for nausea, headaches and increased heart rate.
WHAT IS ONE STANDARD DRINK?
Source (One standard drink varies between countries. I have selected the Australian standard drink as it is more conservative than the US)
WHAT IS BLOOD ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION (BAC)?
It is the amount of alcohol (in grams) per 100 ml of blood in your body.
BAC depends on the number of drinks, weight and sex of the person, medication (for anxiety, ADHD, cold, diabetes), food in the stomach (slows down absorption of the alcohol), speed of drinking, time elapsed since first drink …
You may feel that a glass of wine doesn’t affect your mood or behaviour. But in fact it does. And it makes you more likely to go for a second glass of wine even if initially you resolved to have just one.
This website will give you approximately your BAC and how long it will take to get to zero BAC.
For a 50 kg woman,
One hour after 1 American standard drink (150 ml of wine)⇒ BAC of 0.04% (BAC will return to zero after about 3 hours)
For an 80 kg man,
One hour after 1 American standard drink=> BAC of 0.02% (BAC will return to zero after about 1 hours)
Your liver takes one hour to detox one standard drink, reducing your BAC by about 0.015 per hour. Any alcohol that is not broken down by the liver accumulates in your blood leading to intoxication and drunkenness.
BAC of 0.02 ⇒ relaxation, mild euphoria, disinhibition, some loss of judgement, decline in visual function
BAC of 0.05⇒ exaggerated behaviour, impaired judgement, loss of small muscle control, lowered alertness, reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects and respond in emergency driving situations
ALCOHOL: ALL CALORIES. ZERO NUTRIENTS
Alcohol provides your body with lots of empty calories with no nutritional value.
This is what zero nutrients means.
What if you could replace the alcoholic drink with sparkling water, a slice of lime and a slice of ginger or perhaps a herbal tea and save those calories for a nutrient-dense food like animal proteins, vegetables and fruits? Would you consider that next time?
See other switch ideas in the SWITCH CHALLENGE
WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
In order to understand your behaviour better and have more conscious control over it, it’s important to approach any issue with non-judgmental curiosity.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, especially if you are a daily user of alcohol:
What is alcohol doing for you that makes you come back for more? What hidden need does it fulfil?
Are you anxious or stressed? Are you using alcohol to relax?
Are you feeling down? Are you using alcohol as a pick-me-up?
Do you lack a sense of purpose or a strong connection with a significant other? Are you using alcohol to numb your pain?
Are you struggling with a serious problem? Are you using alcohol to escape it?
Are you on a roller coaster ride? Are you drinking too much coffee throughout the day and using alcohol to help you sleep at night?
Are you shy? Are you using alcohol to disinhibit you and help you be more sociable?
Do you want to belong to your group of friends? Are you using alcohol to fit in?
Are you young and eager to be taken seriously? Are you using alcohol as an act of rebellion or to look like an adult?
…. (think of your own question)
In all of the above instances, alcohol is being used as a band aid solution for a deeper issue. It is up to you now to decide if you want to keep on using a harmful substance as a band aid for your problem or if you’d like to find a more lasting solution by:
Adopting a healthy lifestyle
Finding work-life balance
Trying meditation, yoga, walking …
Considering Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Trauma Therapy …
Diving into some deep soul searching, life coaching
Working on your personal relationships…
Surrounding yourself with friends who bring out the best in you
BONUS ALCOHOL CHALLENGE
Next time you’re out with your friends, challenge yourself to stay sober. Observe your friends after one, two, three drinks… It may get very interesting. It may get very boring. But it will certainly be a learning experience.
If things get wild and really interesting, challenge yourself to have as much fun as you can. Maybe you can be the life of the party while sober and you will live to remember all that fun without feeling awful the next day.
Here’s some final advice from Jordan Peterson:
If you feel you have a serious problem and need help, here are some alcohol cessation resources:
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About the author
Abir Ballan has a Masters in Public Health, a graduate degree in special needs education and a BA in psychology. She is a children’s author with 27 published books.