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Do you feel confused about alcohol use? On one hand, you know that it’s dangerous, makes you feel unhealthy, and can lead to serious conditions. On the other hand, you’ve heard that moderate alcohol use is beneficial for your heart and health. So, what’s the truth when it comes to alcohol use? Well, that all depends. It depends on a lot of things, including your age, lifestyle, health habits, genetics and, most of all, how much alcohol you consume. Over the past decade or so, researchers have been finding a link between moderate alcohol use and health benefits, particularly the reduction of heart disease including heart failure and coronary artery disease. The key to this data is the definition of the term moderate alcohol use. That means one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. If you have a tendency to over drink, especially on a continual basis, then the health risks of alcohol will far outweigh these benefits. Furthermore, if you’re not a drinker this doesn’t mean you should start drinking. Heart disease can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle including a well balanced diet and exercise, and no smoking. Evidence suggests other health benefits associated with alcohol, but nothing is completely proven, and most research is in preliminary stages.

The question of which type of alcohol is most beneficial is controversial. But it’s commonly believed that red wine is best because it contains a high amount of antioxidants as well as reservatol, an anti-clotting agent. Some researchers believe that beer, wine and liquor have similar beneficial properties. It’s important to remember that the definition of one drink of wine, liquor or beer varies greatly in volume.

Did you know women are at a greater risk for developing long-term health problems associated with heavy drinking? Women also tend to get drunk faster, and feel the short-term effects of alcohol consumption stronger than men. There is much speculation as to the exact reason for this. Some believe this is due to the higher amount of water in a man’s body. Therefore, alcohol is more highly concentrated when it enters a woman’s body.

The short-term effects of alcohol consumption are:

  • Distorted vision and hearing
  • Altered perception
  • Loss of coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hangovers
  • Sexual side effects

Most notably, however, is the danger that happens when drinking is mixed with driving. Drinking and driving is a deadly combination. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how much experience you have as a drinker or a driver. Accidents involving alcohol are prevalent, and the consequences are never worth it. This effect, however, is always preventable. Even if you have only had a small amount to drink, your reflexes, coordination and judgment may be impaired.

Alcohol is not for pregnant women. Alcohol can cause serious brain damage and lifelong behavioral and learning disorders in your baby if you drink when you’re pregnant. Drinking while pregnant can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome among other serious and irreversible conditions. If you are trying to get pregnant, you should stop drinking. The best and safest option is no drinking whatsoever while you are trying to get pregnant and while you’re pregnant.

Drinking more alcohol than one drink a day over an extended period of time, especially over a lifetime, will cause certain dangerous health effects. These include:

  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis of the liver
  • Pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas
  • Psychological and emotional problems
  • Stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cancer, especially of the mouth, esophagus and digestive system
  • Breast cancer
  • Osteoporosis

Alcohol has also been said to interfere with the way your body absorbs and digests nutrients needed for energy and health. This means that some of the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients you consume may not be used by your body if you are overdrinking. Also, people who drink a lot often skip meals and get a portion of their caloric intake from nutrient-less alcohol. Don’t forget if you’re watching your weight, alcohol is very high in carbohydrates and calories.

Alcohol also has many dangerous reactions with medications. In fact, over 150 medications react with alcohol to put your health at risk. Read all labels very carefully, especially when taking over-the-counter medications (OTC). Your doctor should talk to you about the effects of alcohol use when prescribing any type of medication. Taking aspirin with alcohol can lead to stomach bleeding and taking Tylenol® (acetaminophen) with alcohol can lead to liver damage. Even if you have a headache, refrain from taking these OTCs if you’re drinking alcohol.

Many women drink continually without ever being diagnosed for alcoholism. Alcoholism and problem drinking are two different issues. Problem drinking is characterized as a drinker who tends to get in trouble when drunk, can binge drink and become drunk, and has some of the symptoms of alcoholism, but is not dependent on alcohol. Alcoholism is mainly characterized by a strong, physical dependency on alcohol. Alcoholism is a chronic condition, which means it is incurable. Some symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • The tendency to drink alone, when you are sad or angry
  • Drinking interfering with your work, your family, or your relationships with others
  • Blacking out while drunk
  • Physical symptoms of withdrawal without drinking, such as nausea, insomnia, shaking and sweating
  • The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to feel drunk or “high”
  • Not being able to stop once you start to drink

Alcoholism does run in families. That means that if you have a close relative who has alcoholism, you are at an increased risk for developing alcoholism. That doesn’t mean just because your relative is an alcoholic, you are going to be an alcoholic, too. If you’re aware of this risk, then you can take the necessary precautions, like drinking only in moderation, to avoid developing alcoholism.

If you feel like you have any signs of alcoholism, remember that even though no “cure” is available for alcoholism, treatment is available. So much help is out there for you. Your friends and family might be very concerned for you, and if you talk to them or to a counselor or professional, you can find help. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have a track record of success and are completely anonymous. You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed about alcoholism. With help, you can overcome the negative effects of alcoholism on your life and begin to prevent frightening long-term effects.

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