Of any drug on the planet, none is more acceptable than alcohol. For most, it’s not even considered a drug because of its legality and how easy it is to purchase if you’re over 21 years old, the legal drinking age in the U.S. Not to mention, no matter where you go, you’ll likely hear or see a commercial promoting its use, showing how happy everyone is while under the influence. We see our friends drinking and seemingly happy, but we may not see the aftermath—the hangovers, the misery, or the potential alcohol use disorder (AUD) that follows. Most of us begin experimenting in college, often drinking until we blackout. In some circles, this is a badge of honor, but many do not know the dangers that follow.
Drinking in moderation is typically not a problem unless you’re a recovering alcoholic. However, a beer on occasion when watching a big game with friends or a glass of wine with a nice meal isn’t going to cause a life of misery. Problems can arise when you feel an urge to drink before socializing because it relaxes you. From there, your drinking might spiral out of control. You might find yourself drinking in the morning to get through or drinking on the job to save yourself from getting “the shakes.” At this point, alcohol is a problem, and you’d benefit greatly from decreased consumption or quitting altogether.
If this sounds like you, you aren’t alone. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that 69.5 percent of those interviewed admitted to drinking the past year. That’s not too shocking, considering it could relate to a glass of wine with dinner. However, the figure that stood out was the 25.8 percent that admitted to binge drinking in the past month, with 6.3 percent of them opening up about health alcohol use the month prior. Alcohol use disorder affected 14.5 million people over age 12 in the United States in 2019. The same numbers highlight that 414,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 also had an alcohol problem.
Unfortunately, the phrase “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” has dominated our culture. Even worse, some people admit feeling pressured to drink when they’re with peers. The pressure allows you to convince yourself that a few drinks aren’t a big deal, even though the reality of it could lead to substance abuse, long-term health problems, or death. An estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year, making it the third preventable cause of death in the U.S, behind tobacco and poor diet.
If you’ve been drinking heavily and experience withdrawal symptoms upon cessation, it’s crucial that you seek professional care to overcome them safely. Alcohol withdrawal is among the most dangerous syndromes in medicine. It can cause seizures or delirium tremens (DTs), which can be fatal in some cases. However, if you binge drink on the weekends and not throughout the week, the benefits we discuss below can help you.
What Are the Dangers of Alcohol?
Alcohol consumption can harm your health, even with moderate use. For example, if you have a few glasses of wine one night after not drinking for a while and get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you risk a potentially fatal accident. Even if you only drink on occasion but consume a lot, you’re at risk of damaging your body. Alcohol is a poison; no matter how you spin it or justify its use, it is dangerous. Alcohol is solely responsible for 2.8 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year. Excessive drinking was responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20 through 64.
The most common short-term dangers associated with alcohol use include:
- Injuries caused by falls, burns, drownings, or motor vehicle accidents
- Alcohol poisoning, which results from too much alcohol consumed at one time
- Violence, including sexual assault, homicide, or suicide
- Risky sexual behaviors that cause STDs or unintended pregnancy
The most common long-term dangers of alcohol use include:
- Heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, stroke, and digestive issues
- Mental health issues, including anxiety or depression
- Cancer of the voice box, rectum, liver, colon, mouth, breast, or throat
- Weakened immune system, increasing the odds of getting ill
- Learning issues
- Memory problems
- Social problems
- Alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol dependent
By reducing your alcohol intake or stopping altogether, you can reduce these risks.
Benefits of Avoiding Alcohol
Quitting is never easy. When you’ve relied on something like alcohol for so long as a coping mechanism to ease social anxiety, relieve stress, or just be there for you at the end of a long day, it’s hard to giv
e it up, especially if you’ve become dependent or addicted to it. Although you think it’s helping you, you probably have no idea how much it’s hurting you.
Fortunately, you’re in luck. Research has found that some of the damage your body sustained while consuming the drug can be repaired when you avoid alcohol. If that’s not enough, other benefits are enough to get you to consider stopping.
Alcohol is dehydrating, and your skin is one area that suffers the most. A term called “alcoholic face” describes the adverse effects drinking in excess has on your skin. These include:
- Dry skin caused by dehydration
- Broken capillaries on the nose and face
- Reduced collagen levels, resulting in saggy or loose skin
Prolonged and heavy drinking can also cause psoriasis. When you stop drinking, your body slowly restores the elasticity to the skin. In addition, the redness and yellowing around your eyes will gradually disappear.
A Good Night’s Rest
Alcohol consumption interferes with our ability to get a good night’s rest. It stems from alcohol interfering with the sleep-wake cycle, causing difficulties in falling asleep. It also relaxes the muscles in your throat and makes you prone to snoring and sleep apnea. Although you’ll experience sleep-related issues in the short term after you stop, the longer you go without it and work on positive sleeping habits, the greater the improvements will be.
When you consume alcohol, it’s robbing your body of its essential nutrients and derailing your metabolism. That’s because it’s filled with sugar and empty calories. If you were to binge drink, you’d have no problem consuming 600 calories or more from alcoholic beverages alone. For perspective, we should only consume 1,600 to 3,000 each day. A few hours of drinking can translate to an entire meal. If you do this every day, you can imagine how detrimental it can be to your waistline.
A significant part of alcohol recovery is more than quitting alcohol, but it’s also learning how to live a healthier lifestyle. This includes eating right and exercising. Although our objectives all differ, getting yourself to a healthier weight is a realistic goal for those who maintain sobriety long-term.
Improved Mental Health
Alcohol addiction and mental illness drive one another. You drink to numb your feelings, but you feel bad because you drink, leading to more alcohol consumption. Self-medicating is common for those struggling with their mental health. Even those without diagnosable conditions might drink to numb the pain from the end of a relationship or the loss of a loved one. However, alcohol is making it much worse. There are less destructive ways to battle tough times or mental illness. You will reduce these symptoms and learn healthier habits when you stop drinking.
You Lower Your Risk of Cancer
Heavy alcohol consumption and cancer are likely. The longer and more often you drink, the higher the chances you’ll develop cancer. By quitting alcohol, your odds of getting cancer directly from alcohol drop substantially.
When you wake up each morning hungover, your brain is fuzzy, and you can’t think well. Heavy drinking causes your hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, to shrink. When you abstain from alcohol for several months and allow the brain to heal, you can reverse the adverse effects on your cognitive functioning, including memory, problem-solving, and attention. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll perform better at work, in social gatherings, and by yourself. It’s not worth drinking.