Alcohol is the most accepted drug in society. Most of them have probably had a drink at some point. As a result, many people will have some experience with the consequences of alcohol. Yet a large proportion of people will not know what the risks of consuming alcohol are, both in the short and long term. Alcohol is a clear liquid that has no color or taste. In addition, it also has a faint odor. When alcohol is consumed, it causes a burning sensation. Alcohol is an energy-rich substance and contains seven calories per milliliter.
Of the 8.5 million people between the ages of 15 and 64, 78% have recently drunk. Of this, 25%, or 1.7 million people, drink it every day. Of these, 10% drink (more than) six glasses once a week or more, 2% drink more than three times a week and 1% drink (more than) six glasses almost every day. Beer is the most popular drink in the Netherlands. When looking at drinking behavior among students, it appears that 50% of students have already drunk at the age of twelve and 50% have already been drunk at the age of fifteen. Young people of Moroccan origin drink the least, as 17% of them have drunk at some point in secondary education. For Dutch young people this is 90% and for Turkish young people it is 39%. Most drink on the weekend. Of all fifteen-year-old boys who drink, almost 20% drink more than ten glasses at the weekend. For seventeen and eighteen year olds this percentage is 33%. For girls these numbers are much lower, 9% and 7% respectively. If we look at the percentage of male youth who have been drunk five or more times in the past month, this percentage is 15% for fifteen-year-olds and 20% for seventeen and eighteen-year-olds. These percentages are lower for girls, namely 7% and 6%. When looking internationally, it appears that Dutch young people drink a lot. While 25% of fifteen and sixteen year olds in the Netherlands have drunk more than ten times in the past month, this percentage is 1% in Sweden and 4% in the United States.
80% of all Dutch people have drunk at least once. The effects experienced by drinking alcohol depend on the amount consumed, or the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Other influences on the effect are physical condition, environment and mood. Other effects that alcohol can have are that blood vessels dilate, appetite increases and tension disappears. Alcohol also increases self-confidence and removes inhibitions and feelings of fatigue. In addition, the need arises to have more contact with others. Research has shown that people who drink moderately generally have more friends, feel more confident in groups, have larger social networks and are also more socially active than people who do not drink or drink excessively.
The functioning of the nerves and the brain is affected by alcohol. The higher the blood alcohol level, the more parts of the brain are affected. There are different parts of the brain that can be affected. These are the limbic system, the brain stem, the cortex and the cerebellum. First, alcohol can affect the limbic system. The limbic system has a function with regard to memory and emotion. Alcohol can cause a person to become overly emotional. It also makes remembering information more difficult or impossible at all. Secondly, the brain stem can be affected. The brainstem regulates breathing. With excessive alcohol consumption, the person can die because breathing is suppressed. Third, the cortex can be affected. The cortex ensures that information is interpreted and analyzed correctly. The alcohol makes the person less able to judge and think. A person is also less inhibited when the cortex is affected by drinking alcohol. In addition, self-confidence is increased and the functioning of the senses deteriorates. Finally, the cerebellum can be affected. The cerebellum ensures the coordination of movements. Alcohol causes the person’s ability to balance to be affected, causing the person to sway, but also, for example, preventing the person from bringing their finger in a straight line to the tip of their nose.
In addition, alcohol also affects the functioning of various neurotransmitters. These are the neurotransmitters glutamate, dopamine and GABA. First, the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate ensures the stimulation of other nerve cells in their activity. Alcohol ensures that this effect cannot take place. Alcohol causes the shape of the receptor to change, preventing glutamate from binding to it. As a result, the stimulating effect of glutamate decreases and the brain works less quickly. This also explains the blackouts that can be experienced. There are many glutamate receptors in the hypocampus, and the hypocampus plays an important role in short-term memory. When alcohol binds to these receptors, it disrupts memory functions. Secondly, the dopamine system. The dopamine system ensures that the reward center is stimulated. When alcohol comes into contact with the dopamine system, the person starts to feel good. Finally, the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA has the opposite effect of glutamate and ensures that other nerve cells are inhibited in their activity. This effect is further enhanced by the alcohol. Alcohol and GABA bind to the same receptor. When this is done at the same time, GABA remains on the receptor longer, causing an inhibitory effect to be delivered to the nerve for a longer period of time. It also ensures that GABA can bind to the receptor more often.
The positive consequences of alcohol consumption
In addition to all the negative consequences that alcohol has, there are also a number of positive consequences. For example, if someone consumes a glass of alcohol per day, this has a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. But, too much alcohol has a negative effect. Since heart disease generally occurs in middle-aged people, the protective effect is mainly in men over 40 years of age and in women over 50 years of age. Alcohol ensures that bad cholesterol is removed from the blood and vessel walls, and the good cholesterol increases. This is why alcohol has a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. Alcohol also slows down the sticking of platelets together. This ensures that blood vessels are less likely to clog. Alcohol also ensures that the drinker has fun. This has a positive effect on health. This effect is greatest when someone drinks moderately and smallest when someone does not drink at all or drinks too much. In addition, many people appreciate the effect of moderate alcohol consumption. This makes a person more alert, fatigue disappears, worries disappear, he becomes cheerful and he speaks more easily. And finally, alcohol has positive economic consequences. So it is that the production of alcohol employs 8,500 people. In addition, another 2,600 people work in the sale of alcohol. 300,000 people have jobs in the catering industry. The turnover in the catering industry amounts to 4.4 billion and the revenue that the government obtains from excise duties amounts to 0.85 billion.
Moderate alcohol consumption for men means that they should drink no more than two standard drinks per day. On special occasions this is no more than five. For women, moderate alcohol consumption is equivalent to one standard drink per day and no more than three on special occasions. To prevent habit formation, a person should not drink for two days.
The physical consequences of alcohol consumption
Alcohol has several physical consequences. Below is a selection of consequences. As previously described, alcohol contains seven calories per milliliter. On top of that are the calories from the sugars in the drink. The energy created by drinking alcohol is used immediately and is not stored. Alcohol alone cannot cause weight gain. But this can happen due to the aforementioned sugars found in drinks. Sugars are converted into fat in the body and if this fat is not burned, it is stored. In men this is around the abdomen, in women on the upper arms, thighs and hips. Drinking alcohol can also make you feel hungry, because alcohol itself does not contain any useful nutrients, only energy. Because alcohol has a relaxing effect, people fall asleep more easily, but people also wake up earlier and sleep more restlessly. There is insufficient deep sleep, resulting in less rest. REM sleep is also reduced. The unpleasant odor that someone exhales when he has been drinking is caused by part of the alcohol in the blood being released into the alveoli. This happens while passing through the alveoli. The hangover that someone may experience is a form of alcohol poisoning.
The brain is developing until the age of 24. The part of the brain that is responsible for planning, self-control and reasoning is still developing during puberty. An important brain area for memory, the hippocampus, is also still developing during puberty. Alcohol therefore causes damage. For example, research shows that young people who abuse or are dependent on alcohol have a smaller hippocampus. The hippocampus is therefore extra sensitive to alcohol during the adolescence phase. In addition, it also appears that young people who have an alcohol problem have less white matter in the brain area. This white matter ensures that the axons are surrounded by an insulating layer. Both problems, i.e. the reduced white matter and the smaller hippocampus, can cause disruptions in brain functions that affect memory and thinking for a longer period of time. It is also the case that young people who have an alcohol problem have a lower oxygen concentration in certain parts of the brain than young people without alcohol problems. This causes them to perform worse on certain memory tasks. However, it is not clear whether these effects are permanent.
Binge drinking is the phenomenon in which a person drinks a lot once. When binge drinking, the blood alcohol content must rise to 0.8 per mille or more. For a man, for example, this is drinking six glasses in two hours. Binge drinking can affect both short- and long-term memory.
If someone drinks a lot once, a blackout can occur. This means that information entering short-term memory cannot be sorted and encoded, so it does not end up in long-term memory. Long-term memory also functions worse the day after a person has drunk a lot than in people who did not drink the previous day.
Problematic drinkers can develop serious nervous disorders due to a vitamin B1 deficiency caused by alcohol. The fact is that nerve cells cannot function without vitamin B1. People who drink problematically have a vitamin B1 deficiency for various reasons. For example, their bodies absorb the vitamin less than others because the mucous membranes of the digestive organs are inflamed or damaged by the alcohol. They also lose vitamin B1 by vomiting or because they have diarrhea, but they also get less vitamin B1 because they often eat poorly.
When drinking excessively, the number of neurons in the frontal lobe may decrease. This can negatively affect concentration, memory and critical and analytical skills. From six glasses a day, people have an increased risk of this. If someone drinks even more in one day, Wernicke/Korsakov syndrome and polyneuropathy can occur. Polyneuropathy occurs when someone drinks eight glasses of alcohol per day over a longer period of time. It can also occur when someone drinks less, but this is especially true when someone eats poorly. Polyneuropathy is a nerve disorder, mainly affecting the longest nerves, which are most commonly affected. The complaints that may occur include paralysis (mainly in the lower legs), loss of function and a painful/burning feeling in the fingers and feet. Wernicke/Korsakov’s syndrome has two stages, the immediate stage (Wernicke’s disease) and the chronic stage (Korsakov’s disease). Wernicke’s disease has three main symptoms, namely confusion, eye movement disorders and gait disturbances. In Wernicke’s case, cell death occurs, which can cause pinpoint hemorrhages to develop in a number of brain structures. Wernicke could be fatal.
Korsakov’s disease causes serious memory disorders . Storing new information is difficult and information that has previously been stored can be forgotten. The memories that are stored first and are therefore the oldest are preserved best. People with Korsakov also find it difficult to place the memories at the correct time. The memory that ensures that people can still perform certain things, such as playing an instrument, is still relatively undamaged. The part of the memory that ensures that people can carry out things is seriously damaged.
Heart and vessels
Drinking more than three glasses of alcohol per day has a negative impact on the heart. There is then an increased risk of increased blood pressure. Increased blood pressure in turn increases the risk of a heart attack. It can also lead to cardiomyopathy. This causes the heart muscle to have difficulty contracting or relaxing. This means that the blood can no longer be pumped properly. Cardiomyopathy is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 and by the toxic effects of acetaldehyde and alcohol. This can cause heart failure with cardiac arrhythmias and an increased risk of blood clots.
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of a stroke. There are two different strokes, namely cerebral hemorrhage and cerebral infarction. During a cerebral hemorrhage, a blood vessel bursts and during a cerebral infarction a blood vessel becomes blocked. There may already be a positive link between alcohol and a brain haemorrhage from just one drink per day. This positive association can be explained by the fact that alcohol causes increased blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias and cardiomyopathy. In addition, alcohol also reduces the number of platelets, which play an important role in blood clotting. Alcohol is therefore not protective against a cerebral haemorrhage, but small amounts are protective against a cerebral infarction. From seven glasses a day, the risk of a cerebral infarction increases. This protective effect can be explained by the fact that alcohol prevents platelets from sticking together as quickly.
Drinking large amounts is not good for the blood vessels and the heart. People who drink large amounts are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Binge drinking causes increased blood pressure. It can also cause serious cardiac arrhythmias. And finally, it increases the risk of a cerebral infarction.
Gastritis, liver diseases and pancreatitis
When someone drinks excessively, the stomach lining can become inflamed. Symptoms of this include stomach pain, heartburn, bloating and belching. Chronic alcoholics may experience morning vomiting. The inflamed stomach lining can cause bleeding. This can manifest itself in tarry stools or vomiting blood.
Various liver diseases can develop due to alcohol consumption. This can cause the liver to become inflamed. This is also called alcohol hepatitis. Alcohol hepatitis can be fatal and can be a precursor to liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is a chronic condition. This involves replacing liver cells that have died with connective tissue. This causes a narrowing of the blood vessels in the liver. All this causes reduced liver function. This causes the liver to shrivel and become smaller. This effect occurs gradually. Liver cirrhosis can result in death. Recovering from liver cirrhosis is not possible. Not all alcohol addicts develop liver cirrhosis. The group that did develop liver cirrhosis is about 15%. About 600 people die every year from liver diseases caused by alcohol. Finally, there is the fatty liver. The liver breaks down alcohol. When too much alcohol is consumed, fat accumulates in the blood and liver. This can cause the liver to swell. Because this fat accumulation takes place, the liver cell can become damaged or, in a worse case, die. It is already possible to develop a fatty liver after a few days of drinking a lot. However, the liver can also recover if you do not drink for a number of weeks. This does depend on the damage that has occurred.
Alcoholics can also suffer from an inflamed pancreas. This is because the pancreas produces digestive juices and alcohol stimulates this even more. This extra production can cause inflammation. When there is severe inflammation, the juices can cause inflammation anywhere. This can have a fatal outcome. There is even a chance that pancreatitis will become chronic. When a pancreas malfunctions, this can lead to digestive problems and diabetes.
The risk of cancer can also be increased by consuming alcohol. Of all people who die from cancer, about 4 to 6% are caused by excessive drinking of alcohol. This is between 1500 and 2300 deaths every year. There are several types of cancer that are related to cancer. These forms are liver, esophagus, breast, intestine, oral cavity, larynx and pharynx and pancreas.
Psychoses can also arise from excessive drinking. For example, people can suffer from psychotic disorders with hallucinations or delusions and delirium tremens. Hallucinations occur with delirium. In delirium tremens, the person breaks out in a sweat, is bright red, loses consciousness, increases the temperature and has extreme anxiety. The delirium can last up to 72 hours and during this time there is complete insomnia. A person suffers from alcohol-induced psychotic disorders when delusions or hallucinations occur within a month of consuming or abstaining from alcohol. These delusions and hallucinations are perceived as real and the awareness of the connection with alcohol is not seen.
The social consequences of alcohol consumption
In addition to the physical consequences of alcohol and the addiction that someone can develop, alcohol also has consequences for society. For example, the social costs caused by alcohol are 2.6 billion per year. There are also costs that correlate with crimes, accidents, addiction care, softening, work and health care, so that the actual costs may be higher than the amount already thought. For example, the costs of traffic accidents that can be related to alcohol are 2 million. The use of alcohol in traffic also causes 115 deaths and 2,600 serious injuries. When looking at the costs of alcohol-related cancer in healthcare, it appears that these costs are not taken into account. Yet alcohol causes 4 to 6% of cancer cases.