QUICK question: How many of you drank alcohol this weekend? I bet only a few of you can say no and stats collected throughout our country can back me up on that.
Alcohol is the most widely used and abused substance around the world, with Guyana being no exception. The World Health Organisation (WHO) averages over 2.5 million alcohol deaths annually around the world. The Drug Information Network (DIN) has determined that the average Guyanese will start consuming alcohol at just nine years old. The earlier the age of onset, the more likely to become addicted, which means that simply growing up here is a potential risk factor of becoming addicted to alcohol.
It is almost every day that I see people abusing alcohol with little care or knowledge about what is actually happening with consumption. Before you stop reading, I am definitely not trying to get you to stop drinking completely, I just want you all to have an idea of what alcohol is and what it does so you can make informed decisions.
Many people do not consider alcohol a drug but I’m both sorry and happy to tell you that it is. Basically, a drug is anything that has an effect on our emotions, thoughts, mood and behaviour.
Not only is alcohol a drug but many specialists will also call it a toxin or poison as it’s lethal in large quantities.
It is important to mention that all drugs fall under a classification based on the effects they have on the body and mind. Alcohol is considered a depressant drug.
You know that nice and calming feeling you get after one or two drinks? It’s hard to deny the pleasurable effects; there is a reason why we keep doing it after all. But do you know why you feel like that? Depressant drugs (like alcohol) slow down the functioning of your central nervous system – you are literally depressing the body. It feels good because when the drug enters the brain, it starts to release hormones such as serotonin and dopamine which are responsible for happiness, positivity and energy. Now the brain, being the efficient organ that it is, will stop producing these hormones as it is already being produced by a foreign object (the drug). This means that natural production of happiness, positivity and energy will halt and people do not feel this way again unless the drug re-enters the brain.
You may already feel like you know most of the harms that come with alcohol abuse and you may even be right. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job unless I reiterated this. It would take me this entire paper to list out all the harms of alcohol abuse so I will focus on the most common.
Alcohol affects us physically, emotionally and socially. It also affects us differently both short and long-term.
Many of us are aware of the short-term effects which typically happen during and a few days after intoxication. These include slurred speech, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Our eating and sleeping patterns are interrupted. There is a loss of balance and coordination which often result in accidents and injuries. There are impaired judgement and thought processes which can lead to abuse, accidental pregnancies and development of sexually transmitted diseases. After heavy use, some even experience blackouts, loss of consciousness and severe dehydration. In extreme cases, there can be alcohol poisoning which can have fatal consequences.
Extensive periods of alcohol abuse can result in long-term damages in liver and heart, various forms of cancer (mouth, throat, liver etc.), stroke, seizures and reduced fertility in both men and women. It can lead to permanent memory loss and nerve damage and can result in mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
There are also many social issues that can come with alcohol abuse such as loss of productivity, unemployment as well as familial and friend issues. People tend to have many mood swings and behavioural problems when consuming alcohol. I actually read somewhere that the phrase ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ traces its roots back to alcohol. In England, bars serve alcohol in pint and quart sizes. If a customer became disruptive, it used to be common for a bartender to tell that customer to mind their pints and quarts.
I’m aware that a fair number of articles would also have information on the benefits of alcohol use. There are many studies resulting in data that suggests that moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly wine, is beneficial to the heart and therefore prevents cardiovascular disease. Keep in mind the keyword- moderate which means one or two. Also, just because there are benefits does not mean that it’s risk-free.
However, I do feel the need to say that it isn’t just about the alcohol. Most people who drink will socialise at the same time which typically comes with a reduction in stress and nurtured relationships – two things that also affect our mental and physical health. Multiple studies have concluded that people who abuse or are dependent on alcohol live an average of 10 years less than those who do not have problems with alcohol.
Now that you know a bit more about alcohol, please read next week to see if you are consuming too much!
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