Safe Drinking Over Christmas

Alcohol At Christmas

Christmas is a pretty unique time of year in the UK. Catching up with old friends and long-time-no-see family members, strangely enjoying truly terrible TV and stuffing oneself with food and drink are hardly uncommon practices during the festive season. Nearly everyone is used to a few weeks of "overdoing it" but this can be rough on your well-being and might well leave you exhausted both physically and mentally. One of the biggest concerns that gets aired at this time of year (at least in terms of overconsumption) is the elevated amounts of alcohol many people imbibe. A lot of party-goers rationalise by saying "but I hardly ever drink for most of the year" or "once a year blowout doesn't hurt anyone" but do these arguments actually stand up?

Love Your Liver

A normally functioning liver turns glucose into fat which is sent around the body to store for use when needed. Alcohol, however, stops this process from working properly which causes your liver to get full of fat and become enlarged. Chris Day, professor of hepatology (liver medicine) at Newcastle University, wanrs that drinking more than eight units of alcohol a day (for men) or more than five a day (for women) is more than enough to cause fatty liver in the majority of people.

Fatty liver causes a vague feeling of discomfort in the stomach due to the swelling. Feeling nauseous is also common, as is a loss of appetite. Fortunately, fatty liver normally goes away and anyone who is not a regular heavy drinker should recover fine. Problems arise if you continually drink above the daily alcohol unit guidelines. Fatty liver can develop over the long term into hepatitis (inflamed liver, which can lead to liver failure) and cirrhosis, which is when the liver becomes scarred, leading to many unpleasant additional symptoms.

How Alcohol Affects Your Liver

When the liver attempts to break down alcohol, the chemical reactions which occur can damage the cells of the liver, which causes the liver to get inflamed as it tries to repair itself. Alcohol also damages the intestines which then causes toxins to leak through into the liver. Even worse, any blood which the liver normally filters out through the bowel will have toxins in it from the alcohol as well, which causes further inflammation as the liver attempts to protect itself from these too.

What is worrying is that nobody ever feels anything wrong with their live until things start to get very serious. You can spend upwards of twenty years pouring alcohol into your system and ruining your liver, but will most likely feel absolutely fine - until you enter acute liver failure that is. Just two or three heavy drinking sessions per week for a single year greatly increases the chances of long term liver damage.

Other Effects of Alcohol

Most other effects from occasional periods of heavy drinking are also temporary and will go away on their own. You might, for example, get some diarrhoea or sickness as a result of damage to your stomach lining, or experience shaking and anxiety due to alcohol withdrawal. Your mood will probably drop, your skin will become red and blotchy, you'll gain weight and will likely have trouble sleeping, but this can all be easily addressed by returning to a healthier lifestyle. The sooner the better! If you spend a lot of time drinking copious amounts of alcohol you will find these short term effects lingering, and prolonged alcohol use can cause many long term health problems.

Long Term Alcohol Side Effects

Be warned, however, that short heavy drinking sessions are not the answer, and can in fact have even more serious consequences for your health. The sudden intake of a large amount of alcohol ("binge drinking") often affects the heart, causing it to beat irregularly. This causes shortness of breath, sudden blood pressure changes and a large increased risk of a heart attack. Some people experience this as "holiday heart syndrome" which actually feels like you are having a heart attack. Anyone who has drunk over fifteen units of alcohol in one sitting, which is around seven and a half pints of ordinary beer, may well experience this, and it is no laughing matter because in some cases it can result in immediate death.

Long term heavy drinking is no picnic either. As well as increasing risks of liver and mouth cancer, the chances of chronic pancreatitis rise as well. The pancreas, whose job it is to release essential hormones like insulin as well as help you digest your food, becomes inflamed, which can cause vomiting, internal bleeding and fever. Pancreatitis can lead to diabetes and pancreatic cancer, which are also side effects of long term drinking along with liver and mouth cancer and a variety of mental health problems including depression.

Christmas Drinking Done Right

To keep your health safe and still enjoy a holiday tipple, stick to the daily unit guidelines and you should be fine. On the whole it is best for men to not drink over 3-4 units of alcohol per day, and women no more than 2-3. That's no more than a pint and a half of beer for the chaps and roughly one glass of wine for the ladies.

Try not to drink every single day over the festive period! Your liver will thank you for the break and is less likely to suffer damage if you give it a rest. If you find yourself at many events where there is pressure to drink, replace alcohol with other drinks or try to limit your social engagements to remove the temptation. If you feel upset for some reason, avoid alcohol entirely as it removes behavioural inhibitions and the last thing you want is to utterly ruin friendships or family relationships with alcohol-induced stupidity.

For alcoholism help in the UK, including specialist London alcohol rehab, visit www.timetostop.net.

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