Alcohol, drinking, and partying is often something that is brought up in sessions by clients, so I wanted to share some quick thoughts on it.

Alcohol is a readily available and common substance that is embedded in most social fabrics. We use it to celebrate good times and drown out the bad ones. In some cultures, it is a part of rituals and traditions going back thousands of years. There was a time when it was used as a primary anesthetic during medical procedures. It is promoted in media and consumed by most adults in the USA and Europe.

As enjoyable as it may be, it is also a toxin for the body that affects more than the liver and brain. If it had a label of “poison, may cause illness or death” would we drink it? We’d probably think twice. It is a tricky substance in that it does stuff without detection, at least in some ways. It has the ability to compromise both organs and tissues without our immediate knowledge and not all bodies and brains tolerate it the same and some not at all but think they “should be able to”.

The impact of alcohol on our bodies depends on genetic predispositions, medical conditions, and even the age at which it is first consumed. For example, if introduced before the brain is fully developed the higher the risk for compromise in terms of both health and addiction because of its engagement with Dopamine for one.

Dopamine is a powerful neurological stimulator that is heightened with alcohol consumption. While the “hangover” may be the most feared of consequences it may not be the worst. Others include impaired decision-making that can result in driving under the influence, violence, behaviors or thinking that would otherwise not be entertained, and loss of control physically and emotionally in other ways leading to embarrassing moments and compromise to relationships.

Alcohol consumption above and beyond recommendations may also deplete or reduce nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitter activity, and healthy bacteria in the body, gut, and brain. Additionally, it is a diuretic, which means it has the capacity to dehydrate at microcellular levels. For athletes this may mean compromised muscle/strength for days after drinking. It is also why those who have engaged in heavy drinking for any length of time either chronically or weekend binges have dry skin or other skin issues. The “day after” may be the least of potential problems if the body/brain is not given enough time to recover beyond reduced blood-alcohol-levels. It can take days and even weeks to restore optimal functioning to the circulatory system, kidneys, liver, and cognitions depending on level of consumption. Some people even report feeling depressed, anxious, or otherwise challenged psychologically for several days after a night of partying. This is understandable since hormones and neurotransmitters take a significant hit with alcohol.

As of 2021, the general guidelines for safe alcohol consumption for men is 2-3 drinks a day, while for women it is 1-2 drinks a day. The reason for gender specifications involve enzyme differences in how the gut processes the alcohol. Men and women are not necessarily equal on that plane. Many other things influence the impact of alcohol such as level of water and food intake, medications, physical health conditions, stress, and emotional status at the time of consumption. Additionally, the amount of alcohol that is noted with “drinks per day” allowances is different for different types of alcohol. For examples, a 12oz beer has significantly less alcohol than 12oz of vodka.

So, the next time you want to grab a few drinks you may want to think more about your health and taking care of the only body/brain you’ll ever have. At least plan wisely to only consume what your body can process, on average a drink an hour and with plenty of food and water in your system already. Those drinks may help you cope or feel good in the moment but that’s only the anesthetic effect. Down the road there may be something worse than a hangover waiting.

Take care of yourself, drink responsibly. More importantly, you don’t have to do it just because it is socially preferred or a tradition. Instead of taking pride in how much you can “handle”, take control and be proud of doing what is best for you. Here are some resources for additional information to get informed to make the best decisions for you about alcohol consumption. This is certainly not an exhaustive list.

One last tip, if someone says “NO” to an alcoholic beverage, offer them something else without asking or challenging them. They may just be taking care of themselves and minding their health and wellbeing. As we all may be well advised to do.

Alcohol Information & Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcohol Drink Size information

Center for Disease Control and Prevention Fact Sheet

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

National Institutes of Health

World Health Organization