Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Drink in moderation in the festive season

Published:Saturday | December 20, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Many cannot imagine celebrating the holidays without alcohol. Alcohol causes pleasant feelings for most people who use it. It also makes socialising easier. It's no surprise that there is a lot of alcohol being consumed during this season. This being the 'silly season', there is a lot of overuse of alcohol, that can bring negatives such as motor-vehicle accidents, spousal abuse, and other unacceptable behaviour.

Alcohol has short-term and long-term effects on us. Its effect depends on the concentration in the blood. Smaller concentrations cause relaxation, cheerfulness, increased confidence (controversial), reduced attention span, and diminished judgement. Increased amounts cause sleepiness, impaired memory, blurred vision, unstable balance, and increased reaction times. Still higher amounts cause confusion, reduced painful response, vomiting, and an unstable mood. Even greater concentrations cause unconsciousness, memory loss, reduced breathing, and an increased heart rate. Still higher amounts can cause a coma.

Long-term use can cause liver diseases (e.g. Cirrhosis), pancreatitis (damage to the pancreas), stomach damage, stroke, heart damage, brain damage, and cancers of the breast, liver, ovaries, respiratory system, and digestive tract. It may affect the unborn child if used in pregnancy, leading to foetal alcohol syndrome. It has also been associated with hypertension, increased risk of suicide, phobias, anxiety, and impaired memory. These ill effects usually occur if the average use is greater than three drinks per day. Alcohol has greater effects on women than men and is also greater if had on an empty stomach and in dehydration.

implications for sex

The implications for sex are different in men and women. It may increase male confidence, but it reduces testosterone production, which may reduce sexual arousal, desire, and responsiveness. However, in women, it may have just the opposite effects. It may increase the likelihood of risky sexual behaviour.

There have been some scientific studies which show that alcohol use has been associated with reduced risk of blockage of the arteries and, therefore, reduced risks of certain heart diseases, but some dispute this. Some of the benefits seem to come from the grapes used in the production of red wines. The benefits of alcohol use are obtained if only one to two drinks daily are consumed, but even this amount can cause some ill effects, too.

For those who insist on using alcohol this season, a decision must be made beforehand on a safe limit on the amount to be consumed and have a non-drinking friend or family member monitor you.

Have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!