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How not to die from alcohol abuse

Published:Wednesday | January 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The new year is the perfect time to reflect on our unwise behaviour of the past year(s), and to make plans to improve. Dr Jan Garavaglia, American pathologist and host of the American series, Dr G: Medical Examiner, wrote the book How Not To Die. She's in the business of performing autopsies and she knows only too well about common causes of death. In her book, she identifies common ways we harm our bodies, and she provides tips to avoid 'premature' death.

She addresses subjects like smoking, alcohol, obesity, cholesterol, road accidents, allergies, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. She maintains that if we address these issues we can avoid meeting people like her in the morgue. So let's work on these this year.

Alcohol's chronic effects

Alcohol is a drug. Excessive consumption is the cause of death and health challenges. About one in seven road deaths is caused by drinking alcohol. Last article we spoke about problems associated with the drug alcohol. It has many calories and is second only to fat (gram for gram) as a source of calories. It increases the risk of various cancers.

Alcohol stimulates high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, and sexual difficulties like impotence. Alcohol abuse damages the nervous system, causing brain wasting. Over time, alcohol irritates the stomach lining and damages the liver and pancreas. It is estimated that one in every 10 heavy drinkers will eventually develop a disease called liver cirrhosis (permanent liver damage). In excess, alcohol damages the heart muscle and produces irregular heartbeat. It interacts negatively with several other drugs.

What's more, drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short time causes a rapid rise in blood alcohol level. This can rise to levels which can kill (alcohol poisoning), even when we've stopped drinking, passed out or fallen asleep.

The disease alcoholism is characterised by inability to control alcohol intake. It is evidenced by large daily consumption or heavy weekend drinking or periodic excessive drinking.

How not to die

For alcohol's chronic effects including all types of liver disease caused by alcohol, the main treatment is to completely stop drinking the drug.

If we have a problem controlling our drinking, and desire to address it this year, anti-alcohol medications exist to help us quit drinking and also avoid relapse. They include acamprosate, naltrexone and disulfiram. However, my research tells me that none of these products is available here in Jamaica.

The good news is that current research shows that counselling is exceptionally effective in reversing brain abnormalities associated with alcohol addiction. We may seek help and direction from a doctor or pharmacist or speak with organisations dedicated to help people with this challenge. Options include RISE Life Management Services (1-888-991-4146)/National Council on Drug Abuse (1-888-991-4244).

Dr Dahlia McDaniel is a pharmacist with a doctorate in public health. She is the chief executive officer of two pharmacies and a medical practice in Kingston;