Consuming alcohol is one of the social standards of adult life. It goes along with almost any sort of party or lunch or gathering. Work parties will serve champagne, football games always have been, and there are always lovely wine and painting nights. But while alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, having too much can be extremely dangerous.
Crossing the line between normal drinking and excessive drinking is dangerous for our physical and mental health, as well as those around us.
Read on to find out how much drinking is too much drinking and what you can do about it.
How Does Drinking Affect Your Body?
Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it suppresses the central nervous system so much that it weakens and undermines your ability to speak, move, see, and think clearly. This impairment of thought is often sought by people who tend to binge drink or drink to get drunk. It is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine, making its effects almost instantaneous.
When you consume too much alcohol, it can affect your body in permanent and negative ways. Alcohol damages the liver and pancreas by forcing the liver to work an unhealthy amount of overtime trying to metabolize it and causing the pancreas to excrete toxic chemicals that can lead to pancreatitis.
In even more serious cases, excessive alcohol will damage the brain. It causes communication pathways to break down and be disrupted, which outwardly shows itself as abrupt changes of mood or impaired motor control. If this process is repeated enough times, then the damage becomes permanent.
Drinking too much alcohol also makes you vulnerable to numerous types of cancer as well as immune system failure.
Beyond that, excessive drinking and alcoholism are closely linked to anxiety and depression, with the person often looking for a short-term cure for underlying mental illness.
Defining “Too Much” Drinking
But what exactly does “too much alcohol” look like? It’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot but at its core, it is vague and subjective. Drinking excessively to one person might be having more than one glass of wine while drinking excessively to another person would mean chugging half a bottle. Even doctors will give widely different answers.
However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as a woman having four or more standard drinks and a man having five or more standard drinks within a couple of hours, and heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking at least five times in the past month. A standard drink is defined as 1.5 oz of spirit, 5 oz of wine, or 6 oz of beer.
But, these are only official guidelines and the truth is that it’s far more individual than that. Differences in sex, body weight, ethnic group, and age all play their parts in how alcohol affects you. For example, people with more bodyweight will tend to have a higher tolerance to it because there is more space for the alcohol to spread through the body.
Alcoholism is a step beyond even heavy drinking. This is when a person begins to depend on alcohol as one depends on any addictive substance. Feeling a compulsion to drink, a lack of control over the amount of alcohol drunk or the time spent drinking, and not being able to have fun without having alcohol involved are all telltale signs of alcoholism or alcohol dependency.
A heightened tolerance of alcohol, so that you need to drink more to get the same effects is one of the earliest signs of alcohol dependency. One of the most easily spotted signs is the worsening of platonic, romantic, and familial relationships, professional abilities, and even the ability to take care of yourself. When binge drinking becomes alcoholism, it becomes an addiction, negatively impacting all other aspects of life.
At this stage, drinking becomes a physiological issue, not just a mental one. A person who is dependent on alcohol has little control over it and would need to get professional help in order to free themselves from it.
But the good news is that there are a plethora of treatment options for alcohol dependency, from individual therapy to support groups like AA, as well as rehab centers if you need it. Alcohol addiction is frightening but it doesn’t have to be forever.