Dangers of Alcohol in Men, Women and Teenagers
For some, a couple of beers or a glass of wine is just a way to relax and socialize with friends. For others, drinking can be a source of serious physical, mental and social problems. Alcohol affects men, women, and young people differently. There are specific health and social dangers to each group.
The first step in knowing whether or not alcohol is causing problems in your life is to understand the dangers associated with drinking. The dangers that go beyond slurred speech, a hangover or making an unfortunate phone call to an ex while intoxicated.
The Chemical Effect of Alcohol on the Body
On an empty stomach, you can feel the effects of just one alcoholic beverage in less than one minute. This is because, unlike food, alcohol does not need time to digest. Once alcohol hits your stomach, natural enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), cytochrome P450 (CYP2E1) and catalase work together to convert the alcohol to acetaldehyde, a poison that closely resembles formaldehyde.
The effects of alcohol consumption – lightheadedness, giddiness, numbness, blurred vision and slurred speech – are all caused by the chemical produced by the fermentation of sugar, known as ethanol.
If you drink alcohol in moderation, you’ll notice a couple of drinks wear off quickly as the liver does its job of flushing it from your body. However, the dangers of alcohol become quite evident for the heavy drinker, when the body can no longer effectively moderate and remove the high amount of alcohol entering the system. This is where alcohol toxicity caused by acetaldehyde comes in. Eventually, the liver reaches a saturation point and can no longer filter the alcohol. When acetaldehyde escapes into the bloodstream, it can cause serious health problems.
Elmhurst University explains that when alcohol is no longer able to be safely metabolized, it may lead to liver damage, hepatitis and cirrhosis. Research also suggests it is the chemical acetaldehyde that may lead to alcoholism because of its direct effect on the brain. Nerve transmitters in the brain react to the acetaldehyde and form morphine-type compounds, which may contribute to addiction.
The Dangers of Alcohol for Women
Women’s bodies metabolize alcohol more slowly than men. Women are also usually slighter of build and weigh less, making them more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol affects women in the following harmful ways:
- Breast Cancer. According to research published by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), women who consume just one alcoholic beverage per day increased their risk of developing breast cancer by as much as five percent.
- Infertility. Women trying to get pregnant should avoid alcohol consumption because it decreases their chances of becoming pregnant. Excessive alcohol consumption may lead to anovulation (lack of ovulation), amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), luteal phase defect (abnormal development of the endometrial lining), and hyperprolactinemia (over-production of breast milk which inhibits fertility).
- Pregnancy complications. Women who do become pregnant while consuming alcohol can put themselves at risk for miscarriage and their babies at risk for pre-term birth, brain abnormalities, congenital defects, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
- Alcohol abuse. A publication produced by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that women who consume eight or more drinks per week greatly increase their risk of becoming alcohol-dependent.
- Sexual assault. Heavy drinking can impair a woman’s judgment and ability to defend herself against sexual assault. A study published by Rutgers University found that 59 percent of college women who consumed more than 10 drinks per sitting since entering their freshman year were sexually victimized by the end of their first semester.
- Depression. Alcohol may feel like it takes your mind off sad and painful thoughts but it can actually make a depressed mood worse and contribute to chronic depression. It may start out with only a drink or two to escape the pain but then a tolerance develops. You need more of the alcohol to achieve the same effect. You begin to drink more and when the numbness wears off, the depression worsens. It can be a vicious cycle.
The Dangers of Alcohol for Men
Men generally have a higher alcohol tolerance than women, leaving them more open to slip into problem drinking. When men use alcohol as a way of dealing (or not dealing) with frustration and emotional pain, a couple of drinks per day to relax can quickly lead to alcohol abuse.
Alcohol affects men in the following harmful ways:
- Cognitive impairment. According to a fact sheet published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), men report binge drinking more than twice as often as women in the same calendar year. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five alcoholic drinks in a row. Long-term binge drinking can result in permanent central nervous system problems such as memory impairment, concentration issues and tremors.
- Gout. Gout is a painful arthritic condition which commonly affects men between the ages of 30 and 60. Research suggests men who consume alcoholic beverages daily are at increased risk of developing gout. Beer is the most common culprit because of its high purine content, which turns to uric acid during the metabolic process.
- Appearance. Men who go to the bar to meet dates may be unnerved by the long-term effects of alcohol on appearance. Regular alcohol consumption can lead to beer gut, hair loss, breast enlargement, and permanent redness of the face.
- Colon cancer. The American Cancer Society claims that men who drink consistently and heavily increase their risk for developing colorectal cancer. The risk increases in men who have other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, family history, and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Liver cancer. Cancer.org states that alcohol abuse is the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver, which is linked to an increased risk for the development of liver cancer.
*Alcohol and Erectile Dysfunction
According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, an incredible 72 percent of men who drank in excess had problems with sexual function. This included loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and infertility. Is your drinking affecting your romantic relationship? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my erectile dysfunction interfering with what used to be a happy relationship?
- Is my significant other unhappy with the effect my drinking has on my libido?
- Is my drinking contributing to my infertility?
- Is my drinking becoming more important than my romantic relationship?
- Do I suspect my significant other of looking elsewhere for physical intimacy?
If you’ve turned inward and begun drinking instead of dealing with relationship troubles, those troubles will only worsen. It’s important to take a step back and talk with your romantic partner. Ask them honestly how they feel about your drinking and how it’s affecting them. Don’t be defensive. Now is your chance to show your partner that you realize you may have a problem and want to change.
How Alcohol Affects Teenagers
The legal drinking age in any state in the US is 21. Teenagers who begin drinking while they’re still in high school are at a much greater risk for developing serious health, social and legal problems. The most common risks associated with teenage drinking are:
- Drugs. Teenagers who consume alcohol are also more likely to use other drugs such as marijuana while drinking.
- Sexual activity. Teens who drink often engage in sexual activity earlier than their non-drinking peers and are at increased risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming teenage mothers.
- Dropping out. Male teens who drink are at increased risk for dropping out of high school and struggling to find decent employment.
- Suicide. Teenagers who mask depression and anxiety with alcohol are at increased risk for attempting suicide, either with alcohol or by some other method. Georgia’s State University’s Institute of Public Health states that individuals who begin drinking at an early age are up to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their sober peers.
- Attention and learning difficulties. Teenagers who consume alcoholic beverages tend to have difficulty with memory and concentration, which can affect their schoolwork.
- DUI. The penalties for underage drinking and driving are very heavy in most states and may lead to fines, loss of license, loss of vehicle, and even jail time.
*Is Your Teenager Drinking?
You may think there’s no way your son or daughter could have a drinking problem but you might be wrong. Teenagers can hide their drinking from even the most observant and attentive of parents. Here are some signs your teen may be drinking alcohol:
- Breaking curfew
- Lying or stealing
- Staying in their room
- Mood swings
- Changes in friends
- Becoming physically or verbally abusive
- Smell of alcohol on breath or body
- Possessing alcohol-related paraphernalia
This doesn’t mean that if your daughter has mood swings or your son stays in his room all the time, they have a problem with drinking. However, staying involved in your teenager’s life, asking questions and following up are the best ways to get your teen to open up to you and discover if a drinking problem is causing their troubling behavior.
Alcohol Poisoning: When Enough Is Too Much
Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning and it’s one of the primary dangers of heavy alcohol consumption. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include seizures, vomiting, slow breathing, irregular breathing, low body temperature, confusion, pale skin, and/or fainting with an inability to be roused.
The Danger of Withdrawal
The dangers of alcohol don’t stop when the person stops drinking. Very heavy drinkers often experience serious alcohol withdrawal that should be monitored by a professional. This isn’t to say you can’t cut back on alcohol on your own but if you or someone you care about has been drinking daily and heavily for years, professional guidance is strongly recommended.
The physical and mental effects of alcohol withdrawal include anxiety, irritability, rapid emotional shifts, fatigue, nightmares, shakiness, tremors, depression, headache, heart palpitations, and clammy skin.
While most of these effects are mild and lessen with time, more serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as convulsions, blackouts, fever, and hallucinations (also called “delirium tremens”), should be treated in a private inpatient or outpatient facility by a professional. MedScape defines delirium tremens as “a medical emergency with a high mortality rate, making early recognition and treatment essential.”
Your Next Step
Problem drinking doesn’t start overnight so it can’t be fixed overnight. Now that you’re aware of the dangers of alcohol, you may recognize yourself and some of your own problems in these paragraphs. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and write down the alcohol dangers you’re currently facing. Set a date to quit or cut back on your drinking and stick with it. Seeing this information on paper makes your problems easier to manage and your goals seem real. Now isn’t the time to feel ashamed or helpless. You’re stronger than you know and there is plenty of help out there for you should you need it.
If you have any questions about the dangers of alcohol or how you can get treatment today, contact us. We can connect you with a treatment program that will work well for your current situation. Don’t waste another day; call now.