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Having a cold drink on a Friday night is a staple in American society. For many people, having a drink after a hard day of work is a way to relax and have a bit of fun. However, if you’re having more than just the occasional drink on the weekend, you’ll want to pay attention to this article. A new study has proven that even moderate alcohol consumption can leave you at risk for cognitive decline.

Alcoholics Are Not The Only People At Risk

Anya Topiwala, a senior clinical researcher and consultant psychiatrist, along with a team of researchers from the University of Oxford and University College London set out to discover whether moderate alcohol consumption has a beneficial or harmful association with brain structure and function.

In their study, published in the BMJ, followed 550 men and women in the UK with a mean age of 43, all of whom were not “alcohol dependent”. In the 30 year period of the study, they were analyzed on their weekly alcohol intake and their cognitive performance.

The results showed that higher alcohol intake resulted in increased odds of hippocampal atrophy, which is a condition characterized by degeneration of the brain cells leading to memory loss and disorientation [3].

The individuals that were consuming over 30 units of alcohol a week, which would be the equivalent of 2.5 bottles of beer or more, were at the highest risk compared with abstainers. Those who drink moderately (30 units of alcohol or more per week) had 3 times the odds of developing right-sided hippocampal atrophy[3].

With this new-found information, people who believed that they were safe from the negative effects of alcohol may still be in the line of fire.

Of this, the team says: “Alcohol might represent a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, and primary prevention interventions targeted to later life could be too late[4]”.

Effects of Alcohol Consumption on the Mind

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Many people believe that if they get a good night’s sleep the effects of the alcohol will wear off. To the individual it may seem that way, but sadly, consuming alcohol on a regular basis will alter your mind more than you think.

The way in which alcohol affects the mind differs depending on a number of factors, including:

  1. How much or how often an individual drinks
  2. The age that the individual began drinking, and how long they have been drinking for
  3. The person’s age, gender, level of education, genetic background, and family history of alcoholism
  4. Whether he/she is at risk of prenatal alcohol exposure
  5. General health status[2]

Blackouts and Memory Lapse

Alcohol can produce impairment in memory after just one drink, and the level of impairment increases with the amount of alcohol consumed [2]. A blackout occurs when large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a very short period of time and are made worse if the individual has an empty stomach. During this blackout, the individual may be completely unaware of what’s going on around them, and may not remember the episode the following day.

Brain Damage

People who have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long period of time run the risk of developing long-term brain damage associated with their consumption. Damage may be a direct result of the alcohol, or it may be an indirect result, from a poor general health status or from severe liver disease[2].

Brain Disorders

Up to 80% of alcoholics have a deficiency in Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, and some of these people will go on to develop serious brain disorders such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome[2]. WKS is a chronic and debilitating syndrome characterized by persistent learning and memory problems. Patients are forgetful, are quickly frustrated, have difficulty with coordination. They not only have trouble remembering old information but also don’t process new information, making the disorder very severe and life-altering[2].

Alcohol Consumption Alters the Body

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While many people can admit to the fact that alcohol changes your body in the short term, many people don’t know that it has a large effect in the long term. Alcohol consumption, particularly heavier drinking, can cause a wide range of problems within the body such as:

1. Infectious Disease

2. Cancer

3. Diabetes

4. Neuropsychiatric Disease

5. Cardiovascular Disease

6. Liver and Pancreas Disease

7. Unintentional and intentional injury[1]

How to Know When Enough is Enough

Having a couple of drinks now and again is a personal choice that becomes a problem when too much alcohol is consumed on a regular basis.

Each individual body is different, and it can sometimes be difficult to judge how much alcohol is too much, and when you should stop. Luckily there are some tactics that you can implement to make sure that you’re not getting too far into the drink.

1. Eat before you have a drink

Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach will increase the risk of a blackout or memory lapse.

2. Avoid “shots” or “chugging”

Drinking large amounts of alcohol very quickly can cause an array of problems for your body and mind. Your body is unable to process the alcohol because it is entering the body too quickly, which may cause you to have a blackout or memory lapse.

3. Be assertive-don’t drink more than you intend to

Before you begin drinking set an intention of how many drinks you will have in the night. Peer pressure is deadly when it comes to drinking alcohol, as people tend to want to drink more as the night goes on. Stick to the amount that you set yourself so that you don’t unintentionally drink more than you bargained for.

4. Know your limits and stick to them

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It is a good idea to know how much alcohol is too much for you so that you can refrain from reaching that threshold. There are luckily many blood alcohol level calculators on the Internet that can help you to figure this out. You can also base it off of your size, age, gender, amount of time that you’ve been drinking for and how often, and your general health status.

5. Try not to confuse large measures of alcohol with standard measures

One glass of wine poured by a friend at a house party may not be the same as a standardly sized pour from a restaurant, so they will not equate the same amount of drink. Take the amount of alcohol in one glass into consideration when moderating your number of drinks.

6. Alternate alcoholic drinks with water

It’s very important to stay hydrated while drinking alcohol. When you are busy socializing at an event it can be difficult to forget about keeping yourself hydrated, so alternate one alcoholic drink and one glass of water to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of H2O.

7. Keep track of your drinks

Always count your number of drinks. Don’t allow friends to fill up your glass until you have completely finished the one before it. It is easy to lose track of the number of drinks you’ve had when you’re busy socializing, and then the next thing you know you’ve had too much to drink. Keep a count of the drinks that you’ve had to ensure that you don’t go over the amount that you’ve set yourself for that night.

Consuming alcohol socially is a personal right that everyone possesses, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting into before you have that first drink. Having one drink at a party may seem harmless, but knowing what you’re putting in your body, and how it can affect you, is an important step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. So, the next time you plan to go out for Friday night cocktails, follow these tips to make sure you’re keeping yourself safe.

Sources:

[1] Jürgen Rehm, Ph.D. The Risk Associated with Alcohol Use and Alcoholism. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh342/135-143.htm

[2] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004, October). Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain. Retrieved from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

[3] Anya Topiwala. (2017, June 6). Moderate Alcohol Consumption as Risk Factor for Adverse Brain Outcomes and Cognitive Decline: Longitudinal Cohort Study. Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2353

[4] Department of Psychiatry. (2017, June 7). Even Moderate Drinking Linked to a Decline in Brain Health, Finds Study. Retrieved from https://www.psych.ox.ac.uk/news/even-moderate-drinking-linked-to-a-decline-in-brain-health-finds-study

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