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28th February 2017

Are cocktails giving you brain damage?

Sophie Manley talks about the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, and suggests how we can cut down and improve our drinking habits

One quick comment before I bombard you with scary facts about alcohol: it can be really hard in life to get it all right and be healthy all the time, and I’m not saying you should be all at once. We’re all under so much pressure in this world already, without feeling like we can’t enjoy simple pleasures and let loose every so often. It’s important to not feel deprived and to make fulfilling choices that feel good. I personally am working towards a mental state where I feel great about making the healthiest choice, and it’s a really exciting journey.

Alcohol is, unfortunately, one of the biggest killers in the world. Alcohol abuse is embedded into our society to such an extent that most people wouldn’t go to social occasions or music events if they weren’t going to drink. Decreased inhibitions, questionable decisions and ‘hilarious’ displays of clumsiness (AKA your brain shutting down) seem to be the only way that we can go out, enjoy ourselves, and fit in.

I am by no means tee-total or have any desire to become so while I’m still at university, but it’s something I’d really like to be by the time I’m 30 – I hope that most of the damage can be undone (or at least slightly repaired) while I’m still young. And yes, 30 is still young.

I’m writing a lab report on the “Effects of Ethanol on Performance” and subsequently have done a lot of research to find out what exactly ethanol does when it enters our body. The first thing that shocked me was the amount of evidence proving how bad alcohol is for you, and the fact that it’s a misconception that a little bit is good for you. No alcohol is good for you. Period. What’s good for you is the other nutrients in the drink e.g. antioxidants in wine, yeast in beer etc.

When the mainstream attitude to smoking changed around 2005 or 2006, the government ruled that all smoking products must have visual and written warnings of its harmful effects, but alcohol kills more people than cigarettes do! Where are the pictures showing brain damage and rotting livers on alcoholic drinks? The list of potential poor decisions, and the consequences of emotional and psychological trauma?

Alcohol is a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant. Your CNS is made up of your brain and spinal cord and controls most functions in your body and mind. Ethanol (the alcoholic component of drinks) depresses the CNS; in other words, slows it down and stops it from working. Ethanol acts on various receptors in the brain: this results in decreased motor (movement) functions, confused thoughts, decreased awareness and poor coordination.

It also interferes with your ability to lay down memories and to learn by blocking specific signalling pathways. You’re all thinking, “well yes we know all that!”, “I frequently wake up with no recollection of the night before.” “My friend was throwing up all night last week, it was hilarious.” Why? Why is it funny to see people poison themselves, to the point where their body has to reject everything in their stomach so their organs don’t shut down?

Prolonged drinking causes irreparable damage in the brain, destroys your liver and diminishes your immune system. Short-term drinking decreases the effects of your immune system, making you much more likely to contract a virus or bacterial infection after a night out; and long-term drinking increases the immune system, causing inflammatory diseases and internal damage. Alcohol is commonly known to be bad for people with digestive disorders including IBS and interferes with a lot of medications.

Quick fact: the reason people with less body fat get drunk quicker is because alcohol is very soluble in water but not soluble in fat. So if you have more fat cells in your body, alcohol is less likely to pass out of your blood, and will head straight to the liver to get broken down. It also makes sense that if you’re a bigger, or a taller person, there’s more blood for alcohol to get absorbed into, thus the concentration of ethanol at any one point in your body will be less.

I understand that it is very important for people to belong in their society and to fit in with cultural norms, and social drinking is a part of that. I’m not writing this to try and convince everybody to stop drinking and boycott all bars and nightclubs, I’m writing this just to draw your attention to it. The next time your friend chooses not to drink on a night out, respect that decision.

If you see your friend about to cross the line between drunk and smashed, give them a glass of water. Value yourself sober. Your sober self is good enough, fun enough, and happy enough. And if you turn to drink to escape life, have a good look at what you’re escaping from and try and fix that instead, rather than just forgetting it for a night.

This article is taken from Sophie’s blog, Holistic Health and Relatable Science. Read more here.

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