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Blog: Alcohol; a harmless social escape or a dangerous poison?

Thomson & Bancks’ Head of Medical Negligence, Lucy Sherry continues her monthly commentary on medical awareness and industry findings with an insight into alcohol intake, its short and long-term effects, as well advice on becoming healthier.

After a busy day, do you routinely reach for the bottle?  This may make you think again!

Alcohol drinks account for 11% of the UK’s daily intake of added sugar. However, they are empty calories with no nutritional value.  A pint of cider can contain as many as 5 teaspoons of sugar – almost as much as the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily amount!  Then there is the drunk or hungover eating which adds to our ‘beer bellies’.

We have all seen the other reported short term effects of alcohol:

  1. Dangerous driving – your judgement is impaired immediately and you can still be over the limit the following day. It takes 3 hours to breakdown the alcohol in one pint of strong lager or a single glass of wine.
  2. Binge drinking (8+ units in 1 session) – it makes you over confident and can encourage risk taking, it slows down your reactions/you can become confused.
  3. Causes dehydration leading to a hangover and poor skin.
  4. Slows heart rate/breathing, stopping both in some cases.
  5. Alcohol is a poison and can cause brain damage/ hyperthermia/ irritate the stomach causing possible choking whilst asleep/lower blood sugars leading to seizures.

But what of the long term effects? 

  1. Even social drinking can take you over the weekly recommended 14 units, risking cancer, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.
  2. There were 23,000 alcohol-related deaths last year and 17,000 were from alcohol-caused liver disease.
  3. Altered sleep patterns: just a couple of drinks can mean that you go straight to deep sleep, missing out on rapid eye movement sleep (REM) but as it wears off you go back into REM sleep which is easier to wake from leaving you unrefreshed and rising early.

Typically, we need 6 – 7 cycles of REM sleep per night following by 3 – 4 cycles of deep sleep but alcohol gives us only 1 – 2 REM cycles after a period of deep sleep.

The diuretic effects make you go to the toilet and sweat more, increasing your dehydration and resulting hangover, as well as disturbing your sleep further.  It also makes snorers do so more loudly, due to the muscle relaxant effects waking them further!

Deep sleep is when the body restores itself and so poor quality or shortened sleep leads to low mood, poor concentration, impaired immune system and clouded decision-making.

Top 10 Tips for Cutting Down Alcohol Intake and Becoming Healthier

  1. Your liver is amazing! It can recover from binge drinking if you have 3 consecutive days off each week.
  2. Choose a smaller drink size.
  3. Opt for lower alcohol drinks.
  4. Never drink on an empty stomach, as food helps slow down the rate of absorption.
  5. Alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks.
  6. Drink water before bed.
  7. Test yourself: have you an alcohol dependency or are you able to ‘go sober for October’ or have a ‘dry January’? If not, seek professional help.
  8. Set a maximum budget.
  9. Solicit your friends and family’s support on cutting down when you go out.
  10. Reduce your intake slowly week by week.

 

Download this blog post as a PDF here

Lucy Sherry, Solicitor-Advocate; Head of Medical Negligence specialises in medical negligence litigation, previously representing the NHS Litigation Authority and one of the GP Unions. Lucy now works with injured individuals and bereaved families to achieve compensation for adverse outcomes. Lucy has a passion for learning and sharing her knowledge, regularly delivering medico-legal training to lawyers, attending many hours of medical lectures each year to keep abreast of changes in treatments, and gaining an insight into new health and medical findings to share with Thomson & Bancks’ clients and visitors to this blog.

See Lucy Sherry’s full profile

Visit our Medical Negligence page

Catch up with Lucy Sherry’s previous blog posts

Blog: Battling Stress at Work
Blog: The Taboos About Men’s Mental Health

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