St Patricks' Day, or festival as we now like to call it, is almost upon us. Our national saint's day - where we traditionally wear green, go to parades, eat bacon and cabbage and drink vast amounts of alcohol with gay abandon. Sure it's the Irish way. But what exactly does drinking all that booze do to our health? Although it occupies a special place in our hearts, alcohol is a drug like any other and in high doses - over time or even in one episode, it can have a severe, negative impact.
One of the first things it does is affect brain and neurological function. This effects our mood and our behaviour. At a basic level in the short term, when we're drinking, our speech slurs, we become disorientated, uncoordinated and drowsy. Our judgement is impaired and our cognitive functioning shuts down. These short term effects mean you're at far greater risk of accident, assault and suicide. This very weekend there will be lives lost to drink. And alcohol is the single biggest risk factor for death in young Irish men under the age of thirty. It puts them at eight times the risk of suicide as compared to non-drinkers.
Alcohol's a powerful depressant, so the morning after a session of drinking people often feel anxious, fearful, and uneasy. But over time it causes persistent low mood, depression and changes to personality. Half of all couples in therapy in Ireland cite alcohol as the single main problem in the relationship. But you won't find a family in Ireland who hasn't had some member whose life has been destroyed by drink. Drinking to excess damages careers, relationships, families and lives.
And all that's before we even look at the rake of associated physical problems; Gastro-intestinally there's the obvious one - liver disease - so fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis are huge issues. But don't forget about sick stomachs, vomiting and diarrhoea in the short term. Or the gastritis, stomach ulcers, pancreatitis, colitis or malnutrition - in the longer term.
From a cardiovascular point of view, excess alcohol can cause the heart muscle to enlarge and become floppy resulting in a cardiomyopathy. It causes arrhythmias, meaning the heart beat becomes irregular and so puts you at increased risk of stroke and death. And it pushes up your blood pressure. Moderate alcohol can actually be good for your heart and your health but it all comes down to the amount you drink.
Excess alcohol also puts you at increased risk of many cancers. Head and neck, throat, oesophageal, liver and breast cancer are all closely linked to drinking to excess. Approximately eleven pc of breast cancers are caused by drinking alcohol.
Alcohol undermines our immune system so drinking to excess even on a single occasion affects our ability to ward off infections. Chronic drinkers get diseases like pneumonia much more easily than non-drinkers - but even after a weekend of heavy drinking people become far more susceptible to minor illnesses.
I haven't even mentioned anaemia, neuropathies, erectile dysfunction or obesity all of which are linked to alcohol - because to be honest the list goes on and on.
The recommended weekly limit of alcohol for a man is seventeen units and for a woman is eleven. It's far lower than many people realise.
1.6 million adults in Ireland have harmful drinking patterns - which means they are drinking enough to cause adverse physical effects. We are so desensitised to people being drunk, sick or hung over as a consequence of drinking , that we think these are normal occurrences. They are here but not everywhere. Ireland has the second highest rate of binge drinking in the world. This really is our drink culture and it's costing us dearly in terms of lives, health, money and reputation. Happy St.Patrick's Day. Sláinte.
Sunday Indo Living