Dr. Bomi Joseph Details the Negative Effects of Alcohol on the Body and the Brain
In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), it was found that over 85% of all Americans over the age of 18 had tried alcohol at least once, and more than 50% of respondents had consumed an alcoholic drink within a month of the survey. With a majority of the population drinking regularly, Dr. Bomi Joseph believes that it is important to educate individuals on the effects of alcohol use on both the body and the brain. One alcoholic drink is equal to 12oz of beer, 5oz of wine, or 1.5oz of spirit (vodka, rum, whiskey etc.), and it is suggested to keep the number of drinks below five per week.
One of the often-used phrases to justify alcohol use is “moderate” consumption. What does this actually mean? An average 5’9” male can break down 7.5 ml of alcohol an hour without it affecting his liver. For an average 5’4” woman, the number is lower, at 6 ml. This is a beer, or a glass of wine consumed over an hour. This is moderate drinking, which is uncommon.
It’s not just the quantity of alcohol consumed, it’s the rate at which it is consumed that also matters. Not many people that drink are considered “moderate” drinkers. If you want to nurse five drinks a week, remember to drink one or less a day — and enjoy it over an hour.
It is estimated that approximately 88,000 deaths occur annually from alcohol-related causes in the United States and it is the third leading cause of preventable death following tobacco use and poor diet/physical inactivity. Alcohol misuse costs were an estimated $249 billion in 2010. There are multiple organ systems that are affected negatively by alcohol, and all of them can become diseased in various ways causing health issues.
Chronic and prolonged alcohol use has been found to contribute to different cancers present in the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, and most commonly the liver. Dr. Joseph explains that this is because the liver is responsible for detoxifying and metabolizing alcohol.
Liver cancer typically begins as liver cirrhosis, a late stage of fibrosis caused by various conditions including chronic alcoholism. The cells of the liver are put under constant stress from alcohol consumption, and over years (usually 5–10), the cells become replaced with fibrous tissue, and can cause cellular disruption, metastatic changes, and eventually cancer.
Dr. Bomi Joseph explains that another organ that is negatively impacted by alcohol use is the pancreas. Binge drinking can lead to acute pancreatitis, and individuals will experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and general uneasiness.
The side effects usually subside within 72–96 hours with adequate hydration and pain control. Although the mechanism is not fully understood, it is thought to be due to toxic metabolites of alcohol being metabolized in the pancreas causing damage and inflammation. Another type of pancreatitis is chronic pancreatitis that can occur after years of regular sustained alcohol use, leading to chronic inflammation, and fibrosis of the pancreas.
Brain Matter Changes
Chronic alcohol use has been shown to cause brain matter changes, with decreased brain volume of the frontal lobe, as well as decreasing amounts of gray matter. This can lead to both personality changes, as well as cognition and memory impairment. Initially, some of these effects may be reversible with the abstinence of alcohol, but overtime these changes become permanent and irreversible.
A serious disorder of the brain caused by prolonged use of alcohol is Wernicke-Kosakoff Syndrome, which is caused by a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1); a cofactor that is involved in many cellular processes explains Dr. Bomi Joseph. Alcoholic Kosakoff syndrome can ultimately lead to anterograde amnesia, delirium, and loss of executive function.
Ultimately, extensive drinking can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system. Dr. Bomi Joseph reminds individuals that if they are going to drink to do so responsibly, to avoid any long-term health effects.