The effects of prolonged drinking – especially during the festive season

19 Dec 2019
Stefano Mirabello
Stefano Mirabello
Medical Writer

During the Christmas and New Year festive season there is an increase in festivities, parties, family gatherings, work functions and barbeques. While the holiday season is a great time of year, it can also be a time of excess, we overindulge, especially when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Drinking consistently over long periods of time can have huge effects on your body and health. You should give yourself at least 48 hours before having another drink, so it gives your body and especially your liver time to recover.

What are the effects of Prolonged drinking?

  • Weight Gain – Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and if you drink every day for a month the effects of alcohol on your waistline will be visible. Excess weight gain can lead to other health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Cancer – Drinking long-term can increase your risk of developing cancer of the liver, mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, colon, and rectum. Even a few drinks a week is enough to increase the risk of breast cancer in women
  • Mental health – Alcohol affects your mental health and emotional wellbeing. Being hungover can make you feel anxious and depressed. Some people may already feel down over the festive period, and drinking can make this worse
  • Lack of Vitamin B – Absorption of vitamin B12 from beef, dairy and eggs can be particularly affected by alcohol, and signs of deficiency include fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, pale skin and heart palpitations. A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to a build-up of a compound called homocysteine, which in the long term could lead to heart attack and stroke
  • Heart disease – Heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and in very severe cases, sudden death from heart failure
  • Kidneys – Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes the kidneys to produce more urine. This can lead to dehydration and dangerously low levels of sodium, potassium, and other minerals and salts
  • Pancreas – Just one single session of heavy binge drinking can lead to dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), so more than that can put huge pressure on the pancreas
  • Sexual health – Being drunk increases the chance of having unsafe sex, which can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unplanned pregnancy

Tips to drink less

There are lots of occasions when you might drink because you feel like you have to, like the 33% of drinkers who feel pressured to do so at their work Christmas party. You might also do it with realising, pouring a glass of wine after work or letting someone refill your glass or buy another round. Take a moment to think why you really want that drink before going for it.

  • Plan some alcohol-free days – grab a juice, mineral water or iced tea instead. Non-alcoholic drinks are getting better and better and the health benefits of even a couple of drink-free days a week are clear
  • Keep count of your standard drinks by pouring your own drinks to reduce your alcohol intake
  • Eat before, and while, you are drinking to slow down the absorption of alcohol
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with low alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks
  • Plan family activities that don’t involve alcohol. Even responsible alcohol use can send the message to children that alcohol is a necessary part of everyday life
  • Set yourself some goals. The New Year is a great time to think about cutting down the amount of alcohol that you consume
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Look out for your family members and loved ones
  • Try not to combine alcohol with energy drinks
  • Pour your own drinks so you can be sure of how much you have consumed
  • Carpool with a few friends and decide who will be the designated driver at the start of the night
  • Think about how much you’re prepared to spend and stick to a budget

What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person drinks an excessive amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time (binge drinking). It is the leading cause of poisoning in England, especially among young people.

Symptoms include confusion, severely slurred speech, loss of co-ordination, vomiting, irregular or slow breathing, pale or blue-tinged skin caused by low body temperature, being conscious but unresponsive, passing out. In the most severe cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage and death.

More information

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