Regularly drinking too much alcohol can inflict untold damage on your body and raise your risk of developing life-threatening complications. One area that can take a particular beating is the nervous system – a complex network of nerves and cells that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord to various parts of the body. If this network becomes compromised, it can cause a cascade of problems.
Regularly drinking too much alcohol can damage your nerves, and affect the levels of messenger chemicals (neurotransmitters) in your brain.
“This can lead to problems with memory (dementia), eyesight, balance and coordination, and how sensations including pain are felt around your body,” warns Bupa.
If you’re a heavy drinker, you may be at risk of developing a condition called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, adds the health body. Physical symptoms include problems with moving your eyes, vision and muscle coordination.
“You may find it difficult to walk and feel unsteady. Other symptoms include finding it hard to concentrate, lack of interest and feeling confused,” warns Bupa.
Other adverse effects
According to the NHS, heavy drinking can also increase your blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, both of which are major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
What’s more, long-term alcohol misuse can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to serious infections, warns the health body.
“It can also weaken your bones, placing you at greater risk of fracturing or breaking them,” it adds.
Alcohol misuse can also raise your risk of the following:
- Liver disease
- Liver cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Head and neck cancer
- Breast cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Sexual problems, such as impotence or premature ejaculation
How to drink responsibly
UK health guidelines advise both men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
Half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6 percent). A single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40 percent). A small glass (125ml, ABV 12 percent) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
If you’re planning to enjoy a drink, there are some practical tips to help you drink sensibly and within the recommended limits.
“If you’re drinking at home, try using a measure rather than free-pouring your drink,” advises Bupa.
It is also important to eat before you drink so alcohol is absorbed more slowly by your body, it adds.
Other key tips include:
- Go for a spritzer or a shandy – this can help to dilute (water down) the amount of alcohol in your drink
- Opt for smaller measures where you can – a single measure of spirits, a small glass of wine or a bottle of beer (rather than pint)
- Choose lower strength alternatives to your usual drink. You may not notice much difference in taste
- Steer clear of rounds and don’t be pressured into drinking more quickly than you feel comfortable with
- Swap in soft drinks. Where you can, alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. At home, stock some of your favourite low-sugar soft drinks or create some tasty mocktails
- Keep tabs on how much you’re drinking and remember to include any top-ups.
How to seek help
Realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first big step to getting help. If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can try the following;
Practice what you’re going to say Let the person you care for know that you’re available and that you care. Try to formulate statements that are positive and supportive. Avoid being negative, hurtful, or presumptuous. Rather than saying: “You’re a bloody alcoholic — you need to get help now,” you can say, “I love you and you’re very important to me. I’m concerned about how much you’re drinking, and it may be harming your health.” Using “I” statements reduces accusation and lets you be an active participant in the discussion. It may be helpful to bring up a specific concern. You may mention when alcohol caused an unwanted effect, such as violent behavior or economic problems.
Prepare yourself for every response. No matter the reaction, you should stay calm and assure your person that they have your respect and support.
Pick the right time and place Choose the right time to have this important conversation. Have the conversation in a place where you know you’ll have quiet and privacy. You’ll also want to avoid any interruptions so that you both have each other’s full attention. Make sure your person is not upset or preoccupied with other issues. Most importantly (and you’d think this should be obvious) the person should be sober.
Approach and listen with honesty and compassion If the person does have an alcohol problem, the best thing you can do is be open and honest with them about it. Hoping the person will get better on their own won’t change the situation. Tell your loved one that you’re worried they’re drinking too much, and let them know you want to be supportive. Be prepared to face a negative reaction. Try to roll with any resistance to your suggestions. The person may be in denial, and they may even react angrily to your attempts. Do not take it personally. Give them time and space to make an honest decision, and listen to what they have to say.
Offer your support Realise that you can’t force someone who doesn’t want to get treatment – all you can do is offer your help. It’s up to them to decide if they’ll take it. Be nonjudgmental, empathetic, and sincere. Imagine yourself in the same situation and what your reaction might be. Your friend or loved one may also vow to cut back on their own. However, actions are more important than words. Urge them to get into a formal treatment program, or advise them to speak to a mental health professional or counsellor. Ask for concrete commitments and then follow up on them.
You may also want to see if other family members and friends want to be involved. This can depend on several factors, such as how serious the situation is or how private the person may be.
Intervene Approaching someone to discuss your concerns is different from an intervention. An intervention is more involved. It involves planning, giving consequences, sharing, and presenting a treatment option. An intervention may be the course of action if your person is very resistant to getting help; during this process friends, family members, and colleagues get together to confront the person and urge them into treatment. Interventions are often done with the help of a professional counselor. A professional therapist can give advice on how to get the person into treatment, explain what treatment options there are and find programs in your area.
You can also find a list of mental health professionals in Harare here on this website.