Australian culture revolves around alcohol, but how much is too much? Dr Lucy Heyworth says many Australians drink at dangerous levels.
Alcohol is social, fun, and a good stress release. But is your alcohol intake safe? Does your drinking habit negatively impact your physical and mental health?
With the remnants of the pandemic still lingering in the air around us, even the drinking is excessive. Alcohol is a key player in emergency departments across the country. Healthcare professionals nationwide manage relapses excessive alcohol intake in our communities.
As a young doctor working in a busy Sydney emergency room, I have noticed an increasing number of patients arriving with alcohol-related problems. People present in a state of intoxication in times of crisis and following alcohol-related accidents and accidents.
Some of these patients have experienced theirs Alcohol intake reaches more dangerous levels due to the stress that Covid-19 has put on all aspects of our life.
Some patients don’t realize their consumption is too high, or maybe they do but don’t want to change. On many occasions I have seen patients who do not realize they are addicted to alcohol until they are hospitalized and begin to suffer from withdrawal.
Alcohol withdrawal by itself can be very serious and in some cases life-threatening.
Is your alcohol consumption a form of self-medication?
An Australian National University survey in 2020 showed that 20% of respondents reported an increase in personal alcohol consumption since the start of the pandemic. Many patients have reported increased alcohol consumption due to loneliness of blockages or increased social stressors that accompanied the pandemic.
Alcohol affects high- and low-income communities alike and is the leading cause of ambulance calls, taking into account both legal and illegal drug-related emergencies.
Drinking is so normalized in our culture and so easy to turn to in times of stress. It is easy to take a path that is detrimental to physical and mental health.
Many Australians are unaware of what level of consumption is safe for both short and long term health. Current guidelines from the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend that healthy men and women drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks in a day. For reference, a standard glass of red wine is a whopping 1.6 standard drink.
What harm am I really doing?
Alcohol can affect most of our body systems in the long run. Here are just a few examples:
liver – Alcohol is broken down by the liver, but in excess the liver cannot keep up and can be irreversibly damaged. This means that he is unable to perform the other usual and very important detoxification jobs efficiently,
Heart – What is less known is that excessive alcohol intake can cause long-term heart problems and lead to problems with the heart muscle which has the strength to pump blood efficiently around the body.
digestion – Alcohol is irritating to the gastrointestinal tract: this means that excessive consumption can cause changes in bowel habits, abdominal discomfort and bloating.
Brain – Alcohol can affect learning, memory and sleep. In the long run it can also cause the brain to shrink itself. This is much worse for the developing brain. Particularly at risk are the fetus, children and young adults.
bone – Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken bones and predispose to falls and fractures.
Regular alcohol intake can also lead to vitamin deficiencies and increases the risk of certain cancers such as breast, head and neck and liver cancers.
The less you drink, the lower the risk of alcohol-related health complications. Be aware of your intake and try to protect your body and keep your consumption within guidelines. Remember to check in with your family doctor regularly, and if you are experiencing a medical emergency, don’t hesitate to report to the nearest emergency room.
Dr. Lucy Heyworth is a young doctor in a Sydney emergency room.
Originally published as The doctor reveals how to tell if you drink too much alcohol