How it works:
- Alcohol is poison. Seriously. Ethanol Alcohol is the type of alcohol humans consume. It is toxic to the body, so when consumed, ethanol has to be converted into something else – it’s called acetaldehyde.
- Acetaldehyde is a straight up poison. It damages and kills cells indiscriminately, so the body then converts the acetaldehyde into something called acetate – which can be used as a fuel. However your body must complete this process – going from ethanol to acetaldehyde to acetate – extremely quickly, or else the acetaldehyde will flood the system and further damage cells.
- This process takes place in the liver. (This is why the liver is damaged with alcohol consumption – it is exposed to at least some level of acetaldehyde during this process, no matter how fast it processes.)
- Alcohol also has a dramatic effect on serotonin. It is a neurotransmitter associated with mood and wellbeing.
- Many of the circuits of the brain involved in mood and wellbeing employ serotonin. When we ingest alcohol and it’s converted into acetaldehyde, it acts as a toxin on the very synapses where serotonin is produced.
- (In very over-simplified words) – this is because alcohol is water-soluble, meaning, it is distributed throughout the water in the body
- so some amount of acetaldehyde AND acetate crosses the Blood Brain Barrier.
(Alcohol is distributed throughout the water in the body, so most tissues—like the heart, brain, and muscles—are exposed to the same concentration of alcohol as the blood. The exception is the liver, where exposure is greater. Alcohol diffuses rather slowly, except into organs with a rich blood supply such as the brain and lungs.)
- It first makes these circuits HYPER-active. Yes, that means more serotonin. But this quickly wears off, and the serotonin drops, which is typically when people go grab another drink.
- Around the third or fifth drink, there is a zero chance of you recovering that elevated, energized mood (from the serotonin.) At this point, you will just feel more and more suppressed. This is when speech starts to slur, loss of motor coordination, passing out, etc.
- Those who drink even once or twice a week have a lower serotonin levels & higher cortisol baseline – even when they are not drinking. Meaning, these people feel more stress and more anxiety when they are not drinking *
- The sleep that you get after even one glass of alcohol is not the same, restorative sleep that you get when you don’t have alcohol circulating in your system. Slow wave sleep, deep wave sleep, and REM sleep are ALL disrupted by alcohol being in the system. It creates lower quality sleep overall.
- It’s actually not even considered sleep; it’s called pseudo sleep. It is sort of hypnotic state and you likely wake up throughout the night (whether you are aware of it or not.)
A recent study looked at the brains of more than 30,000 generally healthy middle-aged residents of the UK drinking a variety of amounts of alcohol / alcohols of any kind. It found that even those drinking (on average) 1-2 drinks per day (or seven total drinks per week) showed-
- A thinning of the neocortex and other brain regions (It reduces your brain’s thickness)
- In fact, it actually scaled with the amount of alcohol people drank (the more alcohol you drink, the more your neocortex will thin)
- More and more research is coming out showing a CONCLUSIVE correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer rates
- This is because alcohol can alter gene expression.
- This means a significant increase in cancer risk. In particular breast cancer in women.
- According to studies, there is a 4 – 13 % risk increase in breast cancer for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day.
- One beer = 10-12 grams of alcohol (in the US)
So what does this mean?
- For a person that consumes about one beer per day, there is a 4-13 % increase risk in breast cancer. (Some studies point to a 7 % increase.) If you consume more than one alcoholic drink per day, numbers go up. (There are many studies on this subject. Just give it a google – “Alcohol and breast cancer studies” or whatever.)
This is because alcohol increases tumor growth and decreases the sort of molecules that suppress and combat tumor growth.
Alcohol – or more specifically, the toxic metabolism of ethanol into acetate – increases the conversion of testosterone into estrogen
This occurs in a number of different tissues
- In females, this might be partially why alcohol can so increase the risk of breast cancer in particular (estrogen can play a role of this.)
- In males, this can lead to: growth of breast tissue, diminished sex drive, increased fat storage, etc. (over time)
- World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, approximately 3 million people die each year as a result of harmful alcohol consumption.
This is the equivalent of one person every 10 seconds.
A lot of people are more addicted to alcohol than they think. This is largely because it is… well, a chemically-addictive substance. But it’s also because it’s the water a lot of people swim in. It’s normal to get drunk and feel hungover in our culture. It’s normal to have a glass or two of wine at night.
It’s actually one of the most harmful, addictive, and lethal substances out there, and it’s still “normal” – largely because of (shocker) money. But that is a whole other post, I think.