In life, there are a few factors that motivate us to carry out certain behaviours. People place importance on a given activity based on the likelihood that a desired benefit or outcome will take place. Our drinking habit follows the same reasoning. That glass of wine after work can be oh so glorious but, when is it too much? After 1 glass, 2?, the bottle? Today we want to explore how alcohol affects us, why we drink, how much is too much and what alcohol can do to your health.
How does alcohol work?
Alcohol affects your brain in a few ways. It affects your neurotransmitters and your prefrontal cortex. Its effects on one neurotransmitter causes a decrease your body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Its effects on dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in reward and pleasure gives us that happy, feel good sensation. Alcohol also increases the amount of norepinephrine in the brain which is a neurotransmitter that acts as a stimulant thereby reducing your inhibitions and increasing your impulsivity. The prefrontal cortex is also particularly affected by alcohol. It is the area of your brain responsible for your personality, it helps you make decisions, plan and organize, and control your emotions. When you consume alcohol, it affects the prefrontal cortex’s ability to carry out on its tasks which is why some people get super emotional, disorganized or act out of character when they drink.
So why do we drink?
Well, as mentioned before, it is all about the importance we place on the behaviour and how it makes us feel afterwards. We could have learned from past experiences that if we drink, we will feel more confident, our worries will melt away and we will feel happier, or it will help with our anxieties. Every time we drink, in that immediate moment, it makes us feel better and since it makes us feel this way, we find an importance in alcohol. This sheds light onto why people drink when they are stressed, have social anxiety, and want to have fun or, are celebrating. In any of these situations, it is easy to lose control and moderate the amount you are drinking, especially because as mentioned before, alcohol reduces your inhibitions therefore increasing impulsivity.
How much is too much?
Canadian guidelines indicate that women should be drinking no more than 10 drinks per week and men 15 drinks per week with no more than 2 drinks per day.
Subtle signs you might have a problem:
- You set a limit of how many you would have before you started and you just can’t stick to it. This is a subtle sign that you are losing control over your ability to make decisions and your drinking. - Try to find out what might be prompting these binging sessions and address the issue directly.
- People are noticing the ever-increasing amount that you are drinking and commenting on it. - Figure out how much you are drinking and compare it to what is recommended. If you are over, start to cut back to recommended quantities
- You plan your activities around alcohol – If all your fun is centered around having drinks, it is time to start planning other activities.
- When tensions are high, your first thought is that glass of [insert preferred drink] - As mentioned, alcohol only provides immediate relief from stress. Start to find other ways to manage your stress like deep breathing and meditation
- Hangovers are a frequent occurrence – Waking up 3-4 times a week with a hangover is a sign that you are consuming too much. Time to start monitoring your consumption and cutting back.
What are some other health effects of drinking alcohol?
Alcohol does not only affect your brain! Alcohol has many other effects especially with heavy use and binge drinking.
Alcohol can cause:
- Damage to liver cells or liver cirrhosis. This means that there is too much scar tissue in the liver for it to function properly. It is then unable to regulate the body effectively – liver damage is life threatening.
- Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas
- Cancers of the liver, mouth, and throat
- Depression – it's interference with neurotransmitters makes it hard for the brain to regulate them properly.
- Poor sleep
If you need help – contact us. We are here for you.
We have also included some resources and helplines: