Alcohol and your health – useful information
This post has some basic information about alcohol and your health: drinking surveys and what the results mean; benefits of reducing your consumption; withdrawal symptoms; alcohol, exercise and fitness; and sleep.
But first, an important reminder: Club Soda is not intended to provide you with medical advice. We are not qualified for that. If you are at all concerned about your health, please contact your GP or another health professional.
What are the health impacts of alcohol?
A post by expert psychologist Helen O’Connor discusses the health impacts of alcohol, both on your physical and mental health. She also talks about the benefits of taking a break from drinking. And GP Eric Britton also touches on some of these in one of his blogs. Drinking can have a negative impact on many health and wellbeing issues – for example by exacerbating the symptoms of menopause. We have also looked at the relationships between alcohol and diabetes, and alcohol and cancer, and given an example of very bad science reporting in newspapers when it comes to drinking. Blackouts are a little understood but common consequence of heavy drinking. And have you ever thought about what happens to your teeth when you drink?
Test your alcohol use
There are many tests you can take to assess your drinking. One popular survey (or questionnaire) is called AUDIT, or the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test to give its full name. It is a test developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is used around the world. It is not a perfect measure, but it will give you some idea about your own alcohol use, and the potential health risks.
We think it’s a good idea to complete the test when you first join Club Soda, and then once every three months or so. Doing it more often may not tell you very much, but after three months you may well see your results change for the better.
The test has 10 questions, both about how much and how often you drink, and about the consequences of your drinking, both physical and psychological. At the end of the survey, you will get a score between 0 and 40. There are different ways of interpreting the results, but a WHO document for healthcare professionals suggests that scores above 8 or 10 indicate at least some hazardous or harmful alcohol use. And for people over the age of 65 a lower score of 7 is recommended.
Worried about your score? First of all, keep in mind that the test is just a simple measure, and does not replace qualified medical advice. However, if your score is very high, or if you are otherwise concerned about the test or anything else about your health or wellbeing, we strongly recommend that you talk to someone who is properly trained to give you advice: either your GP, another health professional, or one of the helplines in our list of sources of further help. Our expert GP Eric Britton gives his views on how to talk to your doctor about your drinking.
What happens when I quit drinking?
We have no medical training, so can’t say too much about this. But we have read this interesting article in the New Scientist magazine. Some of their journalists did a dry January, and had themselves thoroughly tested before and after. And the results really surprised the doctors involved. One commented on the big health benefits that they saw: “I was staggered”. The amount of liver fat fell by 15%, cholesterol levels by 5%, and blood glucose levels by 16% on average during the month. All of this reduces the risks of liver diseases, heart disease, and diabetes. So just taking a month off seems to have pretty big effects inside you.
Another article on the medical effects of stopping for a bit notes that “if one’s liver was showing signs of liver disease, then a break of a month from alcohol could be enough to reverse the damage that had been caused”. And then: ” if the liver disease had moved to the second stage where there was scarring on the liver, the organ’s function could return to normal if the person abstained from alcohol.” So as we keep being told: it really is good for your health to give up alcohol!
And our expert member Louise shared some of her expertise on what vitamin and nutrient supplements you might want to consider taking when giving up alcohol.
Am I dependent on alcohol?
If you are physically dependent on alcohol, you MUST NOT suddenly quit drinking on your own. In some cases quitting alcohol without proper medical supervision can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and even death. How do you know whether you are physically dependent? Most drinkers are at most psychologically dependent – using it habitually, or to cope with all of life’s worries, emotions, mental health problems, grief, stress, loneliness etc. For these people quitting drinking may cause emotional wobbles, some cravings for alcohol, and mild physical symptoms.
Physical dependence takes a while to develop. It will only happen if you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol every day for a long period of time. In the UK it is recommended that if you are drinking more than 15 units a day, you should consult your GP or a drug and alcohol service provider to support you in stopping, in case there are any withdrawal symptoms.
If you have ever experienced any physical withdrawal symptoms (discussed in the section below) in the morning or when you have tried to stop in the past, and the symptoms only go away once you have had a drink, you might be physically dependent on alcohol, and therefore quitting on your own will not be safe for you. If that is the case, we would urge you to consider a medical treatment. Talk to your GP or another qualified medical professional. You are also welcome to contact us, and we will help you find a suitable treatment.
Because everyone is different, and we all react differently from cutting out alcohol, we can only talk in very general terms here. If you are at all worried, or find that your body is reacting in a way that causes you any concern, then do talk to your GP or another health professional. You could first try cutting down how much you drink gently, so maybe reducing your consumption by a glass a day or every other day over the next few weeks or so, to reduce your consumption gradually. If you feel that you are unable to cut down on your own, then you should seek medical advice.
It is important to understand the difference between psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms. The psychological symptoms can last several months, and may include symptoms like depression, anxiety, sleep problems, cravings and so on. These are sometimes called PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal symptoms. You can read more in this Wikipedia article.
Physical dependence will lead to much serious physical withdrawal symptoms (these can come even from cutting down too quickly), caused by the body, especially the central nervous system, reacting to alcohol no longer being present. These physical withdrawal symptoms are easy to spot – shakes, sweats, feeling very anxious, and needing a drink first thing in the morning are very common. More frightening, serious and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms include seizures and the ‘DTs’ – delirium tremens – that can cause hallucinations (hearing, seeing and feeling things that aren’t really there). If you think you have any of these, please seek medical help, and do not try to stop drinking on your own.
Alcohol and fitness and exercise
Our expert member Marios wrote a good guest blog explaining why alcohol and exercise do not go well together. And not only because of the many empty calories you get with every glass… We have also looked a bit deeper into the sugar and calorie content of drinks both alcoholic, non-alcoholic and soft drinks.
Alcohol and sleep
Many people say that their sleeping patterns change dramatically when they give up alcohol. One member wrote this: “I’ve also been sleeping LOADS. My boyfriend actually text me this morning to ask me what is making me so tired because I used to sleep for 4-5 hours a night now I’m dozing on the sofa in the evening and then sleeping really heavily in bed at night and finding it very hard to get up in the morning.”
Even though it may sometimes feel like you sleep better after drinking (or get to sleep easier), alcohol actually disturbs our sleep. So most people report that they feel much better rested and refreshed in the mornings after they have stopped drinking. Another member says: “I also slept for England – boy did I sleep – I snoozed and napped all the time and then after 3 months that stopped and I felt like a new woman.” You can read more about why you may find it hard to sleep, and how alcohol affects your sleep. You may also want to read about drinking dreams and what they may mean.
Alcohol and mental health
If you are interested in the health of your liver, you may want to take a look at the “love your liver health screen” test. The test has been developed by the British Liver Trust, who also provide a lot of related information on their website. It may come as a surprise that alcohol is not the only thing to think about – a healthy diet and exercise are also super-good for your liver! And we have also some information about coffee, which may have some protective properties against the damage to your liver caused by drinking.
Alcohol and smoking
A series of two blogs by expert psychologist Helen O’Connor discusses the issues of smoking and drinking and whether to quit one or both at a time, and how to quit both smoking and drinking if you’ve decided to do so at the same time.