We all know binge drinking is bad for you, but there's something rather dignified (and far less harmful) about enjoying a restrained glass of red wine at the end of the working day. Right?
Sadly, perhaps not.
In troubling news for liquor-lovers everywhere, it appears we may have been lured into a false sense of security when it comes to our relationship with booze, even if you think you only drink 'in moderation'. (Though this in itself is problematic, with many Australians underestimating how much alcohol they actually consume.)
Potential effects range from the fairly short term, such as sleep deprivation and weight gain, to serious and possibly fatal long-term health issues, such as cancer. And as for those reports of moderate alcohol consumption (in particular red wine) being good for heart health?
According to Professor Tanya Chikritzhs of the National Drug Research Institute, the jury is actually still out.
"We have been sold that message about heart health again and again and again by the [alcohol] industry," Chikritzhs tells HuffPost Australia. "In actual fact, whether moderate alcohol usage reduces heart disease is debatable.
"We have more and more reason to suspect that, yes, while 30 years ago we did start to identify potential protective benefits, as we now grow more sophisticated in our research, we are maybe not as certain as we once were."
- For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
- For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol related injury arising from that occasion.
So what are some of the effects a 'moderate drinker' may experience, both in the short and long term?
"The most common example being waking up at two in the morning and lying awake.
"This is a rebound effect of the alcohol taken earlier in the evening. While alcohol is a sedative, and its initial effect is to sedate, when this wears off, there is a rebound stimulant effect."
Anxiety and depression
Those who are regularly finding their sleep disturbed as a result of alcohol consumption may experience mild bouts of depression and anxiety.
"I would definitely suggest that if you're finding yourself feeling depressed and/or anxious, you might want to look at how much you're drinking," Hall says.
While most of us are familiar with the notion of alcohol being 'empty' calories, Hall believes many Australians don't quite realise exactly how many calories they're dealing with.
"A common but underappreciated consequence of regular alcohol consumption is weight gain," Hall says. "Every standard drink has 80-odd calories. I know when we have asked people to measure out a drink and they have poured one and a half to two standard drinks, so that's 120 to 160 calories per glass of wine with meal. That adds up if you're doing it every day."
Increased risk of binge drinking
Even if your alcohol consumption is at the lower end of the spectrum, Hall says it stands to reason regular drinking will increase your tolerance bit by bit.
"This in turn puts you at more risk of binge drinking on social occasions, because you won't have the same effect after two drinks than other people will," he says.
Long-term health problems
Perhaps most worryingly, alcohol has been shown to cause a number of long-term health issues, such as liver cirrhosis, fatty liver, hepatitis and even cancer. But while many Australians are aware of the links between alcohol consumption and poor liver health, Chikritzhs says cancer is not top of mind.
"The list of cancers caused by alcohol is growing," Chikritzhs says. "There is no doubt there is a link between cancer and alcohol. Some cancers more than others, obviously. But you can tell from [the infographic below] it's a real issue for the whole digestive system, from the mouth to the back end, so to speak. So it affects pretty much everything it touches."
Adds Hall: "Alcohol is a carcinogen, and taking it regularly can increase the risk of various sorts of cancers, with the highest risks being the cancers of the mouth and pharynx and esophagus. In short, the areas that are most heavily exposed to alcohol.
"At a higher risk are spirit drinkers and also smokers.
"I think [alcohol] is seen in the general public as being not as potent as cause of cancer as some other things, but if you are doing it every day over a series of years, then you are definitely putting yourself at risk."
If you're concerned about your alcohol intake, try this easy 5-minute Drinking Audit -- it's a simple tool from Alcohol. Think Again designed to help you find out whether you're at risk. For further advice on managing alcohol intake, as well as information for parents, young people and adults, visit Alcohol. Think Again.
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